Jul 16 2003

Who Won in Al Aqsa Intifada

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Much has been said of late as to the reason for the internal Palestinian conflict, especially the struggle between Arafat and Abu Mazen. While personality issues should not be discounted from any political struggle, one has to look much deeper in order to understand what lies behind it.

The internal Palestinian conflict has erupted as a result of different readings of the international and Arab political map as well as the realities of Palestinian life. A positive reading of where the international community stands visa vis Palestinian demands would naturally lead to a more stubborn Palestinian position. However, the realization of the weakness of international support towards Palestinians would lead to a much more flexible position. The same applies to how one reads the Palestinian public’s exhaustion factor. These issues reflect on the abilities of Palestinian negotiators to make demands regarding day-to-day issues like the release of prisoners, checkpoints and improving lives of Palestinians.

In these areas there is definitely some major differences between the views of the President and the Prime Minister. Normally such differences can be easily justified and explained based on their differing positions. A president should be thinking in larger and long term visions while the prime minister must deal with current day political issues and pressures. Politics being the art of the possible would apply more to the prime minister’s portfolio than that of the president.

But in the current context, a much more troublesome difference seems to be behind the internal conflict. Roughly speaking it has to do with the way the two leaders evaluate where the Palestinian issue is in terms of local and international circles. In this context won has to answer a simple question. Who has emerged as the victor in the Al Aqsa Intifada? While there might be no black and white answer to this question, attempting to answer it can be of extreme help in deciding negotiating strategy and better understanding the dilemma facing Abu Mazen.

A number of Abu Mazen’s hard-line opponents within the Fatah Central Committee are claiming that the prime minister is a defeated leader. They note his criticisms of the militarization of the intifada as proof that he had conceded on the Palestinian uprising even before the hudna was formally declared. Abu Mazen’s supporters reject these accusations noting that his criticism was simply against the form that the intifada has taken (the military one) which has weakened rather than strengthened the Palestinian position within Israel and throughout the world. They insist that Abu Mazen’s negotiating posture is reflective of a realistic approach rather than the pie in the sky approach which has repeatedly proven to be detrimental to Palestinian aspirations. They point to the way Palestinians have always made unattainable demands based on a mistaken reading of the political balance of forces and then after some time what was rejected becomes a new demand but again the balance of forces would be different and therefore the new demand will not be reached.

Back to the question of the winners and losers of the intifada? There is no doubt that Palestinians were badly bruised during the past two and a half years. The Palestinian economy is in ruins, the infrastructure in shambles and people’s faith in the leadership and in the eventuality of peace have been dealt a bad blow. The hard work of erasing the terrorism image of the 70s has been wasted as that image has returned to haunt Palestinians. And the Israelis have not ended their occupation of Palestinian lands. But for better or worse Palestinians have not surrender, they have not thrown the towel and despite hurting all over, they remain standing when the latest round ended.

Israelis are also bruised, their economy is also hurt (not as much as the Palestinian) and their confidence in peace is still rather low. The powerful Israeli military machine has not won the battle on the ground as Israeli soldiers, settlers and civilians have continued to be killed and injured. While Israel can’t claim to have won the battle they have also not lost either. Some would call the result a draw. To be honest I would say that Palestinians have lost the latest round in points rather than a knockout, which means that they still have a chance to regroup themselves. This means that national unity must be preserved at all costs. Palestinians must be careful not to fall in the trap of a civil war or a leadership struggle while at the same time trying to agree on an honest evaluation of what is possible in the current political landscape.

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