David Broder claims in Solidarity 3/115 that “Fatah is simply a bourgeois political party drenched in anti-semitism” and so, it seems, he is unable to distinguish Fatah, clearly and sharply, from Hamas.
Certainly Fatah and Hamas think there are big enough differences between them to fight a civil war.
But, perhaps, we should conclude that from our particular, working-class point of view there is little to choose between Fatah and Hamas?
Given Fatah supports Two States, and Hamas has a reactionary programme for the destruction of Israel, there is a big difference in policy between the groups. Fatah is from a more-or-less secular nationalist tradition (which should not be casually dismissed as simply ‘anti-semitic’) and is aligned with left nationalist groups in the PLO; Hamas is, as David notes, clerical fascist.
Formations such as Fatah may repress workers’ organisations, or may tolerate them; Hamas, given a free hand, would destroy us.
As a consequence of what they represent there are plenty of politically reasonable people in and around Fatah; not so with Hamas.
It is not a matter of joining Fatah, or voting for them. It is not a matter of “placing trust or faith in [Fatah] ... to fight for human liberation”. Which of us does that?
But we should recognise and state the differences. Under Fatah there is some freedom for a third camp to develop; under Hamas there is none.
David doesn’t like the choice, Fatah or Hamas. I don’t like it much myself. But during the fighting in Gaza that’s what it came down to.
David looks to forces that have rejected both Fatah and Hamas in the name of something better. Smallish trade union initiatives etc, do exist – that’s true and important. But in a fight between Hamas and Fatah what should such forces do? If they are able: help Fatah fight Hamas. In the first instance it is a matter of self-preservation.
Mark Osborn, Catford
I know a young British socialist, of Israeli origin, who happened to have dinner with a Fatah leader in London recently. The young woman in question is an independent, but I think it would be fair to say she shares some of the AWL's ideas on Palestine, reactionary anti-imperialism, Islamism, the left's weakness on women's and gay liberation etc. Like us she opposes both Hamas and Fatah from a working-class point of view. She was able to have a congenial discussion with the (non-socialist, non-working class) Fatah leader. Can you imagine such a thing with a leader of Hamas?
It is tiresome to be told to do some serious research by someone whose research appears to consist of extensive use of Google and Wikipedia.
So, someone in the International Crisis Group has decided to publish something – including comments by (unnamed) ‘regional experts’, no less! – saying Hamas are now for 2 states. Sorry, I don’t care much about the opinion of the International Crisis Group.
So, Khalid Meshal has done an interview in which he’s really very nice. He says one thing, and does another. I’d be taken in, except for the facts: Hamas has a programme that calls for the destruction of Israel; Meshal has refused to recognise Israel; the furthest he has gone is to agree to the possibility of a ‘long-term ceasefire’ with Israel; his organisation has fired several thousand rockets into Israel and sent suicide bombers into Jewish cafes, busses, shopping centres (the fact Hamas has done less of this recently is due to the balance of forces, not a change of political attitude).
Hamas is no partner for peace (the Israelis are right; even if Likud is quietly pleased). Fatah is a different matter.
So, Tom, are you for a negotiated peace or not?
Tom’s position – one-sided, wrongly focussed – is that Fatah are ‘an imperialist faction’; that the AWL is soft on imperialism. It is all the wrong way round.
The PA is a very weak power. No doubt they are often under considerable pressure from the US, which can lever the PA Authority into doing things they would rather not.
It is not true that the US trains (all) the PA security forces; they do train and fund certain agencies. Why? Because the US has a fear of Islamists (some of which is perfectly reasonable), which is common ground with Fatah (rather than an attitude which has been forced on Fatah.) Fatah didn't want pro-Hamas demos on the West bank during the Gaza war for their own, independent, reasons.
If Fatah was just a front for the US there would have been a (lousy) ‘final status agreement’ signed already.
But let’s start where we should start, with the working class (of which Tom makes no mention). After Hamas took power in Gaza they purged the judiciary, security forces. They took over – directly – all state functions (except banking). It is a Hamas state. They have used state power to smash Fatah and to smash all visible leftist and union organisation. So, for example, they have crushed the journalists’ union, the teachers’ union, the hospital workers’ organisation.
There is a creeping Islamisation in Gaza as Hamas builds a one-party clerical state. So, for example, secular teachers have been sacked and new teachers employed not on the basis of being teachers, but because they have been endorsed by a (Hamas) mosque.
On the West Bank there is repression (mostly against Hamas), but unions continue to exist; leftists can function; the media is not controlled by the state in the blanket way it is in Gaza; women can freely walk about without covering up.
From a working-class point of view there is a difference between Gaza and the WB.
Even if you do just use Google, you can find that Hamas says different things at (not very widely separated) different points. And this for the consumption of the world media! What do you think the leaders say to their own members? In so far as there is a single coherent public line, it is that they would use an independent state within the 67 borders as a launch point for a further campaign to abolish Israel. And whether it is based on armed struggle at any given point, an Arab campaign to abolish Israel is reactionary, particular when it's an Islamist one.
I stand by my point above. I don't think any Hamas leader could have had that kind of discussion with the socialist in question - and there's a reason for that. Not the most significant or conclusive observation, but right nonetheless.
Look Tom I’ve had a series of reports and articles about the situation in Gaza published in Solidarity over the past several years. Read them if you like. Frankly I don’t care.
I would, however, distinguish between the opinions of NGO etc (which aren’t of much interest generally) and facts that are published in the serious bourgeois press (which I’m perfectly able to interpret for myself.)
Negotiated peace? This is too stupid. Even a ‘grass roots rebellion’ would find negotiations and agreement would be necessary for a stable peace.
Likud a partner for peace? No, not at the moment. Labour? – maybe.
“There is no existential threat to Israel, nor the prospect of one.” Is that right? I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but there’s this big country called Iran. It is developing nuclear weapons (or is this just a bourgeois lie?) and its deranged, anti-semitic, Holocaust-denying Islamist president has declared his intention to see Israel wiped off the map (or is this just malicious translation?)
Whitewashing Fatah? Jibberish. You’ve read the original article – above this - which simply calls for support for Fatah in the physical fight against Hamas, when the fighting took place in Gaza. It explicitly states we should not vote for Fatah etc.
The original article notes that Fatah might well repress workers’ organisations. It does not call Fatah friends of the workers.
This is too stupid. Go and argue on some other website.
I'm reminded of Trotsky's comments about the policy of the Third Period Stalinists, who essentially denied any difference between the Nazis and the (highly repressive, preparing the way for the Nazis) Bonapartist regime which they went on to replace - and accused the Trotskyists of softness on the latter:
"The notion that nothing new will be added by the victory of fascists is being zealously propagated now in all sections of the Comintern. In the January issue of the French periodical Cahiers du Bolchevisme we read, "The Trotskyists behave in practice like Breitscheid; they accept the famous Social Democratic theory of the ‘lesser evil,’ according to which Brüning is not as bad as Hitler, according to which it is not so unpleasant to starve under Brüning as under Hitler, and infinitely more preferable to be shot down by Groener than by Frick." This is not the most stupid passage, although – to give it due credit – stupid enough. Unfortunately, however, it expresses the gist of the political philosophy of the leaders of the Comintern."
Tom, you think the German Bonapartist regime - or even the republican-Social Democratic phase of the Weimar Republic which went before - did not witness serious repression against the working class?! And therefore - there was no important difference, from a working-class point of view, between that period and the Nazi regime? What about the Spanish civil war? Were the bourgeois-Stalinist Republicans fantastic friends of the working class? And therefore the war was about nothing, and workers should have been neutral?
No, you've misunderstood.
My point wasn't that Fatah/Hamas is a close analogy to Social Democracy/Nazism. In fact I wasn't comparing Fatah to the German Social Democracy at all! The most obvious and important differences are that the SPD was a workers' organisation in a sense that Fatah isn't, and that there is no even ostensibly mass revolutionary communist movement in Palestine. I am not arguing that revolutionary workers in Palestine should offer Fatah a united front in the sense that Trotsky advocated the Communists offer a united front to Social Democracy. No, Fatah is more comparable to the bourgeois political forces who dominated Germany's decaying, Bonapartist republican regime.
My point was rather that your methodology is similar to that of the Third Period Stalinists, in that you accuse those of us who see important distinctions between Fatah and Hamas of softness on Fatah, and make use of Fatah's indisputably and undisputed anti-working class record to blur the dividing line with Hamas' project: a totalitarian Islamic state which involves the total destruction of all workers' organisations and space for workers to organise. Trotky's criticism of the Stalinists wasn't just about their assessment of the Social Democrats; it was about their assessment of the non-fascist bourgeois parties as well.
In Spain, Trotsky advocated workers fight alongside the bourgeois republicans to stop a fascist takeover (while maintaining their independence, using their own methods and fighting to overthrow the bourgeoisie); if a civil war had take place between the Nazis and the bourgeois "democrats" in Germany he would no doubt have taken a similar position. My point is that this didn't mean he thought these bourgeois forces were "friends of the working class"!
A Workers' Liberty delegation has spent the last five days in Palestine, and spent today with left-wing (non-Fatah) PGFTU activists in Nablus.
What we discovered is that this union, which is far from a Fatah front (Fatah has its own front union federation, the GUPW, and there are many critical activists in the PGFTU and struggles over internal democracy etc), operates relatively without hindrance in the West Bank. And, yes, there are strikes against the PA - by the independent unions, but by PGFTU unions as well! There is space, up to a point, for all kinds of secular, left-leaning organisation. In Gaza, in contrast, the unions have been driven under ground, forbidden from holding meetings etc, and their activists are not even allowed to leave Gaza for union conferences. Meanwhile Hamas is trying to replace them with "Islamic unions" (ie labour fronts) under its control.
In the West Bank you see women without the hijab (not many, except in the PGFTU office, but apparently going bare-headed is once again becoming more common among teenage women as a slight degree of social stability reasserts itself), you can buy alcohol, have a party etc etc. None of this true in Gaza - as one PGFTU activist put it, Hamas is not just against trade union rights but all democratic rights. They have recently arrested women in Gaza for smoking shisha in (women-only) coffeeshops! Of course things were not great before Hamas took power in Gaza; but this didn't come out of nowhere, the point is that they were already an extremely influential movement.
This was also the message presented to us by the organiser of a cultural centre in one of Nablus' refugee camps. Neither he nor the PGFTU person were Fatah supporters or had any reason to whitewash Fatah.
I should add something about the comments made by organisers at the Democracy and Workers' Rights Centre in Ramallah, an NGO linked to a small federation of unions independent of the PGFTU (claiming 28,000 members, as against something like 300,000 for the PGFTU).
There seemed to be a slight disagreement among the DWRC people we met about the situation in Gaza. One said that 'their' unions were given greater freedom to organise than the PGFTU ones, because Hamas sees the latter as an instrument of Fatah (they are also hamstrung by the fact that the PGFTU HQ was destroyed - not just hit once, but thoroughly demolished - by Israel during the 2009 attack on Gaza). They were able to hold a thousand-strong May Day event, and have organised workshops which some 'orphan' PGFTU unions attended. Another said that it was possible to meet and discuss in Gaza, but not really to organise or mobilise. A third said that their unions were tolerated as long as they didn't say anything critical of the Hamas regime, and that they could be closed down soon as "no one is safe in Gaza".
We visited the PGFTU in Nablus a second time, and I asked one of the non-Fatah leftists about this. He agreed that Hamas has not repressed the independent unions as thoroughly as the PFGTU ones, but argued that this was because in Gaza they are radically smaller, with the Gazan DWRC more purely an NGO rather than being linked to a mass workers' movement. Therefore Hamas does not feel it to be such a threat as the PGFTU.
See here for some recent evidence of how politically misleading (if possibly justifiable by strict parsing of language) Tom's comment that Palestinian workers are "really... mostly UNRWA funded refugees, very small bourgeoisie, and smallholders, or living off family or savings" is.