Developing an Exit Strategy and Preventing More Disasters

A Call to Fatah : Developing an Exit Strategy and Preventing More Disasters

September 9, 2001


By Dr. Gershon Baskin

Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI – Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information



The Oslo Peace Process was enabled by the strategic decision taken by Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza in 1993 to end the first intifada and to support the decision of the Palestinian political leadership in Tunis.  On September 13, 1993, Fatah activists led marches of tens of thousands of Palestinians in support of the Oslo Agreement throughout the streets of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. From January to mid September 1993, Fatah was involved in some 1400 attacks against Israelis and Israel.  From mid September 1993 until the end of 1994, Fatah activists were involved in about 12 such attacks (this includes stone throwing, Molotov fire bombs, and other armed attacks).  Fatah had decided to support the peace process and Fatah enabled Chairman Arafat and the PLO leadership to come to the territories and begin the implementation of the peace process.


Fatah supported the peace process because they were convinced that a deal had been made that would lead to the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state on those lands. Fatah also believed that all Fatah fighters imprisoned by Israeli prior to September 13, 1993 would be released by Israel.


As the years went by, it became apparent that there was a divergence in the understandings of the basics of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Seven years into the peace process, believing that Israel would not meet its obligations as understood by Fatah, the second intifada was launched.  Now, nearing the one year anniversary of the intifada and with no end in sight, it is time to reconsider strategies and options.


Fatah has stated that the intifada will continue until the occupation ends.  In this statement, there is a belief that Israel will withdraw from the occupied territories under fire. The current strategy poses that if force won’t work than more force should be employed.  The logic being that the Israeli people have to feel the pain of Palestinians’ suffering in their own homes, believing that Israelis will then agree to withdraw from Palestinian lands. This strategy has no chances at all to succeed.  As Israeli pain increases the will of Israelis to use more force against Palestinians strengthens and only brings both sides to further escalate bringing about the killing of more people on both sides.


In talking with Fatah leaders I have learned that they believe that Prime Minister Sharon is leading the Israeli public through propaganda to support the government’s policies against the Palestinians.  What I believe the Fatah people fail to understand is that the situation is quite the opposite. The Prime Minister is being led by public opinion demanding to hit the Palestinians harder than he has done so far.


The Israeli public has come to believe that the Palestinians do not want peace, rather they believe that the Palestinians are seeking to destroy Israel.  This is the common wisdom in Israel.  It may sound very anachronistic and out of place to Palestinian ears, nonetheless, this is the truth and the reality of Israeli public opinion.  On what do Israeli place this belief?  For one, they believe that the Palestinian rejection of what they perceive to have been generous offers by the Barak government indicates to them that the Palestinians were not really interested in reaching an agreement.  Two – the Israeli public believes that the Palestinian demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees means (for them) that the Palestinians are seeking a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and at the same time are demanding that Israeli become a bi-national Palestinian-Israeli state that will be created by implementing the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees.  Three – the strategy (or lack of strategy) of the current intifada in which Israelis are being attacked inside of Israel proper causes Israelis to understand that the strategic goal of the Palestinians is not to just end the occupation, but the push Jews out of Israel and to destroy the Israeli State.


Today most Israelis believe that the Palestinians are fighting the war for the borders of 1948 and not the war for the borders of 1967.  There is little reason why they should think otherwise.  The lack of clarity in Palestinian political statements regarding final goals, what is believed to be the Palestinian solution for the refugee problem (full right of return) and the policies of attacking inside of Israel provides Israelis with sufficient evidence to make them believe that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side. (I am well aware of all of the arguments why Palestinians too believe that there is no partner for peace on the Israeli side).


Recently I spent an evening with some of the leaders of the Fatah Tanzim.  I put forth to them the argument written above.  Their response was the following:



If this truly reflects the opinions of the Fatah leadership, then I would suggest that Fatah decision-making bodies consider the following agenda:


  1. Re-engage Israelis in dialogue.  It is essential that the leaders of Fatah express a willingness to re-engage Israelis in a constructive dialogue aimed at rebuilding the peace partnership between the sides.  I believe that the Palestinians have never had a better ally for peace than the peace camp in Israel.  The Israeli peace camp has withered away as many of them have come to accept the common wisdom felt by the majority of Israelis as expressed above. It is essential to rebuild the partnership of supporters of real peace on both sides of the divide.  Boycotting dialogue with those Israelis is counter-productive to Palestinian interests.


  1. Declare clearly what you mean by peace.  Fatah should issue its version of a peace treaty with Israel.  The more specific the treaty, the better.  In particular it is essential to state clearly and unambiguously that the bulk of Palestinian refugees will implement the right of return within the Palestinian state and through compensation schemes that Israel will be a part of.  If, as I was told, Fatah does not believe that more than 50,000 - 100,000 refugees will be able to go back to their homes in Israel, this should be stated clearly. The document should also clearly state the intention of Fatah to live in full peace with Israel and that the peace treaty will be final without future claims and plans for future intifadas.


If Fatah were to make decisions in accordance with the above, it would be possible to launch a campaign aimed at recreating an opposition to the current Israeli government that would eventually lead to new elections in Israel. But make no mistake, new elections in Israel under the current circumstances means the election of a government that will be even harder lined than the current government of Sharon. Fatah must make it clear that it is opposed to attacking Israelis inside of Israel proper.  The intifada is against the occupation and must be directed as such. 


I have always been an advocate of the power of non-violence and would strongly recommend to Fatah and to all Palestinians that they adopt these methods and means of struggle. They would be much more effective in changing Israeli and world public opinion in favor of the Palestinian struggle.  As the underdog, it is essential for Palestinians to capture and maintain the higher moral ground.


I will probably be told by Palestinians that rather than giving them advice I would be better off using my time and energy trying to get the Government of Sharon to stop assassinating Palestinian leaders, to remove settlements and to end the occupation.  I am doing that as well.  This is my first attempt in many months to direct advice to the Palestinian leadership.  I only hope that someone with power and influence will listen.

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