If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is sincere about holding a peace conference, he first needs to order his Fatah lieutenants to stop inciting violence against Israel and urging his soldiers and citizens to "liberate Palestine." (Photo by Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
The Palestinian ruling Fatah faction has just celebrated the 56th anniversary of the launching of its first terrorist attack on January 1, 1965 by promising, in Arabic, to continue the fight to do away with Israel. On that day, Fatah terrorists attempted to bomb Israel's National Water Carrier.
Meanwhile, Fatah's leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is trying to persuade the Arab countries and the rest of the international community to pressure Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. He is arguing that he is just seeking to establish an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.
While Abbas is talking about his desire to achieve a peaceful settlement alongside Israel, his Fatah faction is sending messages to the Palestinians that glorify the "armed struggle" against Israel and that promise a "revolution until victory." The messages, featuring masked gunmen, praise Fatah for launching its first terrorist attack and threaten that the "war [against Israel] will begin from Palestine."
A video published by Fatah on December 21, 2020 features Palestinians in military uniform taking an oath to "remain loyal to Palestine and to work toward its liberation."
Moreover, the poster chosen by Fatah to celebrate the anniversary of the January 1, 1965 terrorist attack against Israel depicts a map of "Palestine" superimposed over the entire state of Israel. Attached to the map is a Russian-made Kalashnikov rifle, the Palestinians' longtime favorite weapon for carrying out attacks against Israel.
The poster makes it abundantly clear that Fatah does not believe Israel has a right to exist. Note, please, that this is the same Israel next to which Abbas claims he wants a Palestinian state. By stating in the recent video that Fatah will continue to work toward the "liberation of Palestine," the organization is actually saying that, like its Islamist rivals in Hamas, it too seeks the elimination of Israel.
While Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are talking about the need to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Fatah is continuing to encourage Palestinians to engage in violent attacks against Israelis as a way of persuading them to leave. Posters featuring masked Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and "settlers" are routinely published on Fatah-controlled media outlets. The blunt message behind these images is that Palestinians should continue their "violent resistance" against Israel by targeting soldiers and settlers.
In addition, Abbas, who says he wants to resume the peace process with Israel, last week mourned the death of Abdel Rahim Malouh, Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and described him as a "big national fighter who spent his life defending the cause of his homeland and people." Malouh, who died of natural causes, was one of the founders of the PFLP, the second-largest terrorist group forming the PLO. (Abbas's Fatah is the largest group.)
The PLO, founded in 1964 with the purpose of the "liberation of Palestine" through armed struggle, consists of several organizations, including Fatah, PFLP, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Palestinian People's Party, Palestinian Liberation Front, Arab Liberation Front, As-Sa'iqa, Palestinian Democratic Union and Palestinian Popular Struggle Front.
Fatah, PFLP and DFLP each has its own armed wing that is responsible for launching terrorist attacks against Israel.
Fatah's armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and Israel. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, together with the PFLP's armed wing, Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, has claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks against Israel since September 2000.
The PFLP, founded in 1967 by terrorist leader George Habash, is strongly opposed to any peace process with Israel. The group, famous for having carried out aircraft-hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, does not believe that Israel has a right to exist.
On its official website, the PFLP identifies itself as "a political, militant party that works to educate, organize and lead the Palestinian masses toward restoring their national rights... on the road to liberating the entire Palestinian land." The PFLP also says it "practices all forms of political, intellectual, peaceful, economic and violent struggle, including the armed struggle."
On December 24, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority held a full military funeral for Malouh, whose group has advocated "armed struggle" against Israel and opposed all peace negotiations with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo Accord.
By honoring and praising this terrorist leader, Malouh, Abbas is sending a direct message to his people that terrorists who kill Israelis are heroes and "martyrs." In this way, Abbas is presenting Malouh as a role model that the Palestinians should admire and in whose footsteps they should follow. Abbas is, additionally, legitimizing the PFLP and making it look as if it is an important player in the Palestinian arena.
On the same day that the PFLP leader was brought to burial, a group called the Unified Leadership of the Palestinian Resistance called on Palestinians to "escalate the popular resistance" against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. It is important to note that Fatah is one of the groups forming the Unified Leadership of the Palestinian Resistance. When the Palestinians talk about "resistance," they are referring to actions such as throwing rocks and firebombs at soldiers and settlers, as well as stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks.
By joining the call for launching these violent attacks against Israelis, Fatah is again showing that its actions run counter to Abbas's public statements, especially regarding the need to resume peace negotiations with Israel.
Meanwhile, at the same time as Fatah is promoting violence and urging Palestinians to continue the fight against Israel "until the liberation of Palestine," Abbas and other Palestinian officials are saying that they are looking forward to working with the incoming US administration of presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden to achieve peace on the basis of a two-state solution. The Palestinian leadership is also saying that it hopes a Biden administration will support Abbas's initiative to convene an international conference for peace in the Middle East early next year.
Abbas has long been dreaming of a multi-party conference that will impose a solution on Israel. He does not want to hold direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, he wants a United Nations-sponsored conference, with the participation of Russia, China and the European Union, with the hope of putting pressure on Israel to withdraw to the indefensible pre-1967 armistice lines that include east Jerusalem.
While Abbas is telling the world that, with the help of the UN, Russia, China, and the European Union, he wants to establish a Fatah-controlled Palestinian state next to Israel, he is not telling the world that Fatah is celebrating the anniversary of its first terrorist attack against Israel. He apparently does not want Biden and other world leaders to hear the messages of violence that Fatah is spreading (in Arabic), including the pledge to "liberate Palestine."
The Biden administration needs to pay close attention to the Palestinians' parallel messages. The Biden administration also needs to take note of the ongoing glorification by Abbas and Fatah of terrorists such as the deceased PFLP leader, Malouh. What Fatah is saying in Arabic is infinitely more important than what Abbas writes in a letter to the UN secretary-general or to any world leader.
If Abbas is sincere about holding a peace conference, he first needs to order his Fatah lieutenants to stop inciting violence against Israel and urging his soldiers and citizens to "liberate Palestine."
At the end of the day, young Palestinians listen to what Fatah is saying in Arabic, not to the messages Abbas sends world leaders in English. Failure to call out the Palestinians for their self-contradictory messages will not advance any cause of peace, but, on the contrary, only further embolden Palestinians to carry out more terrorist attacks and thwart the way to peace.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.