What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?
That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Arafat and the remaining PLO forces then moved to Lebanon, a quiet and peaceful country, famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. The Lebanese hosts soon discovered that they too had committed a fatal mistake—one that would claim the lives of more than 100,000 people in a civil war that lasted for fiteen years. The PLO, which had established a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. (Many Lebanese I have met say that if they had the opportunity, they would set up a statue of Ariel Sharon in downtown Beirut to honor the man who expelled the PLO from their country in 1982.)
When Israel, with the backing of the U.S. and EU, allowed the PLO into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arabs knew that the Israelis would pay a heavy price. But now the Palestinians are also paying a heavy price for pinning their hopes on Arafat and Fatah, something perhaps not foreseen so clearly.
Instead of investing the billions of dollars that the international community poured on him for the welfare of his people, Arafat built a casino, paid for his wife’s shopping sprees in Paris, and bribed his aides with Mercedes cars and villas. Arafat’s corruption drove many Palestinians into the opens arms of Hamas, which finally won a majority in the January 2006 parliamentary election.
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t been any better. He, too, failed to deliver—first to his own people, and second to the Americans and Europeans, who were betting on him to remove Hamas from power. For the past eighteen months Abbas received tens of millions of dollars to “boost” his security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. He also received thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition, and armored vehicles.
Abbas’s warlords and security commanders were the first to flee the Gaza Strip (with the help of Israel) when Hamas launched its offensive in June. They left behind weapons and thousands of disgruntled soldiers. The Palestinian public did not come out to defend Abbas and his security forces. On the contrary, hundreds of Palestinians joined Hamas in attacking and looting the large villas of Abbas, Arafat, Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan, and other top officials.
Now that Abbas’s authority has been restricted to the West Bank (some argue he’s in control of only some parts there), the Americans and Europeans are saying, essentially: “Let’s give Abbas and his PLO even more money and weapons.”
Logic says that when you deal with someone and you discover that he’s not honest and can’t deliver, you either demand that he change or you stop doing business with him. Abbas and the PLO haven’t changed.
It’s enough to take a quick tour of some West Bank cities to see that armed Fatah thugs are continuing to roam the streets, despite Abbas’s announcement that he has banned them from operating in public. Many Palestinians in the West Bank who are now on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans would tell you that they will vote for Hamas in protest against the ongoing corruption in Fatah and the state of anarchy and lawlessness. Unless the international community insists on reforms and good governance (something that is highly unlikely to happen under the current PLO leadership), it’s only a matter of time before the PLO is ousted from the West Bank, as well.