NPK-info 07-04-2001- Nederlands Palestina Komitee / www.xs4all.nl/~npk

Het "Memo van Mandela" is geschreven door Arjan El Fassed;
abusievelijk was zijn naam als auteur weggevallen.
Zie http://www.mediamonitors.net/arjan28.html
En zie ook http://electronicIntifada.net/new.html (features)
Het memo is een respons op enkele columns in de New York Times.
Sorry voor eventuele misverstanden.

Hieronder: Palestinians Prepare for the Worst, Mouin Rabbani

NPK/WL, 7-4-2001


MERIP Press Information Note 54

Palestinians Prepare for the Worst

Mouin Rabbani

April 6, 2001

(Mouin Rabbani is director of the Palestinian American Research Center in
the West Bank town of Ramallah.)

Speaking on April 1, Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Information and
Culture Yasser Abed Rabbo described the current Israeli-Palestinian
relationship as "open warfare." While his characterization may have been
premature, it was anything but an April fool's joke. During Ehud Barak's
short and chaotic tenure, Israel entered the first substantive permanent
status negotiations with the Palestinians, and thereafter restored violent
conflict as the preferred method of extracting political concessions from
the Palestinian leadership. So far, Ariel Sharon's strategy appears to be to
escalate the conflict to the point where it renders a comprehensive
settlement neither possible nor necessary.

Pursuant to its conviction that Oslo's permanent status negotiations neither
can nor should be revived, the Sharon-Peres government is determined to
avoid any alternative formula for concluding an Israeli-Palestinian
settlement. Rather, it is seeking to consolidate the pre-intifada status
quo -- with cosmetic modifications
-- in the guise of a "long-term interim agreement." In this context, the
escalation of violence is designed not only to curtail the Palestinian
uprising, but to compel the PA to accept a "ceasefire in place." Once this
is achieved, the Palestinian leadership will be invited to negotiate the new
interim agreement. Should it refuse, Sharon's objective will be fulfilled by
perennially extending the "ceasefire."

The Sharon-Peres strategy will almost certainly fail. A unified Palestinian
rejection of perpetual interim accords is precisely what sustains the
uprising. Without firm commitments that permanent settlement negotiations
will pick up close to where January's Taba talks left off, the PA will not
and indeed cannot substantially reduce the level of unrest. The increasingly
direct pressure Israel is exercising on the PA may push the PA's security
forces into more direct confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
If not, the more militant and autonomous forces within the Fatah movement,
the Islamist opposition and local militias -- including activists from
across the political spectrum as well as PA security personnel -- will
resist force with force. Neither open warfare with the PA nor the PA's
demise will help Sharon fulfill his campaign promises of individual and
collective security for Israel's citizens.


Almost immediately after Sharon's government assumed power in early March,
the Israeli military converted the Occupied Territories into an open air
First World War museum. The addition of roughly 90 new trenches, earthen
ramparts and concrete barriers -- often attended by tanks and armored
personnel carriers -- divided the West Bank into 64 isolated and besieged
enclaves. Gaza was divided into four pieces. Like a faucet, each enclave can
be opened or closed at will by the IDF. For several days the beach south of
Gaza City was converted into a main thoroughfare, while in the West Bank
soldiers actively prevented the passage of pedestrians.

The proximity of so many roadblocks to Palestinian population centers
provided the National and Islamic Forces (NIF) coalition which coordinates
the uprising with the opportunity to launch a campaign of civil disobedience
against the siege. On March 12, about 1,000 Birzeit University students and
staff, accompanied by an even greater number of civilians from all walks of
life, marched behind a number of PA ministers and parliamentarians and the
entire NIF leadership toward a large trench the IDF had dug in the only road
connecting Birzeit and about 25 surrounding villages with the towns of
Ramallah and al-Bireh. Using a bulldozer, shovels and their bare hands, the
protesters restored the vital road to service. In the ensuing clashes
between soldiers and unarmed civilian demonstrators, one Palestinian was
killed and a larger number wounded.


The popular and civil character of the action, reminiscent of campaigns in
South Africa during the 1980s, garnered massive international media
attention, including numerous reports about the punitive nature and inhumane
consequences of this particular siege. Caught off guard by the media glare,
several days later the IDF reopened the road. During the following week,
first Palestinian intellectuals and artists, and then a group of women,
demonstrated at the al-Ram checkpoint on the Ramallah-Jerusalem road. The
soldiers manning this permanent barricade were at a loss for a response to
the singing artists, though they threw tear gas canisters and stun grenades
at the women's march, injuring several people including Palestinian
legislator Hanan Ashrawi. Civil resistance quickly spread throughout the
West Bank and Gaza Strip, with additional marches taking place in Nablus,
Jericho, Gaza City and elsewhere. In these latter instances, which enjoyed
substantially less foreign press coverage, the Israeli response was
significantly more violent, and the demonstrators were easily provoked into
throwing stones at soldiers who responded with automatic weapons fire,
producing many casualties. In combination with recent suicide attacks, the
renewed Israeli policy of assassinations and bombings has taken the wind out
of the sails of the civic campaign, though perhaps only temporarily.

The above efforts were not intended to transform the uprising from a war of
attrition into a popular campaign of civil disobedience, but rather to
extend participation in the intifada to sectors of the population
marginalized by the pattern of daily clashes and nightly guerrilla attacks.
At the same time, the NIF has begun proposing solutions to problems of daily
life -- such as unemployment and unpaid civil servant salaries -- that are
of urgent concern to the civilian population but have been all but ignored
by the PA. More and more, representatives of NGOs and local authorities are
being invited to participate in the NIF's weekly deliberations. Partly in
response, Yasser Arafat has invited a number of opposition parties to assume
ministerial posts in an emergency government of national unity. The
opposition parties have thus far declined, on the grounds that the
Palestinian polity first needs to reach agreement on a common political and
socio-economic program.


Throughout the Occupied Territories -- and particularly in Gaza --
Palestinian paramilitary units have ratcheted up their response to Israel's
unprecedented campaign of siege and destruction. Israeli allegations that
these units are directed by PA security, specifically by Arafat's
Presidential Guard (Force 17) are difficult to take seriously. While a
portion of the PA's more than 40,000 security personnel are clearly
involved, the simple fact is that the paramilitaries are neither prepared to
take orders from the PA, nor in need of its assistance. The clearest example
is the suicide attacks and other bombings carried out in various Israeli
cities in February and March, for which the Sharon-Peres government held
Arafat personally responsible. The Islamist organizations responsible for
these attacks hardly require access to the PA armories, or covering fire
from Force 17, to infiltrate their members into Israel. More to the point,
the idea that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would expose their clandestine cells
to a past adversary and potential rival, for no discernible benefit, defies

Through the NIF, there is political coordination between various factions,
and thus indirectly between factions and the PA. Although each faction
retains independent control over its own paramilitary units -- much like the
PLO during the 1970s -- it seems reasonable to assume that some level of
military cooperation in the field exists as well. But the PA can only
influence, and not control, the armed campaign of attrition. How much
influence the PA can exert is determined by how accurately the leadership's
political positions reflect the general mood of the Palestinian street.
There is no single chain of command.

Despite this reality, the Sharon-Peres strategy is to strike directly at the
PA, and Force 17 in particular. The strategy appears to rest upon
traditional theories which hold that one influences the conduct of Third
World leaders with attacks on their vital interests -- most notably the
praetorian guard -- thereby visibly eroding the presumed pillars of their
rule. Part of the so-called Operation Bronze, the Sharon-Peres escalation --
dubbed the "100-day plan" by the Palestinian media -- is an expansion of the
policies pursued by Barak. A return to traditional Israeli propaganda has
accompanied Operation Bronze. Whereas Barak concluded that Camp David and
the subsequent eruption of the intifada demonstrated that Arafat "is not a
peace partner" for Israel, Sharon consistently denounces Arafat as an
unregenerate "terrorist." Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz condemns the PA as a
"terrorist entity," while Foreign Minister Shimon Peres characterizes the
uprising as a "campaign of terror and violence." This is an extremely
dangerous game. The Sharon-Peres government's constituents increasingly
demand that "Palestinian terrorism" in the West Bank and Gaza be confronted
with the same tactics used by Sharon in Lebanon during 1982.


Meanwhile, Sharon's mantra that his government "will not negotiate with the
PA under fire" is belied by a new round of not-so-secret contacts with
Palestinian officials. Sharon has justified these talks by claiming that
they are exclusively dealing with matters of security. More accurately, they
have dealt with both political and security issues, but have consistently
run aground over the substance of Israel's security demands and its
insistence that these be met before political negotiations resume. The
Palestinians, who have have come to view the Sharon-Peres government as a
storm to be weathered, have strenuously rejected the Israeli demands. In
their view, Sharon's security agenda is but a mask for his political one,
and to accept the first is to guarantee the implementation of the second.
The Palestinians have concluded that the next several weeks will bring
unprecedented Israeli pressure on them, designed to compel their
acquiescence to Sharon's agenda. The Palestinians believe they are facing a
defining moment in an ongoing test of wills to see who snaps first.

On the night of April 4, almost immediately after the Bush administration
announced that the CIA would no longer participate in efforts to restore
Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, an Israeli-Palestinian security conclave
was held under CIA auspices at the Tel Aviv residence of US Ambassador to
Israel Martin Indyk. Preliminary reports indicate that it failed to produce
substantial results. As the convoy of vehicles transporting PA security
chiefs Muhammad Dahlan, Amin al-Hindi and Abd al-Razzaq al-Majayda passed
through the Erez/Beit Hanun checkpoint on the boundary between Israel and
the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces opened fire upon the jeeps, lightly injuring
three Palestinian bodyguards. The Palestinians dismissed Israeli claims that
they were responding to gunfire from the convoy, pointing instead to
Sharon's vociferous pre-election demands for Dahlan's assassination. Yasser
Abed Rabbo's prediction of "open warfare" may soon be proven correct.

(When quoting from this PIN, please cite MERIP Press Information Note 54,
"Palestinians Prepare for the Worst," by Mouin Rabbani, April 6, 2001.)


For background on the militarization of the intifada, see Mouin Rabbani's
"Towards a War of Attrition in Palestine" in Middle East Report 218 (Spring
2001). The article is accessible online at:
A longer version appears at thenation.com.

For background on the Palestinian militias, see Graham Usher's "Fatah's
Tanzim: Origins and Politics," in Middle East Report 217 (Winter 2000). The
article is accessible online at:

To order individual copies of Middle East Report or to subscribe, please
call Blackwell Publishers at 1-800-835-6770.


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