Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s Jihadist Tendencies
On June 15, Hamas and Fatah began a third round of talks in Qatar towards reconciliation towards a national unity government in the Palestinian Authority. Conventional wisdom places Fatah/the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the “moderate” camp, while Hamas is “extremist.” But interestingly, Hamas and Fatah/PA share jihadist tendencies. For ample support of this, one only needs to look at Fatah/PA’s messaging to its own people, in its own words. Fatah/PA media is chock full of interpretations of Islam that justify perpetual conflict with Israel. This rhetoric suggests the roots of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict run much deeper than a traditional conflict over land, and provides further evidence that the conflict is intractable.
(For those who equivocate and point out that recent comments by Israel opposing a Palestinian state also make the conflict intractable, it would be helpful to note how many times the Palestinians were offered a state, and how many wars the Palestinians instigated against Israel following the Oslo Accords.)
Jihadi Undertones in the Founding of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority
The word "Fatah" is a reverse acronym from the Arabic phrase: Harekat at-Tahrir al-Wataniyyeh al-Falastiniyyeh. The phrase translates to Palestinian National Liberation Movement, while the reverse acronym translates to “opening,” “conquering,” “victory,” or "conquest by means of jihad." The original Fatah Constitution, written in 1964, has the following phrase that one must recite in order to be a member of Fatah:
By Allah, the almighty and by my honour and beliefs I swear to remain faithful to Palestine, and to spare no effort to liberate it; I swear not to disclose any of the Movement's (FATEH) secrets and affairs; this is a free oath, to which God bears witness.
These religious overtones accompanying the call to “liberate” “Palestine” are similar in tone to the Hamas charter of 1988, which states: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…”
(As an aside, Article 4 of the 2003 Amended Basic Law, adopted by the Palestinian Authority, states that Islam is the official religion of Palestine and that “Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.” This seems surprising given the common perception of the Palestinian Authority as a secular government.)
Religious Justification for War (and “Peace”)
Fatah/PA justifies armed conflict with Israel on religious terms. Perhaps most famously, PA President Yasser Arafat, in a speech in the Mayfair Mosque in Johannesburg on May 11, 1994, months after signing the Oslo I Accord (September 1993), stated to his audience: “The Jihad will continue! You have to come, and to fight, and to start the Jihad to liberate Jerusalem!” Arafat used the term “jihad” even earlier, in a prerecorded Arabic broadcast over Jordanian television that aired on the same day that he shook Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand at the signing ceremony of the Oslo I Accord:
O my beloved ones, do not forget that our Palestine National Council accepted the decision in 1974. It called for the establishment of a national authority on any part of Palestinian land that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdrew. This is the fruit of your struggle, your sacrifices, and your jihad … This is the moment of return, the moment of gaining a foothold on the first liberated Palestinian land … Long live Palestine, liberated and Arab.
Arafat even referred to peace with Israel on religious terms, but as a short-term agreement to be discarded later. In the same 1994 Johannesburg speech mentioned above, Arafat said:
I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca… Umar ibn al-Khattab, the prophet had been right to insist on the agreement, for it helped him defeat the Quraysh and take over their city of Mecca. In a similar spirit, we now accept the peace agreement, but [only in order] to continue on the road to Jerusalem.
In this quote, Arafat likens his signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel to Muhammad who made a treaty with a tribe only to defeat it later.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas used similar religious rhetoric more recently. On July 22, 2014, Abbas quoted Sura 22:39 of the Koran justifying violence against Israel: “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.” On July 24, 2014, Abbas explained the conflict with Israel as a “war for Allah.” Following these remarks, the West Bank saw the greatest violence in ten years, according to the Jerusalem Post, resulting in the deaths of nine Palestinians.
Fatah/PA also commonly uses martyrdom terminology. The “military” wing of Fatah is called the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. But the “political” wing of Fatah likewise appropriates martyrdom. On March 7, 2016, on Fatah’s official Facebook page, President Abbas called a terrorist who was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers after she rammed her car into them in the Gush Etzion a “martyr by Allah’s side.” Abbas implored “Almighty Allah to surround the Martyr in his great mercy, and to “let her dwell in Paradise.” Abbas similarly called the murderer of U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force (March 2016) and the attempted murderer of Rabbi Yehuda Glick (November 2014) “martyrs.” A Fatah press statement called a terrorist who died in a failed attempt to murder Israeli troops in a car ramming on February 19, 2016 a “martyr.” On February 17, 2016, the Facebook page of the Palestinian National Security Forces stated, “We welcome martyrdom.” On April 20, 2016, two days after a bus bombing injured 21 in Jerusalem, a Fatah video called on Palestinians to be martyrs by stabbing and car ramming Israelis. A play televised on official PA TV in February 2014 portrayed a Palestinian girl stating to an Israeli settler: “I will die a martyr on my land.”
Ribat: Religious Obligation to Liberate and Defend Land
Since 2008, the Palestinian Authority preached that Israel is land subject to Ribat, i.e. land that Muslims have a religious obligation to liberate and defend. On June 8, 2016, the PA government called on its citizens to visit Jerusalem “to pray and carry out Ribat there.” On June 6, 2016, Abbas gave Ramadan greetings over PA TV, with “[b]lessings to Jerusalem, our eternal capital, and those carrying out Ribat in it.” On April 22, 2016, the PA government called on Arabs “in the interior (i.e., in Israel) to go to the al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] and its plaza to carry out Ribat there.” On April 7, 2016, Fatah official Abbas Zaki described “Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s environs” as “the land of Ribat.” Hamas similarly refers to the conflict with Israel in terms of Ribat.
Prohibition Against Selling Land to Jews
Fatah/PA members defend the PA law that makes selling land to Jews punishable by death with religious overtones. Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi stated in October 2014 that “those whose sick souls allowed them to sell their land or homes, or enable such sales to the enemies of the Palestinian people, are a gang of traitors to their nation and religion” and that “[o]ne would rather die than sell his honor and betray the most sacred land in the world, saturated with the blood of prophets and martyrs throughout history.” In April 2009, the Chief Islamic Judge of the Palestinian Authority reminded the Palestinians that there was a fatwa against selling land to Jews, and selling land and houses to Jews was a “grave sin” according to Islam.
Religious Justification for Likening Jews to Apes and Pigs
Like Hamas, the Palestinian Authority also uses Suras 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166 as a religious justification for defaming Jews as “apes and pigs,” or the descendants thereof. In November 2015, a Fatah spokesman called Jews “sons of apes and pigs.” In January 2012, Palestinian Authority Mufti Muhammad Hussein stated that it is an “Islamic belief” that the Jews were descended from apes and pigs, and that "[o]ur war with the descendants of the apes and pigs [i.e. the Jews] is a war of religion and faith."
Religious Justification to Kill Jews
In January 2012, Palestinian Authority Mufti Muhammad Hussein stated that
Palestine in its entirety is a revolution… continuing today, and until the End of Days. The reliable Hadith… says: "The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: 'Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'”
By analyzing Fatah/PA’s rhetoric, one can reasonably conclude that the commonly perceived “moderate” Palestinian camp has jihadist tendencies. This has significant implications for the possibility of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It appears from the Palestinian perspective that the conflict is rooted in not simply territorial claims, but an interpretation of Islam forbidding any accommodation with Israel (despite arguments from Muslim reformers that the Koran in fact supports Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land). Real peace will thus remain elusive until the Palestinian political elites moderate their approach to the conflict, in both word and deed.