At its convention in Bethlehem this week, Fatah refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or adopt Hebrew as its official language, and didn’t conclude with a rendition of HaTikva (Israel’s national anthem). What a disappointment, what a blow to the champions of peace.
The Palestinians remain unchanged; an oppressed and harried people desiring independence alongside Israel without having to recognize or uphold Zionist ideals or the principles of the Jewish state. Those hoping the Palestinians were on the verge of joining the World Zionist Organization and pledging allegiance to the State of Israel may be disappointed, but realists willing to take an honest look at the Bethlehem convention will have seen positive and unprecedented indications of new Palestinian willingness to make peace with Israel and drop the demand for the right of return.
It isn’t easy being a member of Fatah in Palestinian society; after years of occupation, increasing settler numbers and the building of the separation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, and in the face of rising violent religious extremism from Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran, Fatah continues to advocate non-violent resistance. Belonging to Fatah is sometimes worse, in the eyes of Palestinians, than being left-wing is to some Israelis.
Fatah, which is perceived as a secular, rational organization, for some reason still believes that negotiations and peace talks can lead to real results. Israel, on the other hand, has shown no great willingness to cooperate with the Palestinians on such issues as settlements, the route of the separation wall, or the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Indeed, Netanyahu and his ministers continue to insist the status of Jerusalem is non-negotiable, and their best offer to the Palestinians is “The Demilitarized Palestinian State”; autonomy over a collection of demilitarized cantons in the West Bank.
The failure of negotiations to yield any tangible results has weakened the standing of Palestinian moderates, who are perceived by many as being too soft and unrealistic to lead their people anywhere but into unending occupation.
Regarding Israel’s Jewish identity, Palestinians ask to be allowed to recognize the State of Israel alongside and independent Palestinian state, but are unwilling to turn their backs on their brethren, the Arab minority living within the Green Line as Israeli citizens. Thus, Palestinians prefer not to get involved with the subject of Israel’s internal definition of its character, customs and identity. But those who wish to doom negotiations will continue to demand recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something Palestinians can’t and shouldn’t need to give.
The Fatah convention in Bethlehem is not a gathering of collaborators or Israel lovers, but rather of the leaders of the Palestinian national struggle who believe that peace with Israel is possible and necessary, and that the secular, moderate Palestinian liberation movement is the one that will lead the Palestinian people to independence. Better to face reality and exhaust all possible avenues to reach an agreement now with a moderate, pragmatic Palestinian leadership than to wait until it is replaced by fanatic religious extremists who believe in violent jihad.