Pious words about promoting democracy in the Middle East are belied by the long history of US machinations, argues Joseph Massad*
As the enemies of the Palestinian people have been attacking them on every front -- Israel with its inquisition against Azmi Bishara and with him Palestinian resistance to the racist basis of the Jewish state inside the green line, or Hariri Inc. and its 14 March allies intent on proving the might of the Lebanese army at the expense of Palestinian civilian lives in Nahr Al-Bared, and the continued siege by the Israeli military occupation and its US sponsor of the occupied territories -- the latest attack came from Palestinian collaborators with the enemy: the Fatah leadership abetted by the United States. Indeed the subversion of Middle East democracy has been the mainstay of US policy in the region since the CIA supported the 1949 Hosni Al-Zaim coup that overthrew democracy in Syria. The list after that is long, US support for the shah of Iran's coup in 1953 against the Mossadegh government, destroying the Jordanian liberal parliamentary experience by organising a Palace coup in 1957, supporting the Baathist coup in Iraq in 1963 against the popular Abdul-Karim Qassim, and so forth. American policy has not been limited to the overthrow of liberal and democratic governments in the region but of actively supporting if not planning and abetting dictatorial rule in its place and training and supplying those rulers who have instituted regimes of extreme repression and tyranny. Its current role in subverting Palestinian democracy and imposing a corrupt collaborator class on the Palestinian people is therefore anything but novel.
In the midst of all this, Orientalist fantasies of the so- called exceptionalism of the Palestinian situation are being offered by Western pundits and their Palestinian and Arab "secular", read pro-American, counterparts. These experts seem to have forgotten the history of collaboration among the oppressed amidst tragedy and oppression, from the Judenrats and the Kapos, to Vietnam's Thieu, Angola's UNITA, South Africa's Buthelezi, Mozambique's RENAMO, Nicaragua's Contras, and Lebanon's South Lebanese Army under Saad Haddad and Antoine Lahd. The Palestinian situation is indeed the rule and not the exception. The only exception that the Middle East offers to world politics is the disproportionate imperial interest that its oil has attracted, and the unprecedented international support given to its Jewish settler colony, the two being intrinsically connected. It is not the Arab world that is exceptional but American strategy in the region and the anachronistic nature of its Jewish settler-colony. The resistance of Western pundits and their Arab servants to learn this is their resistance to any analysis that aims at resisting imperial rule.
In the case of Palestine, the US support of the Palestinian Pinochet, in the tradition of US propaganda, is presented as support FOR democracy, while the Palestinian democratic government's defence of itself against this subversion and thuggery as a coup against democracy. Sigmund Freud explains the process he called "projection" as that by which one's unconscious attributes all one's feelings (and actions) about the other to the other about oneself. For Freud, this is an unconscious process. In the case of the Palestinian putschists (or Lahdists, as they are now known in the Arab world) and their US sponsor, however, their projection of all their crimes onto Hamas is a conscious strategy that is part and parcel of their overall strategy to destroy Palestinian democracy.
Let us start with some historical precedents to the situation of today. The first time a legitimate Palestinian government was established in Gaza and prevented from extending its authority over other parts of Palestine was in September 1948. It was King Abdullah I of Jordan who at the time opposed the All-Palestine Government (APG) ( Hukumat 'Umum Filastin ), which interfered with his plan to annex Central Palestine to his kingdom. Indeed, the APG was recognised by the Arab League (who was less shamelessly subservient to imperial agendas at the time than it is today) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and the legitimate heir to the Arab Higher Committee. Repressive measures were undertaken by Jordan's king to purge the West Bank of all supporters of the APG and many inducements were offered to those willing to support his bid for annexation, dubbed "unification". Once Abdullah annexed the territory "legally and administratively", the "international community", i.e. the United Kingdom and Israel, recognised his expanded kingdom (minus East Jerusalem) while the Arab League continued to oppose it, at the prodding of the APG. The APG would soon disappear from legal and popular memory, with Gaza subjected to complete and total Egyptian administration. Central Palestine was renamed the West Bank and declared as part of Jordan as a step on the way to Arab unity and in support of the Palestinians. Opposition to the annexation was portrayed by the king as opposition to Arab unity and Palestinian liberation. This is precisely what the Fatah putschists and their president are hoping to achieve in the West Bank today, except that the unity they are seeking is an ideological one between the Fatah putschists and their American and Israeli and Arab sponsors.
The recent Fatah-executed putsch has been sometime in the making. Abbas, the Palestinian Pinochet, has been groomed for his new role for at least a year and a half -- longer, if you add the period when the US imposed him as a prime minister against Yasser Arafat, whose cooperation with US and Israeli plans was deemed insufficient. Ever since the democratic elections that dislodged the Fatah putschists out of power and brought in Hamas by popular majority vote, the plan to declare a state of emergency was set in motion at the strong recommendation of the Americans, whose opposition to democracy in the Arab world defines the bloody history and present they visited (and visit) upon the region. The problem was that the opportunity did not present itself for the plan to be executed. Not that Abbas and his putschist lieutenants did not try to create it. That they did with outright and open collaboration with the Israeli occupiers and their US sponsor. These included the economic siege and strangulation imposed by the US and the EU on the Palestinian people; Israeli re-invasion of the West Bank and Gaza and the kidnapping of scores of Hamas parliamentarians and ministers, and the burning of the prime minister's offices by Fatah thugs, who also attacked individual ministers and actively sabotaged the work of the ministries; and the active help of the Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence services who are the major consultants and advisors to Abbas at the behest of the Americans, and sometimes, the Israelis.
On the ideological front, this effort was aided by the pronouncements of collaborationist Palestinian intellectuals dubbed "secular" for their support of Oslo or the post-Oslo NGO income Oslo generated for them. Their efforts have been supplemented by pro-Hariri Lebanese right-wing intellectuals who stage themselves as "leftist pro-Palestinian activists" because in the 1970s and 1980s they had joined the ranks of the Gulf-financed Fatah. In recent months, the collaboration of the Fatah putschists could not be contained. Open preparation for the putsch was in full swing with the soliciting of US military aid and training (which was received), Israeli help in facilitating these efforts (also generously offered), and the provision of an Arab diplomatic cover (always readily available). The plan, whose details I discussed in an article in Al-Ahram Weekly last November (see "Pinochet in Palestine" in the 9-15 November 2006 issue) is now finally being executed with all the fanfare fit for Augusto Pinochet himself.
The Fatah putschists, in the tradition of all unelected Arab regimes who have also staged their own coups against democratic forces in their societies over the last six decades, have declared their democratically elected enemies as the "putschists" who are the ones leading the Palestinian people into a "dark" abyss! Pinochet was not kinder to Allende and saw himself and his fascist US-planned coup as nothing short of a corrective to set the Chilean nation back on the right path to serving and collaborating with empire. The Palestinian putschists understand that they will only remain in power and continue to accrue financial rewards if they continue to serve the Israeli occupation and its US sponsor. Indeed the Palestinian putschists have outdone Israel and the United States in their fabricated accusations against Hamas. Descriptions such as "forces of darkness", and "emirate of darkness", are not references to the Jewish racist state that has oppressed Palestinians by appealing to Jewish theology, racial supremacy, and massive indiscriminate bombings of civilians and theft of their property for the last six decades, but to the democratically elected Hamas who defended itself against the last stage of the coup that the major putschist Mohamed Dahlan was staging on behalf of Fatah and its Israeli and American sponsors in Gaza. Abbas's rhetoric, no doubt dictated to him by Condy Rice and Ehud Olmert, is matched by the rhetoric of Palestinian "intellectuals" on the payroll of Oslo and their Lebanese supporters (who are in turn on the payroll of Hariri Inc, and Al-Nahar newspaper). The major sin Hamas committed was its victory over the putschists after they pushed it into a corner in the hope of slaughtering all its leadership in Gaza. Hamas, which has been more than patient despite months of thuggish provocations (which include assassinations of its leaders, imprisonment and torture of its rank and file, to name the most salient acts) on the part of the putschists, could not but defend itself against their final onslaught.
As punishment, the Palestinian people who elected Hamas will continue to be subjected to the horrors visited upon them by the Americans, the Israelis, and the EU. The anti-democracy Americans and Europeans are already sending financial and diplomatic rewards to the coup leaders in the West Bank, as are the Israelis, although the latter are more cautious. Israel's major help to the putschists in the last few days consisted mainly in the bombardment of Gaza and arranging for "peace" talks with the coup leader in Sharm El-Sheikh as a reward. Indeed Israel, the United States, and Europe are reversing all the measures they had taken to punish Palestinian democracy since the election of Hamas in order to reward the anti- democratic coup. In this regard, Israel has begun returning the tax money it had been stealing from the Palestinian people for the last year and a half (about one billion US dollars). As for the illegal coup government convened by Abbas with the technocratic Salam Fayyad as prime minister, it, like its Chilean predecessor, will receive all kinds of aid, economic, military, diplomatic, and ideological. Let us not forget that the "Chicago school" technocratic economists, disciples of Milton Friedman, were the ones given charge of the Chilean economy under Pinochet and almost brought it to a halt. It is the Chilean example which popularised the term "technocrats" in government, which would become commonplace after the 1980s and which the Palestinian people are promised now as their salvation.
Since he led the coup against democracy, Abbas has suspended articles in the Palestinian basic law that require parliamentary approval of decisions he makes. He has also ordered the dissolution of all NGOs, which must now reapply for licences that will not be granted to Hamas-affiliated organisations, thus making them illegal. Whereas Hamas brought looting and disorder by some of its members under control within days, widespread destruction of Hamas-affiliated property, including social service centers, schools, and offices continues throughout the West Bank at the hands of Fatah thugs. In the meantime, Hamas members, including elected officials, have had to go into hiding in fear for their lives with hundreds being rounded up by Israel and Fatah. Reports of disappearances are rife. And all this is fully endorsed by the "international community" in the name of supporting "democracy." Indeed the very rhetoric used by Abbas and his Fatah junta is borrowed from US rhetoric in the "war on terror," especially the linking of Hamas to Iran.
In the meantime, acts that Fatah thugs organized, including throwing a Fatah activist (mistaken as a Hamas activist) from a tall building, and the like, are being blamed on Hamas by the secular chorus of Palestinian intellectuals (and the Saudi-owned satellite media) who are supporting the Fatah coup. Perhaps Mahmoud Darwish's recent poem in support of the coup published on the front page of the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat, can be explained by the monthly checks he receives from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority; and he is not alone. His condemnation of those secular intellectuals who support Palestinian democracy is a further attempt to polarize Palestinian society not along the lines of those who support or oppose Palestinian democracy, but along the lines of secularists versus Islamists. That the "secularists" are the ones collaborating with theocratic Israel to destroy democracy coded as "Islamism" is represented as a force of Western modernity and enlightenment. What is lost on Darwish and his ilk is that it is those "dark forces" of Islamism in Palestine that are the ones defending democracy.
The pro-coup position adopted by many of the Oslo secular intellectuals towards Palestinian democracy is indeed transforming Palestinian secularists into the "darkest force" in Palestinian history in decades. What we are witnessing is nothing less than the overall collapse of Palestinian secular example of resistance to the Israeli occupation. The only antidote to these forces of true darkness is to continue to support and mobilise for Palestinian democracy and to expose the anti- democracy coup leaders and their apologist intellectuals for what they are: collaborators with the enemy.
* The writer is an associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. His recent books include The Persistence of the Palestinian Question and Desiring Arabs.