After the Hamas Victory, What Next for Fatah?

After the Hamas Victory, What Next for Fatah?

January 30, 2006 11:26 am (EST)

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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Kadura Fares is a close aide and adviser to imprisoned senior Fatah leader and cabinet member Marwan Barghouti, who lost his own parliamentary seat in the Hamas landslide that chased Fatah from power. Fares is regarded as one of the principal architects of Fatah’s ’young guard’ movement, who briefly formed the al-Mustaqbal or "Future" list before joining with Abu Mazen to form a united Fatah list for the January elections. Fares was interviewed from Gaza by Patrick Belton, a contributor.

Thank you for meeting with us. Why did Fatah fail?

Lots of reasons. First, the structures of the movement are old. The last general conference was held in 1989, and the old leadership is selfish, and thinks their legitimacy extends forever. We tried to renew the movement and hold a general conference before the general election; they refused.

Second, we pay the price of the ten years they were in office. They gave the people corrupt leaders, ministers and police officers. They dealt with the people badly.

Third, Hamas tell people they have the truth, can do a lot of things at the same time because they have direct relations with God, so quickly they will be able to build the economy, end the occupation, kill the Israelis and end corruption all at the same time. But over 60 percent of Palestinians live under the poverty line. Hamas has not organized themselves for government. We have daily contact with the Israelis, over elections, water, sending people to hospital. What will Hamas do when day-to-day issues of this sort come up?

Is this why Hamas is asking Fatah for a coalition?


And will Fatah accept?

No. Because they have their own agenda that is not our agenda.

So you should give Hamas time to fail, then?

I think. They have no experience in dealing with the daily life needs of Palestinian people.

I can see how it will be in the interests of Fatah to allow
Hamas to fail. But if you do this, are you not ignoring the needs and
interests of the Palestinian people?

They should say to the Palestinian people that the Fatah way is the best way. If they do this, we will join them in a coalition. I don’t want any party to use Fatah for their agenda.

Will they oppress the Palestinian people’s freedom?

I don’t believe that. They are too clever for that. Maybe they will take some cosmetic decisions.

Such as?

Maybe some steps at silly things: change every security officer...[or]...have more women in headscarves on the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.

Would they like to Islamicize Palestinian life?
No, not Islamicize it. Lot of Palestinians are democratic, secular. They vote for Hamas to punish Fatah, not because they love Hamas. Hamas knows this and won’t attempt to Islamicize Palestinian life because they want to legitimize their political wing.

What about their prospects for administrative change and

I don’t think they have a lot of time. There will be pressure from the Palestinian people, [who] will give them three, maybe four months to prove themselves. They will ask not only, "How have you furthered the resistance to our occupation?," but, "How have you improved our daily life?" Those with no work will ask, "Where is work?" Those who are teachers will ask where their salaries are.

It is not enough for them to win, for them to then have answers for Palestinian people. They have been saying on television Fatah is the problem. Now they have power, legitimacy. Now we want to study from Hamas how they will solve Palestinian people’s problems.

Their internal or external problems?

They are linked. The economy is linked both to corruption and manufacturing policy, and the Palestinians’ ability to access the rest of the world.

And will they negotiate with Israel?

[For] that, they want Fatah to do the dirty work, and for [Hamas] to be the imam, the clean leader. We think they should take the clean and dirty work, both.

And with Israel?

They should agree to negotiate with Israel, to recognize the Israeli state.

Will they?

Hamas is a pragmatic movement. If they make these steps, they will lose a lot of the movement [that] will go to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A strong group within Hamas wanted only to be in opposition. I think [some] of their members and activists will leave and go to Islamic Jihad.

They will find themselves exactly like Fatah. If I am a Hamas member, I would go to my leaders and ask, "You told me Fatah program is so bad, it is against our interests, our economy, our nationalism, our Islam. Now you do the same thing, but you say you are different because you have a green flag." They will be corrupt, but they need time to be corrupt.

You said, at first Hamas will want to make cosmetic
changes. You don’t think this will push them down an Islamic path?
First headscarves on television, then to keep their supporters happy
will reforms go on quickly, [like banning] alcohol in restaurants?

At beginning, no. Maybe after two years, they find they don’t accomplish anything, then you find small steps, like closing bars maybe. Changing the syllabi of the ministry of education, maybe. But to change schoolbooks takes a lot of time, five or six years. Maybe
they’ll use the old books of the Taliban. (laughs)

What about their relations abroad, with Iran and Saudi Arabia? Hezbollah?

With Iran, [they will] not [have] a strategic relationship. With Hezbollah, Iran is not happy that the Islamic movement will have so much success. They want to claim that only the Shi’a can win the war with Israel. Saudi Arabia wants Hamas to be part of its own circle of influence. But Hamas is clever enough, they speak a lot of time about resistance; now they will stop talking about resistance, because they are in power.

So will Saudi Arabia continue to give them money?

It is an easy thing to finance an organization, harder to finance a people. If Israel gives Saudi Arabia the impression it is all right to give them money, they will. If not, possibly not.

What about Palestinian Christians, how will Hamas treat them?

Unfortunately, many of them voted for Hamas. They were angry at us. In Taibeh, the village where they make the Palestinian beer, it is a Christian village, and one hundred people voted for Hamas. It would be funny if they should close the beer factory, that will suit them.

But Hamas will be sensitive. There will be a lot of focus on how it treats Christians, it will be careful to give a good impression with such scrutiny. There is a history of good relations between Muslims and Christians in Palestine. In the time of Saladdin [the famed 12th century Muslim warrior who defended Jerusalem against the Crusaders], Palestinian
Christians fought on the side of the Muslims; in the struggle against [Israeli] occupation, they have been part of the national movement. If Hamas makes this mistake [against Christians], Fatah will be happy to protest and protect them.

What is Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]’s way forward? How much power will he as president turn out to have relative to the cabinet and prime minister?

I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. On the way forward, they will have twenty-one days from the final election results to prepare a government; if they cannot, they will have another two weeks; if they cannot then, Abu Mazen should call for another election.

Is Abu Mazen angry?

He has no feeling. He is very cold. (laughs) Many in Israel are blaming the European Union (EU) for Hamas’ participation in elections, [saying] the EU pressured the United States to lean upon Israel to have elections go forward. This is incorrect. Abu Mazen went to Washington and asked Bush to permit Hamas to take part.

So Abu Mazen is a real democrat?
Fatah is democratic, and Abu Mazen is part of Fatah. The Israelis
killed Arafat, now they killed Abu Mazen also. In a year, he succeeded [in] removing one checkpoint. The Americans helped as well, on the TV sets, saying over and over again, "If Hamas succeeds, if Hamas succeeds." They were overbearing, and provided a nationalist
backlash. This is a proud people, and responds badly to being told how it should vote.

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