Imagine what would happen if all the horse racing experts in the world got together and bet their money on a dead horse to win the Kentucky Derby. As far-fetched as that sounds, today all the who's who in foreign affairs are either actively supporting or enacting an analogous policy toward the Palestinian Fatah movement.
Cheered on by the Olmert-Livni-Barak government, this week the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1850, which among other things calls on all UN member nations to provide political and financial support for Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas's government. And no doubt the call will be answered with enthusiasm. Over the past year, Fatah received $1.7 billion in international aid – some $600 million more than the world's foreign policy gurus promised to give last December.
But Fatah is a dead horse. Even if it were to sign a peace deal with Israel – and really meant to keep it – the deal would be a dead letter because the Palestinian people themselves want neither peace with Israel nor Fatah.
Fatah lost the Palestinian Authority's January 2006 legislative elections to Hamas. In June 2007 it was violently ousted from Gaza by Hamas. And next month, on January 9, Abbas's term of office as PA chairman will end. If Abbas refuses to relinquish power on January 10, as far as the Palestinian people are concerned, Hamas will be right to reject his authority and to seek to overthrow his government in Judea and Samaria.
With the massive backing he enjoys from the US, in all likelihood Abbas will remain in power on January 10 and will refuse to run for reelection. Palestinian journalists and Fatah officials in Ramallah readily acknowledge that were Abbas to face Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in open elections, Haniyeh would win big. And this is Fatah's fault.
OVER THE past 13 years, Palestinian society has come to view jihad against Israel and the US as its definitive goal. And Fatah brought about this state of affairs.
Fatah indoctrinated the Palestinians to support jihad through a massive campaign of media incitement. Fatah has controlled the Palestinian media since 1994. Although it lost that control in Gaza in June 2007, aside from declaring their support for Hamas, Gaza's media today are no different than they were when Fatah was in charge.
By convincing Palestinian society to support jihad, Fatah paved the way for Hamas's takeover. Although Fatah operatives have killed more Israelis than Hamas has, Hamas still has more credibility in the jihad department. This owes mainly to Fatah's image as a US and Israeli stooge.
Fatah's American and Israeli champions justify their support for it by noting that since Hamas took over Gaza, Fatah has been willing to fight Hamas. But Fatah – which is begging Israel to reconquer Gaza for it – has not tempered its commitment to Israel's destruction. The reason it fights Hamas is because Fatah's leaders rightly view Hamas as a mortal threat.
In an interview with Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz last week, US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who as US security coordinator for the PA has been working with Fatah militias for the past three years, praised the US-trained Fatah forces now deployed in Jenin, Nablus and Hebron as "state-builders."
Dayton also defended Fatah's behavior during Hamas's coup in Gaza. Noting that some 250 Fatah members were killed during the coup, Dayton claimed that Fatah forces fought well before they surrendered. In his words, "These aren't people that simply, immediately raised their hands and surrendered. I know this. It took five days… They were clearly outgunned and still they stood their ground for five days."
Perhaps this is true. But what Dayton ignored is the fact that Hamas would never have been able to build up a force capable of outgunning Fatah forces if Fatah leaders hadn't let it.
IN SPITE of the fact that the entire Israeli-Palestinian peace process was predicated on Fatah's pledge to disarm and disband Hamas, from 1994 until the 2007 coup, Fatah and Hamas were strategic allies and constant collaborators in their common war against Israel. Indeed, at the time of the coup, as partners in the PA's unity government, Fatah and Hamas were closer than ever.
When on January 9 Fatah finds itself lacking any legal basis to lead the PA, Hamas will be sitting on top of the world. In addition to enjoying the support of the majority of Palestinians, Hamas is now second only to Hizbullah in Iran's terror proxy pecking order.
Hamas cemented its alliance with Iran in December 2005 and it has only benefitted from its proxy status. Iran has provided Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars. And to Iran's monies must be added US and European financial assistance. Using the massive inflows of US and European contributions, Fatah transfers tens of millions of dollars to Gaza each month to pay the salaries of 70,000 Fatah-aligned PA employees in Gaza. That money frees Hamas from the need to develop Gaza's economy, enabling it to devote itself to building up its war machine against Israel.
Iranian military assistance includes both training and equipment. Thanks to Israel's decision six months ago to implement a largely one-sided cease-fire toward Hamas, since June, Hamas has doubled both the size and the range of its rocket and missile arsenals. Today it fields more than 10,000 rockets, missiles and mortars and has extended their range from 20 to 40 kilometers, placing major cities like Beersheba and Ashdod under threat.
If the government ever permits the IDF to defend the South by launching an offensive in Gaza, Hamas will be able to put up a very strong fight. Thanks to Iranian assistance and Israeli passivity, today Hamas's forces are organized much like Hizbullah forces were in 2006.
Hamas has raised a 16,000-man army divided into eight brigades. Its forces possess advanced anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Like Hizbullah, Hamas has developed sophisticated intelligence capabilities. And like Hizbullah it has constructed 50 kilometers of tunnels and bunkers along Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt.
As a member of the Iranian camp, Hamas deters Israel from attacking it by raising the specter that any serious IDF operation in Gaza will be answered by the entire axis. An Israeli strike in Gaza is liable to be greeted not only by Hamas but by Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.
Hamas allies drove this point home over the past week. As Hamas escalated its rocket offensive against Israel, Iran launched state-sponsored rallies in support of Hamas and announced it is sending a "humanitarian aid" ship to Gaza to break Israel's naval blockade. Hizbullah launched identical protests and likewise stated its intention of sending a "humanitarian aid" ship to Hamas.
Then, too, Hamas-controlled UNRWA announced on Thursday that it is suspending its food assistance to Gaza to protest Israel's blockade of the Gaza coastline. This in turn will generate an outcry in Europe and give Iran and Hizbullah an excuse to attack Israel for refusing to let their "humanitarian aid" ships dock in Gaza.
TO DATE, Israel's strategy for contending with Fatah's demise has been to deny it. As for Hamas, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has adopted Defense Minister Ehud Barak's favored policy of speaking loudly and carrying no stick. As Abbas moves from failure to failure, they cling to him ever more tightly as Israel's irreplaceable interlocutor.
After Hamas renewed its war against Israel this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Barak have all threatened to take action against Hamas. But at the same time, they have sent emissaries to Egypt to beg Hamas to reconsider its decision.
Since Abbas gave his final refusal last month to Olmert's pleas to finalize a peace deal with Israel before US President George W. Bush leaves office, and since Hamas renewed its mi
ssile offensive against Israel last month, Livni, Barak and Olmert have found it impossible to justify their policies to the public. With elections around the corner and with dozens of rockets and mortars now being launched against the country daily, Yediot Aharonot's leftist military columnist Alex Fishman tried to help them out.
In a front-page commentary on Thursday, Fishman gave four major justifications for their decision to allow Hamas to build up its armed forces without an Israeli challenge for the past six months.
First, he argued that had Israel not given Hamas a free pass for six months, Israel wouldn't have been able to negotiate the surrender of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Fatah.
Presumably this is so because had Israel opted to fight Hamas, Fatah would have sided with Hamas against Israel. Of course, given Fatah's preference for Hamas over Israel, it is unclear why negotiating with Fatah is in Israel's interest. But Fishman ignores that issue.
Fishman then claimed that by not attacking Hamas for six months, Israel has allowed two Palestinian "states" to be established – the Hamas state in Gaza, and the US- and Israel-sponsored Fatah state in Judea and Samaria. And again, this is supposed to be a good thing because if only one Hamas-Fatah state existed in both areas, then the Olmert-Livni-Barak government wouldn't have been able to negotiate the surrender of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Fatah. The fact that Hamas can and will overthrow a Fatah-run state in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as easily as it overthrew the Fatah-run state in Gaza went unnoted by Fishman for some reason.
Fishman also argued that Israel's decision to stand down against Hamas has improved Israel's relations with Egypt. This assertion rings hollow, though. Throughout this period of supposedly improved relations, Egypt has continued to turn a blind eye to massive Iranian arms transfers to Hamas through its territory.
Finally, Fishman asserted that Israel's unilateral cease-fire toward Hamas has been a good thing for Israel because it facilitated the return of the so-called Saudi peace plan to the regional agenda. But since the Saudi plan requires Israel to commit national suicide by withdrawing to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines and accepting millions of hostile, foreign-born Arabs as immigrants, it is hard to see why its return is a positive development for Israel.
And still, with Hamas now in the driver's seat and ready to roll out its new war against Israel together with its many allies, everyone who is anyone is putting his money on Abbas, who in less than three weeks will lose his last vestige of democratic legitimacy.
In his interview with the Post, Dayton couldn't think of a way that Hamas could be ejected from Gaza. On the other hand, it is self-evident that if the people betting on Abbas get their way and Israel gives Fatah Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, Hamas will quickly take over those areas as well.
That's what happens when you bet on a dead horse. You lose.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.