Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lebanon's New Fatah: "Revolution within a Revolution"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lebanon's New Fatah: "Revolution within a Revolution"

Article excerpt

Lebanon's New Fatah: "Revolution Within a Revolution"

By Laura Drake

As Yasser Arafat consolidates his new authority in Gaza and Jericho, an equal but opposite reaction is taking place across the border in Lebanon, Arafat's traditional stronghold. Here, in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp, famous for its fierce resistance to the Israeli invasion forces in 1982, a group proclaiming itself as the new Fatah has been born.

Nestled in the heart of this crowded citycamp of 100,000 stands the political headquarters of Col. Munir Maqdah, a former commander in Arafat's elite Force 17, turned Fatah opposition leader. Talking with Maqdah, known also by his nom de guerre, Abu Hassan, one cannot help but be reminded of images of Arafat from the years of the PLO heyday in Lebanon. Like Arafat, the colonel's military fatigues and sidearm are an integral part of his personal identity. He is deeply and outwardly religious, yet his politics are militant and distinctly secular. And, like Arafat, he is concerned about Israeli assassination squads. Maqdah never leaves home without his security entourage, even for short distances, while public appearances require several dozen fighters stationed on the rooftops, around the perimeter, and in every other conceivable place from which an armed assailant might approach.

In this area of southern Lebanon, the tense atmosphere resembles that of the mid-1980s. Camp residents live in fear of Israeli airplanes, which fly overhead at least once a day. People are heavily armed. Young boys just under the age of puberty are being trained as future guerrillas, the fighting force of what will be the fourth generation of Palestinian refugees. In short, the PLO-Israeli peace of the 1990s doesn't exist here. It simply isn't real to camp residents. To them, the Israelis are still the same enemy they were before. "It is only Arafat who has changed," said one fighter.

Indeed, as he spoke those words, news arrived at headquarters that Israeli warplanes had just begun a bombing attack in the south. The location: Palestinian and Hezbollah bases about 10 miles to the east of our position. One of Abu Hassan's colleagues, a local PFLP leader, turned to me and warned: "We might be next. They could come at any time."

Maqdah's new Fatah asserts to itself the organization's insignia, logo, motto and charter. It also claims some of Fatah's adherents in exile in Western countries, including the United States. The Forces of the Black September 13 Brigades--Fatah, as the group is known among Palestinians here--is, in political terms, what Arafat's Fatah might have become, without the 1993 Oslo agreement.

When asked to define his group's identity in five words or less, Maqdah replied that the Fatah Brigades aim to create in Fatah "a revolution within a revolution." He has opened merger talks with the Syrian-supported Fatah command of Abu Musa, which defected from Arafat in 1983.

Abu Hassan's political platform, just released, begins with a defiant challenge to Arafat's leadership: "The Fatah movement, representing the nationalist majority [of the Palestinian people], does not give its agreement to the Oslo accord, the accord of capitulation and surrender....The Fatah movement rejects this agreement, condemns it, and will resist its implementation." Just as Arafat's Fatah has come to be defined by the Gaza-and-Jericho-first agreement, so has Maqdah's. Just look at the name, commemorating the signing of the agreement the group rejects.

A Perception of Betrayal

The Black September 13 Brigades may indeed qualify as the most militant opponents of the Oslo accord, reflecting a contempt based on a perception of betrayal. Said one of the group's strategic analysts, who asked to remain anonymous: "There are over 50 examples of autonomy in the world, and not a single one of them has ever led to statehood. Arafat knows this. He himself said it many times in the past."

Said another aide: "He was our leader and confidante, but now he has emerged from our ranks with his own personal agenda. …

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