Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fatah: "moderate" in English, murderous in Arabic

From Gatestone Institute, May 20, 2015, by Khaled Abu Toameh:

The international community and the media often ignore the fact that Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah has a number of armed groups. Their fight is to destroy Israel, eliminate the "Zionist entity" and achieve the "right of return" for millions of descendants of refugees.

The Palestinian Authority leadership has never distanced itself from the rhetoric and actions of these groups. Fatah's militias will be the first to reject any peace agreement that includes the slightest concession to Israel.

Several Fatah leaders, in fact, often speak in English about the need for reviving the peace process, while in Arabic they praise and endorse the Fatah gunmen.

Many in the international community often refer to the Palestinian Fatah faction, which is headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, as a "moderate" group that believes in Israel's right to exist and the two-state solution.

What these people do not know is that Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), consists of several groups that hold different views than those expressed by Abbas and other English-speaking Fatah officials.

Some of these Fatah groups do not believe in Israel's right to exist and continue to talk about the "armed struggle" as the only way to "liberate Palestine and restore Palestinian national rights."
One of these groups is called The Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - El Amoudi Brigade.

The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is Fatah's armed wing, established shortly after the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000. Although the Palestinian Authority leadership maintains that the group has been dissolved and its members recruited into its security forces, scores of gunmen continue to operate freely in Palestinian villages and refugee camps in the West Bank.

Based in the Gaza Strip, the El Amoudi Brigade, which consists of dozens of Fatah gunmen, is named after Nidal El Amoudi, a top Fatah operative killed by the Israel Defense Forces on January 13, 2008, after he carried out a series of armed attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers during the second intifada.

During the last war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas ("Operation Protective Edge"), the El Amoudi Brigade claimed responsibility for firing dozens of rockets at Israeli cities and IDF soldiers.
Sources in the Gaza Strip claim that many of the group's members are former security officers, still on the payroll of the PA. Other sources claim that the group is funded by ousted Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan, who is currently based in the United Arab Emirates, and the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

It is worth noting that the Palestinian Authority leadership has never distanced itself from the El Amoudi Brigade's rhetoric and actions.

In addition to an official website, Fatah's El Amoudi Brigade regularly issues threats to pursue the armed struggle against, and destroy, Israel. Last week, the group posted a video with a message to the "Israeli enemy" on the 67th anniversary of the creation of Israel -- which Palestinians refer to as "Nakba Day" (Day of Catastrophe).

Entitled, "A Message to the Israeli People" and accompanied by Hebrew subtitles, the video declares that the "battle for the liberation (of Palestine) was closer than ever," and warns Israelis: "Our Nakba (catastrophe) is unforgettable; soon you will have to leave because you have no other choice."

The Fatah video shows the group's members during military training in the Gaza Strip, in preparation for the next battle against Israel. "We have prepared the best soldiers," says the song in the background.

In a separate statement on the same occasion, the Fatah group emphasizes that the "armed struggle" against Israel "is the only means to liberate Palestine." It also stresses that the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel cannot be compromised and is non-negotiable. "Our people reject all alternative options to the right of return," the statement read, repeatedly referring to Israel as the "Zionist enemy."

Elsewhere, the Fatah group boasts that its men have been able to manufacture a new 12-kilometer range rocket called 107 that was used against IDF tanks and soldiers during the last war in the Gaza Strip.

The El Amoudi Brigade is not the only armed Fatah militia operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Another significant group in the Gaza Strip, which also participated in the last war against Israel, is called the Martyr Abdel Qader Hossaini Brigade. Like its sister group, El Amoudi Brigade, the Martyr Abdel Qader Hossaini militia also supports the armed struggle against the "Zionist enemy."

A third major Fatah terror group is called the Abu al-Rish Brigades, which has been responsible for many terrorist attacks against Israel and the kidnapping of foreigners in the Gaza Strip. The gang, which describes itself as the "military wing of Fatah," also refers to Israel as the "Zionist enemy" and claims to have participated alongside Hamas in the last war in the Gaza Strip.

Gunmen from Fatah's Abu al-Rish Brigades, which describes itself as the "military wing of Fatah," appear in a September 2014 propaganda video.

The international community and the media often ignore the fact that Fatah has a number of armed groups that are still openly dedicated to the "armed struggle" and terrorism as a way of "liberating Palestine." They also ignore that "moderate" Fatah leaders who speak in favor of peace and the two-state solution do not distance themselves from these groups. Several Fatah leaders, in fact, often speak in English about the need for reviving the peace process, while in Arabic they praise and endorse the Fatah gunmen.

The presence of armed Fatah gangs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a sign of the huge challenges that any Palestinian leader would face if and when the Palestinians and Israel reach a peace agreement. Obviously, these Fatah groups will be the first to reject any peace agreement that includes the slightest concession to Israel. Some of these groups are opposed in principle to peace with Israel because they simply do not recognize Israel's right to exist.

This is something that the international community -- first and foremost the U.S. -- needs to take into consideration when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Decision-makers need to know that opposition to peace with Israel will come not only from Hamas, but also from many groups within Fatah. As the armed groups themselves indicate, their fight is to eliminate "Zionist enemy" and achieve the "right of return" for millions of descendants of refugees to their former homes inside Israel.

Meanwhile, Abbas and other Fatah leaders, who are fully aware of the actions and threats of their loyalists, are doing their utmost to stop the world from hearing what the Fatah gunmen have to say about peace and the two-state solution. 

The question remains: Until when will the international community continue to bury its head in the sand and pretend that Fatah is a unified, moderate and pragmatic group that seeks peace and coexistence with Israel on behalf of all Palestinians?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

‘Palestine’ is a Civil War Waiting to Happen

As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. 

But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. 

...“Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

Just last week, for instance, Hamas blamed Fatah for a series of recent bombings in Gaza and arrested 12 Fatah members as suspects. Last November, Hamas reportedly bombed the homes and vehicles of several senior Fatah officials in Gaza, as well as the site of a planned Fatah rally to mark the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death; as a result, Fatah canceled both the rally and a planned visit to Gaza by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Last month, PA ministers who did visit Gaza left in a huff after Hamas placed them under house arrest in their hotel. The previous month, Abbas and one of his senior advisors separately urged Arab states to bomb Hamas out of Gaza.

Both sides routinely arrest each other’s members, and then accuse each other of torturing the detainees (usually accurately in both cases). Both also routinely accuse each other of collaborating with Israel – the worst crime in the Palestinian lexicon. Needless to say, none of this contributes to Hamas-Fatah brotherly love.

Indeed, the parties are so busy feuding with each other that they can’t provide for their people’s most basic needs, like reconstructing Gaza after last summer’s war with Israel. The reconstruction has made almost no progress in the eight months since the war ended, and astoundingly, everyone except Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth agrees that this is the fault of the feuding Palestinian governments rather than Israel. That, for instance, is the stated view of the Arab League, which is usually quick to blame Israel for anything. And it’s also the stated view of the European Union, which is generally equally quick to blame Israel for everything.

That the violence has remained relatively low-level despite the intensity of this hatred is due to one thing only: Israel. Hamas’s main fighting strength is concentrated in Gaza, while Fatah’s is concentrated in the West Bank, and these territories are currently separated by an impassible barrier – some 37 kilometers of Israeli territory. Moreover, Israeli troops in the West Bank have prevented Hamas from building up its forces there: Last August, for instance, Israel arrested dozens of Hamas operatives in the West Bank whom both Israel and Abbas said were plotting a coup against the Fatah-led government.

But both those barriers to war would disappear if the world had its way: Israeli troops would vacate the West Bank, and some kind of corridor through Israel would be created to link the West Bank to Gaza. At that point, there would be nothing to stop Hamas and Fatah from all-out war. Indeed, that’s precisely what happened after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005: Months of escalating violence ultimately erupted into war.

That war was bloody but swift. One week later, Hamas-ruled Gaza, 600 Palestinians were dead and thousands more had fled to the West Bank (Israel allowed the refugees through its territory). But since then, both sides have built up their forces considerably, so the next war might well be longer and bloodier. 

... I have yet to hear anyone explain quite how enabling such a war would benefit the Palestinians.

Thus anyone who really wants to create a Palestinian state should start by pressuring both Hamas and Fatah to address basic needs like reconstructing Gaza instead of spending all their time and energy feuding. That way, if and when such a state does emerge, it might actually be a good thing for the people who have to live in it rather than a disaster. And it would surely do far more to help the Palestinians right now than the empty recognition of a nonexistent state does.

Recognition of Palestine Won’t Bring Peace Closer

From Commentary, 13 May 2015, by Jonathan S. Tobin:

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. ... its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

... the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process. To the contrary, by granting them official status in this way only encourages Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue to stonewall efforts to make peace.

After all, if Abbas’s real goal been an independent Palestinian state, he could have had one in 2000, 2001 when his former boss Yasir Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas rejected an even better offer in 2008 and then refused to negotiate seriously in 2013 and 2014 even after the Israelis had accepted an American framework whose goal was a two state solution.

The Palestinian campaign to get recognition from the United Nations and other countries is motivated by a desire to avoid peace talks, not to make them more successful. The Palestinians want a state but not one that is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it, not matter where its borders are drawn. 

By telling the Palestinians, the Church recognizes his faux state; it is making it easier for Abbas to refuse to negotiate. To the extent that this recognition grants the Palestinians rights to all of the disputed 1967 territories, the Vatican and other European states that have done the same thing, is prejudging negotiations that should be conducted by the parties, not outsiders.

Just as important, the Church ignores the fact that an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists in Gaza under the tyrannical rule of Hamas terrorists. 

Which “Palestine” is the Church recognizing? Hamasistan or Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy that Abbas presides over? With Hamas growing more popular, the prospect of it gaining power in an independent West Bank makes an Israeli withdrawal a fantasy rather than a viable policy option.

... the Vatican move will only serve to make peace less likely and do nothing for Middle East Christians who are under unbearable pressure from Islamists, not Israel...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Media Gets Pope’s Abbas Comments Wrong

If anyone needs further evidence of why the news agencies often can’t be trusted to report accurately on Israel and the Palestinians, and why major news outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC should stop repeating agency copy without verifying it, here is an important example from this weekend.

According to Italian and Spanish news outlets and according to the Vatican’s own website, Pope Francis told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he could be an angel of peace. 

May you be an angel of peace,” he urged Abbas, effectively saying that if Abbas would take the decision to accept one of the peace offers that various Israeli prime ministers have made to him, or at least make a serious counter-offer, he could be an angel of peace. The pope did not say that Abbas – infamous for ordering the Munich Olympic massacre, among many other atrocities – was “an angel of peace.”

And yet the BBC and New York Times were among dozens of prominent news outlets that claimed he did.

The New York Times reports today (Page A11 under the headline: “At Vatican, Abbas Is Praised as ‘Angel of Peace’”):
“Mr. Abbas’s meeting with the pope ended with an exchange of gifts. Presenting Mr. Abbas with a medallion, the pope said it depicted an angel of peace ‘destroying the bad spirit of war.’ It was an appropriate gift, the pope added, since “you are an angel of peace.” 
And here is NBCFox, and, the BBC saying the same thing.

Contrast the headlines in the New York Times with those in the Italian press. 

For example, the headline in the “Vatican Insider” section of Le Stampa is:
Pope embraces Abu Mazen and bids him to be an angel of peace
The original Italian is here
Or as Il Giornale reports, the pope met Abbas, “asking him to be ‘an angel of peace.’” 

Read almost any Italian news outlet and they say the same thing: 
“you could be an angel of peace” – “Lei possa essere un angelo della pace.”

As an astute Italian-speaking observer of the Middle East points out, all these English-speaking news media seem to have initially relied on the mistranslations of the world’s three biggest news agencies. 

...Former Middle East reporters such as myself (“The Case of Reuters”) and Matti Friedman (who used to work at AP’s Jerusalem bureau) have long warned about the impartiality of the major news agencies coverage of the Middle East. 

But then too often do reporters and editors at the New York Times, BBC, and elsewhere seem to be happy reporting on what they want to hear, rather than on what was actually said or done, when it comes to the Palestinians and Israel.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Repressed Iranian Kurds break their silence

From Jonathan Spyer, 15 May 2015:

The events this week in the Mahabad area of Iran’s Western Azerbaijan province cast light on the difficult situation faced by one of the region’s least-noticed minorities – the Kurds of Iran.

The apparent attempt by an intelligence officer in Mahabad to rape an Iranian-Kurdish hotel worker, 25-year-old Farinaz Khosrawani, and the latter’s subsequent suicide by jumping from a fourth-floor window, led to furious protests by Kurds in both Mahabad and beyond.

The hotel was burned by protesters; authorities responded heavy-handedly, using rubber bullets and tear gas.

There is currently a media and social media blackout from the area, but word-of-mouth reports suggest the situation remains tense.

Soran Khedri, a former official of the Iranian-Kurdish Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) organization, told The Jerusalem Post that at least one demonstrator has died, and that in the last 48 hours, PJAK guerrillas had attacked an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps checkpoint in the area, killing two IRGC personnel.

The Kurds of Iraq and Syria have become highly significant and visible players on the regional stage over the last decade. Turkey’s Kurds, of course, have long been noted internationally – because of the insurgency of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) against a succession of governments in Ankara.
But the Kurds of Iran have been the most silent of Kurdish populations.

Numbering around 8 million in total, they are mainly resident in the Kordestan province of western Iran (adjoining Iraqi Kurdistan), one of the country’s most impoverished regions; Kurdish populations are also to be found in Western Azerbaijan, Ilam and Kermanshah. Unemployment in Kordestan Province stands at 28 percent; there is little local industry.

The Iranian Kurds were not always politically silent. Mahabad was the location of the short-lived Mahabad Republic – the only example of full Kurdish sovereignty in the 20th century. The republic was declared in January 1946, and destroyed by the Iranians in December of that year.

But under the Islamic Republic, the Kurds have faced repression of the most severe kind. A large-scale revolt against the new regime, led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iran (PDKI), was crushed with great severity in the period immediately following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The IRGC killed over 10,000 Kurds as it fought to destroy the nascent Kurdish independence movement; the insurgency was largely defeated by 1983.

The suppression of any hint of Kurdish separatism has remained in place ever since. Education in Kurdish remains forbidden; any sign of attempts at political organization is ruthlessly suppressed by the Revolutionary Guards.

The hostility of the Iranian regime to the slightest hint of separatism derives not solely or mainly from ethnic tensions between Persians and Kurds. Even the most modest Kurdish demands for greater local autonomy raise the specter for the regime of ethnic separatism. Iran is a divided society ethnically, with only 49 percent of the population consisting of ethnic Persians; the rest are a mixture of Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds and Arabs.

Thus, the brutal and total repression of Kurdish demands is an indication not of the regime’s strength, but of its potential weakness. Tehran fears that were the demands of one minority ethnicity to be accommodated – even partially – this would risk opening the floodgates for other demands.

In 2004, a new Iranian Kurdish insurgency began. This was led by PJAK, PKK’s franchise among the Iranian Kurds. From the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, PJAK sought to strike at the Iranian authorities while its cadres worked among the population, seeking to build clandestine support.

A shaky, on/off cease-fire has persisted between PJAK and the Iranian authorities since 2011, after a large-scale incursion by the IRGC into Iraqi Kurdistan led to fierce battles. But PJAK remains armed and deployed along the border, able to exploit any breakdown of regime control in the Kurdish areas.
Alongside PJAK, the PDKI remains active, as do a number of parties claiming the mantle of the Komala Movement, a once-influential leftist force among the Iranian Kurds.

Severe repression, divided politics and a long period of apparent quiescence were followed by sudden, unexpected anger precipitated by an unforeseen event. This is what is currently taking place in Iranian Kurdistan; it sounds, in all particulars, a familiar story in the Middle East of the last half-decade.

So, are the events in Mahabad a prelude to some larger movement or unrest among the Iranian Kurds?
An Iranian-Kurdish lawyer with good connections in the Mahabad area told the Post that the current wave of acrimony looked set to “ebb away.” He noted that the protests “in support of Mahabad spread only to a few other cities, like Sardasht and Mariwan.”

Nevertheless, he also asserted that the protests were an indicator of “vast anti-regime sentiments” among Iran’s Kurdish population.

As of now, the Mahabad situation appears to have been contained by the Iranian authorities, yet the events are an indication of the inner fragility of the Iranian regime. Even as Tehran invests in spreading its influence across the region, Mahabad is a reminder that its position at home is by no means secure, or consolidated.

Rather, it rules over large swathes of the Iranian population by force and coercion alone. It is therefore vulnerable to internal subversion – and the more it spreads its assets thinly, by involvement in ever-more regional arenas, the fewer resources it will have available for dealing with internal unrest.

Rodi Hevian, a Kurdish journalist at the online Kurdish Daily News, likened the Mahabad events to the short-lived uprising by Syrian Kurds in the city of al-Qamishli in 2004. Though quickly (and bloodily) repressed by the Assad regime, the Qamishli events were in retrospect a first tremor for what was to come in Syria.

“It could also be a wake-up call for the Iranian regime interfering in Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” Hevian told the Post, “namely, gaining ground in other countries can lead to losing ground at home.”
Of course, for the Iranians to begin paying a price of this kind, it is necessary that the Iranian Kurds and other minorities begin to receive the attention and support of regional enemies of Iran, and of the West.

For this to happen, in turn, there needs to be a recognition of the urgent necessity of containing and turning back Iranian regional ambitions; no such awareness currently exists in Western capitals.
Following June 30 – should a nuclear agreement between Teheran and the P5+1 world powers be concluded – the pressure on the Iranians may be vastly reduced. Abandonment of sanctions would enable the regime to begin to channel greater resources to areas of instability, and to seek to buy off discontent.

Still, in Middle Eastern capitals, both the Iranian threat and the Iranian vulnerability do not go unnoticed. The mullahs and the IRGC are not all-powerful; the tremor in Mahabad indeed reveals just how notably shallow their rule is.