Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is currently in the Middle East. As has been the case in the past, one of her goals is to “strengthen” the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas. Her desire to do so is all part of a complex scenario; Rice and her boss, President Bush, have their eyes on Iran.

The State Department has let it be known on more than one occasion that putting together a coalition of moderate Arab states that will stand against Iran requires signs of progress with regard to “peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians. Why this should be the case is not altogether clear, for it is in best the interest of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, et al., to participate in such a coalition whether Israel negotiates peace with the Palestinians or not: the radicalism of Iran threatens them. Yet this condition has been asserted in certain quarters.

If Israel is going to negotiate with the Palestinians, it must be with Abbas of Fatah. Clearly, Hamas will not do. And so, Abbas must be transformed into a “moderate,” in spite of his willingness to sign on to the Prisoners’ Document with Hamas: a document that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and seeks “right of return.” He must be seen as an acceptable “partner for peace.”

As it happens, recent news concerning the “moderation” of Fatah makes the stipulations of the Prisoners’ Document suddenly appear modest.

Back in 2000, the wily Yasser Arafat, who founded Fatah along with deputy Mahmoud Abbas, had a need, as head of the Palestinian Authority, to appear anti-terrorist, if not exactly pacific. He thus fostered a spin-off from Fatah: The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. This enabled him to play the good cop-bad cop routine he so excelled at: “Who me? I’m against terrorism; it’s that other independent group that commits those terrorist acts.”

Over time, however, fairly irrefutable proof emerged that Al Aqsa was linked to Fatah:

In 2002, Brigades leader Maslama Thabet declared. “The truth is, we are Fatah itself, but we don’t operate under the name Fatah. We are the armed wing of the organization. We receive our instructions from Fatah.”

In 2003, a payment of $50,000 from Fatah to Al Aqsa was uncovered. Just a little over two years ago, the anchorman of the official PA station “Voice of Palestine,” Nizar al-Ghul, referred to “the Brigades of the Martyrs of Al Aksa that is part of the Fatah movement” (translation by Michael Widlanski).

Then, shortly after that, Ahmed Qurei, as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, stated in an interview with London’s Asharq al-Awsat: “We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah. We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group.”

Now Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily has released an interview he held with a leader of Al Aqsa Brigades, Abu Ahmed, who told him, “We are turning Gaza into south Lebanon. We learned from Hezbollah’s victory that Israel can be defeated if we know how to hit them and if we are well prepared. We are importing rockets and the knowledge to launch them and we are also making many plans for battle.”

And that’s not all Abu Ahmed said. He explained, as well, “We have warm relations with Hezbollah, which helps with some of the training programs…The Sinai (where he explained that Hezbollah has cells) is an excellent ground for training, the exchange of information and weapons and for meetings on how to turn every piece of land into usable territory for a confrontation with Israel.” Hezbollah assistance, it seems, includes development of bunkers inside of Gaza similar to those used by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So the questions must be asked:

Is the Secretary of State aware that an arm of the Fatah party, which she seeks to promote as moderate, is being assisted by the proxy for Iran?

Might it be that she is genuinely unaware of what Al Aqsa Brigades is doing these days?

And, as she proceeds in building that anti-Iran coalition (oh irony of ironies), would it truly matter to her if she did know? Would she find the courage and integrity to call a halt to the refashioning of Abbas as a “moderate”?

That would require putting it straight to the projected members of the coalition: The threat of Iran and its proxy is even greater than we had imagined. Forget that illusionary “peace process” and let us proceed with what is most important to all of us before it is too late.