There is a strong case for a claim that the Fatah-led Palestinian national movement, as we have known it from the late 1960s onward, is fading from the scene.
While in practical terms the Palestinian national movement is an increasing irrelevance, the symbolic cause of Palestine nevertheless retains great emotional appeal both for the Muslim world as a whole and for a wide spectrum of Western leftists. The result: a new, loose, global, Islamist-led movement is emerging in its stead to carry the Palestinian banner.
The failed peace process of the 1990s indicated the central dilemma for the Palestinian national movement. It was not strong enough to achieve its maximum goal of destroying what it regarded as the illegitimate state of Israel. At the same time, with the defeat of Zionism at the very center of its worldview, it proved incapable of making the compromises necessary for a peaceful partition of the disputed area.
Following Yasir Arafat’s death in 2004, the Palestinian unity which he had created and bequeathed to his people did not long survive. The 2007 split between Arafat’s Fatah and the Palestinian Islamists of Hamas now has the look of permanence about it.
Hamas is entrenched in its semi-sovereign Gaza fiefdom. As a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, its natural partner in the neighborhood is the Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy in adjacent Egypt, rather than its Ramallah-based secular rivals.
As for Fatah, it is the local representative of the rotting secular Arab nationalist movements and regimes which are currently being eclipsed.
It should be noted that the “Arab Spring,” in terms of successfully toppled regimes, has brought down only secular Arab nationalist regimes of this type. Fatah and the PLO belong to the same era — and the same essential outlook — as the officers’ regime in Egypt, the Ba’ath regime in Syria, and the other examples of this type which are now exiting the stage of history.
Irony of ironies, the element keeping the Fatah-PLO rulers in Ramallah safe from their Islamist opponents in the West Bank is the army of their most hated enemies. Today, the only thing standing between the Palestinian Authority leadership and the fate of Bin-Ali, Mubarak, Ghadafi, and the rest is the Israel Defense Forces.