PA President Mahmoud Abbas (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File) (AP/Majdi Mohammed, File)
Mahmoud Abbas

What’s behind Fatah’s latest PR offensive against Hamas, and what does it mean for Israel?

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

In the latest Hamas-Fatah battle for Palestinian public opinion, Palestinian Authority officials are boasting that the PA Security Forces are doing their part in “resisting” Israel. That would explain the recent posturing by Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub.

Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reports that at a recent rally in July organized by Fatah, the PA’s ruling party, Rajoub bragged that 12 percent of the Palestinian terrorists incarcerated in Israel are members of the PA Security Forces.

Said Rajoub, “Twelve percent of the prisoners in the [Israeli] prisons are members of the PA Security [Forces]. Twelve percent of the total are security members. So no one should lecture Fatah or its institutions.”

Rajoub is not the only PA figure for whom praising Fatah terrorists is a point of virtue signaling, notes the PMW watchdog.

In June, Fatah Revolutionary Council Secretary Majed Al-Fatiani told official PA News, “It needs to be made clear that Fatah is not just raising slogans of ‘popular uprising.’ Fatah is adopting and leading this popular resistance and it is part of the Palestinian organizational and fighting activity.”

“Fatah – in cooperation with the forces and factions of the Palestinian national action,” Fatiani added, “will establish the united leadership for this popular resistance… [PA Chairman Abbas] never opposed any decision or position or action that could contribute to this occupation leaving.”

PMW also flagged the PA’s official daily newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, joining the PR. offensive on July 5.

“The members of the [PA] Security Forces are the heroes of the self-sacrificing movement and the confrontations in the great [first] Intifada of 1987-1993,” Al-Hayat wrote.

“They are the ones who struggled with their bare bodies, their willpower, and their courage in the Al-Aqsa Intifada in the years 2000-2005, and they are the ones who sacrificed the most Martyrs in the struggle against the Israeli death army forces during [the- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s invasion of the cities of the Palestinian West Bank in 2002.”

During the First Intifada, 277 Israelis were killed. The Second Intifada, which escalated to deadlier suicide bombings and shootings, killed more than 1,000 Israelis.

What’s Behind Fatah’s Grandstanding?

Hamas is still riding a wave of popularity after firing thousands of rockets at Israel in May. Hamas claimed it was resisting Israeli actions in Jerusalem amid a legal battle in Sheikh Jarrah between Palestinian squatters and Jewish property owners, while the PA was perceived as weak. President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA were further sidelined as Egyptian and international diplomacy sought to broker an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

Fatah’s popularity is concerning for other reasons as well. In April, blaming Israel, Abbas postponed presidential and parliamentary elections when it became clear Hamas would win. The 85-year-old Abbas is currently in the 16th year of a four-year presidential term.

A June survey by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 75% of Palestinians regarded Hamas as the “winner” of the May crisis, that 70% wanted national elections held soon, and that only 14% preferred Fatah over Hamas.

Following that poll, PCPSR director Khalil Shikaki said Abbas would have to clean up PA corruption or become involved in a diplomatic initiative of some kind, but that hasn’t happened.

Abbas shows no signs of stepping aside for a new leader or holding the first Palestinian election since 2006. Nor has he engaged in any initiatives in the spheres of diplomacy or clean governing.

If anything, Palestinian public opinion is smoldering over the death of PA-critic Nizar Banat, who died in a Hebron hospital after being beaten by Palestinian police.

An estimated 40% of the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is under the age of 14. That’s a new generation that has never experienced an election or national unity. All the new generation knows is that Fatah rules in Ramallah, Hamas rules in Gaza, and both rule by decree.

Fatah cannot commit to peace with Israel as a strategic choice. Nor can it afford to be “more Palestinian” than Hamas without burning bridges with Israel. All Fatah can do is point to fading memories of “resistance,” “martyrdom,” and “intifada.”