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Fatah: Military Wing on Defense; Political Wing on Offense

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the name of the military wing of Fatah, the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas. Yesterday, the Palestinian news agency Maan received and printed the following statement, allegedly from the Brigades, in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden:

The Islamic nation awoke to a catastrophe: the reports of the shahid (martyr) death of the Sheikh, Jihad-fighter Osama bin Laden, in a treacherous manner, by the gangs of the heretics and those who stray.

The path irrigated with the blood of its leaders is the path of victory, Allah willing. If Abu Abdallah [Bin Laden] was killed, then he merited the Shahada (Death for Allah) which he had sought, and inscribed with his blood the landmarks of Jihad, leaving behind an entire generation that follows the path of Sheikh Osama.

The military wings of the Jihad fighters in Palestine and outside of it, who have in the past lost many of their commanders and their men, will not stop. This has only strengthened their determination, their resolve and their loyalty to their shahids (martyrs), who have turned their words into a reality testifying to their honesty, and which in fact bolsters the drive and the strength of their brothers on the path to victory or Shahdada (Death for Allah)’.

We say to the American and Israeli occupier: the [Islamic] nation which produced leaders who changed the course of history through their Jihad and their endurance, is a nation that is capable of supplying an abundance of new blood into the arteries of the resistance and is capable of restoring the glory of Islam and the flag of Allahs oneness, Allah willing.

If this statement is genuine, it’s one heck of an “oops”. It outdoes Hamas in its ecstatic eulogizing of the arch-terrorist and makes impossible any continued pretense that Fatah is either a partner for peace with Israel or indeed anything other than an avowed enemy of the United States.

Whether it’s a forgery or not, the Brigades are falling all over themselves today to disavow it. Abu Uday, a spokesman for the group, denied all knowledge of the statement. In something of a slip, he said the Brigades have no comment on bin Laden’s death since it has nothing to do with Palestine — a sentiment that might have irked Osama in its honesty, since he regularly used the Palestinian cause as an excuse for his outrages.

Even as Fatah’s military wing rushes to minimize the fallout from this p.r. mishap, the political wing is flexing some Hamas-style muscle. Nabil Shaath told Israel Radio today that the Quartet of Mideast mediators (the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia) has no business demanding that Hamas, Fatah’s soon-to-be partner, recognize Israel. All the Quartet has any right to expect, Shaath claims, is for Hamas to commit to renouncing violence and to being “interested” in the peace process.  (Israelis hardly have a monopoly on chutzpah around these parts.)

The Americans, for their part, noticed what Hamas had to say about its operation against bin Laden. US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner called Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh’s characterization of Osama as a holy warrior and condemnation of the Americans as oppressors and murderers of Muslims “outrageous.” “It goes without saying bin Laden was a murderer and a terrorist,” Toner said. “He ordered the killings of thousands of innocent men, women and children, and many of whom were Muslim.” Bin Laden, Toner went on, “”did not die a martyr. He died hiding in a mansion or a compound far away from the violence that was carried out in his name. And his defeat is a victory for all human beings seeking to live in peace, security and dignity.”

With regard to the Hamas-Fatah pact, Toner reiterated that the US’s “long-stated policy…is that if Hamas wants to play a political role or a role in the political process, then it needs to abide by the Quartet principles. It needs to accept those principles, which are renouncing violence and terrorism, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and abiding by previous diplomatic agreements.”

Shaath, on behalf of Abbas and Fatah, has told the Quartet — and particularly the Americans — to stuff it. Fatah is daring the Americans to pull the PA’s funding and enter into direct opposition with the Palestinians — a risk they might have felt was safe, in view of President Obama’s inclinations with regard to the peace process up to this point. They’re flying perilously close to the wind, however. Allying themselves so enthusiastically and formally with a group that has just risen to the defense of America’s arch enemy  might have been a grave tactical error. It remains to be seen how the US will respond when the other members of the Quartet welcome Hamas into the fold.