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From the April 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 4)

Arafat and Sharon: Endgame

For the Palestinians, Things Fall Apart


Ghassan Khatib, Palestine Report Online (independent Internet weekly), Jerusalem, Israel, Feb. 13, 2002

Palestinian security police walk across the rubble of the destroyed Palestinian national security building in Gaza City, March 6, 2002. Israeli F-16 fighter jets destroyed the building the night before, wounding five (Photo: AFP).
The ongoing deterioration in the peace process is not limited to the superficial indicator of deteriorating security for both peoples. It also includes the deterioration or collapse of other ingrained sentiments—a dangerous process that at some point becomes irreversible. The sour political mood of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples is visible in the dominant breakdown in mutual trust and an accompanying increase in support for violence as the only solution. In addition, the Israeli opposition camp’s transformation from a position on the radical fringe to the center of government itself is also a factor. That process is being mirrored on the Palestinian side where the opposition is gaining, finding its way to power through contradictions, lack of harmony, and growing rifts in the Palestinian peace camp.

An outside observer of the internal Palestinian state of affairs can see three signs of internal deterioration. First and foremost, we are now in political chaos. Following the different assessments of Camp David proposals by members of the Palestinian delegation, and differing views on the leadership’s handling of those negotiations, and now one year of bloody confrontations with Israel rendering any discussion of Camp David irrelevant, there exists disorder in the Palestinian political house.

This chaos began with Sari Nusseibeh’s new approach to the issues of refugees, settlements, and Jerusalem. In recent weeks, there have been a number of articles by important Palestinian figures, culminating in The New York Times article by President Yasser Arafat, all of which included “new” language and new concepts in approaching major issues. Among these was the merging of “respect for Israel’s demography” into the Palestinian solution for the refugee problem. This particular point has caused a great deal of unease among the Palestinian people, as it is a change from the official Palestinian conception of refugee affairs.

The second sign of the setback in internal politics is negative indicators of the leadership’s ability to lead. Recent neglect by the [Palestinian] Authority and Palestinian leadership of their duties to maintain civil law, order, and social affairs has resulted in deaths, damage, and further mayhem. The failure to distribute the economic burden of the Intifada over the various sectors of society, rather than laying it on the shoulders of the weak and poor, has stirred further dissent.

It is no surprise that these shortcomings have lessened trust in the Authority, thus boosting an opposition that has no responsibility for these things because it is not now in power. Israeli policy is making it difficult for the Authority to perform its duties. At the same time, the structure of this Authority, its poor performance, and the self-interested nature of some of its members all play a role in its current weakness.

The third indicator of internal setback is the visible increase in personal and political conflicts in the leadership. The most prominent example of this was the dispute at the Feb. 10 Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting. At that meeting, there was vocal dissent between those who want to dissolve Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades that participate in the armed struggle and those who rejected that out of hand.

Also, tension expressed between President Arafat and Preventive Security Col. Jibril Rajoub on the night of Feb. 12 over the handling of current politics is one more sign. Late last year, Preventive Security Col. Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza even handed in his resignation over Palestinian policies.

Israel bears prime, if not sole, responsibility for these signs of weakness. Second in culpability is the United States. The Palestinian absence of institutional teamwork must also take some of the blame. If the goal of Ariel Sharon’s government, which opposes the peace process, is to allow the Palestinian opposition to rise to power, then it is making no mistakes.


 
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