The collapse of Fatah forces in Gaza (as reported by McClatchy Newspapers) has important lessons to teach us about the eventual fate of Fatah in the West Bank. It could also have implications for the fate of similar secular dictatorships like Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Algeria.
In five days of fighting, Fatah gave up without putting up a real fight. Their corrupt and cowardly leadership fled the field of battle escaping to Egypt and Israel by foot and by sea as Hamas' fighters closed in on their positions. The McClatchy report details how Fatah fighters felt abandoned:
Fatah foot soldiers said they felt abandoned as they realized that there'd be no counterattack, not even a last-ditch defense.
...the story of Fatah's final hours in Gaza is a reminder of how tenuous Abbas' position may be. If he becomes too cozy with Israel, he can be accused of betraying the Palestinian cause. Angry Fatah fighters could view their sense of betrayal as reason to turn on Abbas, or at least temper their support for him.
Fatah's unequivocal defeat at the hands of Hamas could portend a similar fate in the West Bank as explained in the report:
And the rout could be repeated if Fatah's weaknesses that were so apparent in Gaza are duplicated in the West Bank. Fatah has long been on the defensive, accused of incompetence, inattention and corruption. Disciplined Hamas forces were fighting for a cause in Gaza; Fatah gunmen were mostly fighting for regular paychecks that stopped coming last year when Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority.
The overall picture of what happened in Gaza is becoming clearer every day. Fatah fighters lacked the motivation and determination demonstrated by their Hamas counterparts. The Fatah leadership in Gaza abandoned their fighters in the field and fled in a stunning display of cowardice and incompetence while Hamas' leadership led the assault on Fatah strongholds. Fatah's fighters were motivated more by their paychecks rather than a fierce dedication and loyalty to a cause.
What does this mean for the second stage of the struggle between Hamas and Fatah that will surely eventually take place in the West Bank? Lest we forget that Hamas crushed Fatah in the January 2006 elections winning an outright majority of seats in the Palestine Authority's Parliament. Support for Hamas is widespread and entrenched among Palestinians across the West Bank. The same commitment and ferocity that gave Hamas an outright victory in the Gaza could give them the edge in the coming struggle for control of the West Bank. Only the US and Israel can likely rescue Fatah from complete destruction but one wonders how much this support will turn the Palestinian people against Fatah. After all, it's pretty much a given that all of the foreign aid now flowing to the West Bank will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of Fatah's leadership and won't make it's way to the people.
Meanwhile, the similarly corrupt and incompetent secular governments in places like Egypt and Jordan are quaking in their boots at the sight of the Hamas flag flying over Gaza. As reported by my colleague Paul Hamilton, the so-called "moderate" Arab states are rushing to the aid of the beleaguered, discredited and illegitimate (after all, they lost the elections) Palestinian government under the control of dictator Mahmoud Abbas. They obviously fear that the Hamas victory could inspire Islamic fundamentalists in their countries to challenge the established authority.
And this is all coming on the heels of Hezbollah's defeat of Israel's invasion of Lebanon last year. The Hezbollah and Hamas victories, coupled with the stalemate in Iraq, serve as rallying cries for all of those across the Middle East who seek to destroy the established order. Stay tuned, it's about to get really interesting.
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