Arlene Kushner is the senior research analyst for the Center for Near East Policy Research in Jerusalem, and author of a daily blog, “Arlene From Israel,” www.arlenefromisrael.info.
On January 27, 2010, the Jewish Telegraph Agency put out a news story which indicated that a new Fatah charter, which had emerged from the Fatah Conference held in Bethlehem in August 2009, omitted a previous call for Israel’s destruction.
Wrote JTA: “US Jewish groups…have long called for Fatah…to renounce the negationist language of earlier charters. The calls have been repeated in a number of congressional resolutions…”
Omission of certain phraseology does not, however, necessarily signify the renunciation that Jewish groups have sought. The question is whether the omission in this instance has import: Does the fact that Fatah’s new charter no longer explicitly calls for the elimination of Israel represent a genuine moderating of its previous stance? The answer, succinctly, is no.
Not one of the Arabic-speaking experts on Fatah contacted for this article – including a journalist, head of a research institute and an academic – were aware of any evidence of Fatah moderation. Their positions provide not unimportant background.
JTA did no direct research for its report. Instead, it drew directly upon material put out by Secrecy News, a well-respected, little-known agency of the Federation of American Scientists, dedicated to providing public access to documentary resources that are not classified. Secrecy News, in turn, drew upon information from the Open Source Center (OSC) of the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
OCS acquired the original Arabic charter via a link posted on the Fatah Forum website. OCS then arranged for it to be translated into English and placed the translation on its website. It was not, however, accessible to the general public: OSC general policy is to restrict access to its material to government employees and contractors.
Steve Aftergood, who runs Secrecy News, obtained the document from a contact with access to the OSC. Thus, Aftergood was able to vouch for the source of the document. But he knew “nothing about the authenticity or validity of the Arabic original… or the quality of the OSC translation.”
The JTA release states forthrightly that “the new Fatah charter maintains a militant tone,” and indeed, when the charter is examined, that is found to be the case. “You must know that our enemy is strong and the battle is ferocious and long,” it declares in its introduction. It speaks, as well, of “revolution” and “liberation.”
But what is meant to be liberated by revolution?
The document’s true intention is found in the final statement of its introduction: “Long live Palestine, free and Arab.” This theme was echoed in a closing statement for the Fatah Conference made on August 13, 2009 by Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas. “Egypt is for Egyptians,” he declared, “Syria is for Syrians, Lebanon is for Lebanese, and Jordan is for Jordanians. Yet, Palestine is for the Palestinian people…”
Indeed? “Palestine,” in this context, refers to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It most clearly does not mean that Gaza and the West Bank is for Arabs, while what is inside the Green Line is for Jews. If all of Palestine is for Arabs, then the obvious intent is that, when the “revolution” was completed and “liberation” had been achieved, Israel would exist no more.
This take is confirmed by a closer look at the document itself. This charter, it says, drafted to attend to such organizational matters as defining the tasks of leaders and regulating the relationship between members, has “been adopted within the framework of adherence to the provisions of the Basic Charter,” ratified in Tunis in 1989.
This is not a full revision, then, but an adjunct providing for certain bureaucratic and organizational matters. No need to be explicit about the elimination of Israel; all that is necessary is to acknowledge the primacy of the Basic Charter, which did call for Israel’s elimination.
This essential point seems to have been passed over by the JTA report. Bewilderingly, it notes the terminology regarding adherence to the Basic Charter, and then goes on to say, “Nonetheless, missing entirely from the charter is the…language…in the 1989 version that implied Israel’s replacement…”
Nonetheless? But within the broader context, what is missing is not really of consequence. It certainly does not seem to merit the JTA headline: “New Fatah charter omits language on Israel’s demise.”
The Palestinians are particularly adept at presenting their positions so that they seem to be what we would wish them to be. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be taken in by this, so eager are we to find evidence of increasing Palestinian Arab moderation.
Yet the task that falls to us it to be certain that we are not deceived. In examining the new Fatah charter, we cannot legitimately find cause for optimism. This document provides no evidence of increasing Fatah moderation.