Various governments, news sources, and even some Israeli politicians refer to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.” He and his political party, Fatah, market themselves as a “peaceful” alternative to the “extremist” Jew-hating terrorist group Hamas. In light of Hamas openly spewing genocidal incitement while simultaneously fighting a war against Israel, Mahmoud Abbas appears to demonstrate an example of “moral clarity” within the Palestinian Authority, which also wishes to make “peace” with the State of Israel. But is any of that information true? Dr. Max Abrahms, Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University, sees it differently.
“When people talk about someone being a moderate or an extremist, those words are under-specified. It is important to specify two types of information: One is what a person’s political preferences are; the other is what tactics they favor to achieve the goals. What people don’t see is that somebody can have ‘moderate’ views but ‘extreme’ tactics, and the opposite is very true. Such distinctions are blurred when discussing Palestinian politics.
Dr. Abrahms goes on to suggest that Mahmoud Abbas projects himself as a “moderate” since he engages with the Israeli government to discuss issues of peace and security. This contradicts the preferences of Khaled Mashal, the leader of the US-designated terrorist group Hamas, who states that he and his party remain committed to jihad against Israel.
“In general, the Palestinian Authority’s leadership is more moderate than Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Abbas specifically remains moderate with respect to the rest of Palestinian political opinion,” Abrahams suggested. “However, that does not change the fact that in the eyes of the majority of Israelis and Americans, that Abbas is an extremist both in political preferences and in tactics.”
Dr. Abrahms exemplified this point by highlighting that Abbas welcomed home terrorist prisoners released by Israel as “heroes.” These “heroes” murdered innocent Israeli and Palestinian-Arab civilians, yet the “moderate” Abbas continues to revere them. From an American and Israeli perspective, such actions constitute extremism. In addition, though Abbas takes part in talks with Israel, he has gone on record saying that he refuses to recognize a Jewish state. However, some organizations still constitute Abbas as a “partner for peace.”
“Even though the PA is very different from Hamas in terms of armed resistance, evidence still suggests that Abbas believes that kidnapping ‘settlers’ and IDF soldiers remains fair game,” Dr. Abrahms continued. “Rhetorically, Abbas is opposed to attacking Israelis within the 1949 Armistice Lines. However, Fatah still celebrated the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers earlier this summer. Fatah’s response to the kidnapping was the same as how Hamas responded to the news.”
This brings up an interesting point.
Given the historical differences and feuds between Fatah and Hamas, evidence does suggest differences between the two influential Palestinian political entities. However, the structures of both Fatah and Hamas are no different, as Dr. Abrahms explained.
“People tend to think of terrorist groups as uniformed, but they are actually heterogeneous. They accept anyone across the spectrum. However, what you see is that those in higher positions tend to project themselves as more ‘moderate.’ Abbas fits that example perfectly, as he deals with the international community. However, the foot soldiers and the lower tier members of the organizations, such as the al-Aqsa soldiers, are very radicalized in their tactics and their politics. Fatah and Hamas both operate under such structures.”
If Fatah and Hamas work off similar structures of lower tier foot soldiers, spewing Jew-hatred and calling for Israel’s destruction and higher tiers acting more “moderate,” then it jeopardizes any hopes of peace between Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs. Unfortunately, as Dr. Abrahms puts it, the last two decades display such problems with the discrepancies between these hierarchal systems in terrorist groups.
“What makes negotiating with terrorist organizations difficult is that when the leader offers to engage in peaceful negotiations with the target country as the latter accepts the olive branch, the foot soldiers feel betrayed,” Dr. Abrahms explains. “During such negotiations, the foot soldiers increase their terrorist activity and it results in more people getting killed. It happened during Oslo, it happened in 2000, it happened in 2008, and it is currently happening again. It is hard to make peace when neither Fatah nor Hamas has a uniform belief in pursuing peace.”
By these conclusions, not only is Mahmoud Abbas not a moderate, but neither is Fatah. The United States State Department, Israel, and the European Union label Hamas a terrorist organization. At the same time, Fatah acts no differently in the eyes of Israel than Hamas. Peace cannot easily be obtained if the negotiating parties representing the Palestinian-Arabs continue to act and talk like the same terrorist organizations currently launching rockets and digging tunnels to terrorize Israeli civilians.
This piece was contributed by Elliott Hamilton.
Elliott Hamilton is a rising senior at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, studying economics and politics. He is a CAMERA Fellow, the Co-President of Claremont Students for Israel, and the Jewish Identity Chairman of AEPi Chi Chi. Elliott Hamilton is a 2014-2015 CAMERA Fellow.