Dec 10 2001

How to deal with Islamists? …. Israel Wants them Crushed, Arafat wants to Coopted

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

Ramallah – The unilateral cease-fire call by four armed Palestinian resistance groupings reflects the main contradiction of approaches between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Israel wants these organizations crushed while the Palestinian leader wants them coopted.

Israel considers Hamas, Jihad, and recently, the Fatah Tanzim to be terrorist’s organizations. And in Israel’s eyes they must be annihilated. Unable since the late 80s to crush these Palestinian militant organizations, Israel has been trying since the Oslo Agreement to have the Palestinian National Authority to do this difficult job.

The Palestinian National Authority was, for a period of time, willing to do just that evens if it negatively affects Palestinian unity. In the eyes of Palestinian president Arafat, the peace process, which seemed to be producing results on the ground, was a higher national interest even than internal unity. As long as Israel was withdrawing from Palestinian lands and the dream of Palestinian statehood was getting closer to reality, the Palestinian leader had little problem in arresting militants and using his security forces to break up any attempts to derail this peace process. The derailing of the peace process was exactly the aim of the Islamic movements and for a while even the late Yitzhak Rabin was able to understand that. After one gruesome suicide bombing in Israel, Rabin was quoted as saying, “we will mourn for a week and on the eighth day we will go back to negotiations because the aim of these extremists is to stop the peace process. The assassination of Rabin brought an end to this PA-Israel cooperation in the peace process and ushered in right wing Israeli governments. These governments used anti Israeli attacks, regardless of the perpetuators, as an excuse to stop or slow down the peace talks.

For the Palestinian leadership, the idea of attempting to crush the opposition without the presence of hope for a political future is tantamount to political suicide. This is why Arafat has always insisted on the need for a political clause in any cease-fire agreement. Even the Americans understood the need to provide Palestinians with hope when President Bush and Secretary Powel publicly supported the idea of a Palestinian state.

This American slimmer of hope provided Arafat with yet another opportunity to move ahead. The situation on the ground was not helping. Sharon was demanding unilateral Palestinian quite as a precondition while refusing to agree to stop assassinations, the siege of the Palestinian areas or provide any political incentives.

The suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa followed by the Israeli harsh response and America’s green light to these attacks put Arafat in a bind. The international public support for Palestinians was evaporating and the pro Israeli media machine was having a great time making analogies with Ben Laden and the Taliban. Israel was telling the world that its very existence was what Palestinians were after. By encouraging all militant groups to support his unilaterally cease fire calls, by refraining to make attacks inside Israel, the Palestinian leader is hoping to provide America and the west with the needed formula to force Israel back to the negotiating table. He also postpones once again having to decide between a hesitant peace process and an internal civil war.

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