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Fatah Leaders Go to Washington, but Their Arguments Fall on Deaf Ears

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Three leaders of the Palestinian Fatah movement came this week to Washington to show they were reformers, but their message didn’t win many followers among Washington’s foreign policy community.

Ahmed Ghneim, a Fatah leader from eastern Jerusalem, said Wednesday that he believed dismantling terrorist organizations was a “completely empty concept.”

“Do you think, with our weak security services, we have the ability to dismantle any group?” Ghneim said to audience members at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which hosted the visit of the Fatah members.

Ghneim and two members of the Palestinian legislative council, Qadura Fares and Hatim Abdel Qada, met in Washington with congressional leaders and David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.

But while they spoke of the need to reform the Palestinian Authority and discussed the prospects of new elections, their push for a cease-fire between Palestinian terrorist groups and Israel — instead of dismantling terrorist groups, as the Palestinians agreed to do under the “road map” peace plan — didn’t win over many in the audience or elsewhere in Washington.

Indeed, Ghneim acknowledged that the group, from P.A. President Yasser Arafat’s political movement, did not accomplish its goals while in Washington. It received no support from either the United States or Israel for a cease- fire.

“We believe now we have no partner, not in the United States, not in Israel,” Ghneim said. “Until now, there are no signals that we have partners for this purpose.”

Ghneim suggested “serious actions” would be taken against those who opposed or violated the cease-fire. He mentioned the prevention of protests and demonstrations in the streets, arrests and confiscation of weapons.

Through a translator, Fares said that Fatah officials receive signals from Hamas leaders that Hamas would agree to a “politically fair solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he gave no indication of what an acceptable solution might look like.

The Fatah members’ trip came on the heels of other progress by Palestinian reformers in Geneva who, in collaboration with Israeli doves, crafted a proposed peace agreement that would create a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and 98 percent of the West Bank, with transfers of Israeli territory to Palestinians make up the rest.

But that peace plan — called the Geneva accord — has no official political backing and was crafted by former politicians and negotiators who are no longer in government.

Analysts say the luke-warm welcome the Fatah leaders received in Washington is a sign of how relatively innovative the “reformers” actually are.

While the trio deviated somewhat from the party line of Arafat loyalists, it echoed Arafat’s positions when it came to curbing violence and dismantling terrorist groups. That was unacceptable in Washington.

“I think they fell short of what the Washington-based Middle East community was willing to accept,” one Jewish official said. “The day the Palestinians understand this is a war against terrorism, there will be a sense that the guys are ready.”

One State Department official suggested that Satterfield’s meeting with the Fatah leaders spoke more of the influence of the trip’s coordinator — Dennis Ross, a former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East who now directs the Washington Institute — than it does of the potential of the visitors in Washington.

The Fatah leaders left Washington on Wednesday. They expressed the belief that increased U.S. engagement, which has been lacking since P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned earlier this fall, was necessary to end violence.

“We believe America can still play an active role and must play an active role,” Ghneim said. “If America cannot succeed to solve this issue, then who will?”

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