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The Next Intifada By: David Bedein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Executive Summary

The Palestinian Authority appears to be preparing its people for a resurgence of violence. The PA media have been full of dire warnings of a U.S. betrayal of the Palestinian cause and the need to recruit Palestinians for a massive uprising. Many commentators in the Palestinian media view the plan by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as part of an effort approved by the Bush administration for Israel to maintain control over more than half of that area. This assessment has been echoed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who himself warns of the likelihood of renewed violence should a Palestinian state fail to be established in all areas of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem.The Palestinian media have written little about the expected summit between Abbas and President George Bush. As of May 11, the Bush administration has not announced a date or venue for the meeting. But Palestinian commentators don’t expect the talks to be easy. They envision Bush telling Abbas that the PA must implement reform of the security agencies, collect weapons from Palestinian terrorist groups and end violence against Israel. At the same time, Bush was expected to provide vague promises of a Palestinian state. Commentators as well as advisers to Abbas warn that this would not satisfy the Palestinian leadership. Some are calling on Abbas to organize an uprising in advance of or during any U.S.-Palestinian summit.

I. Playing Down Expectations

A. A Very Important Visit

The Palestinian media has hardly dealt with Abbas’s visit to Washington. There have been few news stories and even fewer commentaries. Most of the focus has been on Palestinian legislative elections and the rivalry between Hamas and the ruling Fatah movement. On April 22, Al Quds ran a small item on its front page that Bush would meet Abbas in mid-May, according to sources in Washington. The meeting would be either in Washington or Camp David. [1]

Later, Information Minister Nabil Shaath filled in the details. Shaath said a PA delegation has arrived in Washington to plan Abbas’s visit to the United States. He termed the visit as very important, particularly after the talks by Sharon with Bush in April and his support of the Israeli prime minister. Shaath said the White House was open to the prospect of a positive meeting between Abbas and Bush. [2]

Since then, Palestinian newspapers have outlined Palestinian grievances, with support from U.S. diplomats. The human rights head of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem reported on an increase in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2005. In a presentation of human rights report in the Palestinian territories, Mark Mollinger cited an increase in settler attacks in Hebron. Mollinger also reported an increase in settler attacks on American peace activists. The consular official said Israeli authorities have not taken legal action against the settlers. [3]

For his part, Abbas has been wary of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He has stressed that the Israeli withdrawal must be part of a road map without "any thought that Gaza be separated from the West Bank."

"We want a smooth withdrawal from Gaza Strip and the details will be discussed with the Israelis and the Americans, with whom we will talk about a whole range of issues including funding, security political and military aid as America is a partner of the Quartet," Abbas said. [4]

B. Fear Over Israeli Withdrawal

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over the meaning of a Gaza withdrawal. The Foreign Ministry issued a document that expressed fear that an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would mean the end of Palestinian contact with the West Bank and the end of the road map. [5]

Palestinian commentators have expressed concern that Abbas would meet a U.S. president already influenced by criticism relayed earlier by Sharon. They said Sharon complained to Bush that Abbas is not a Palestinian partner and has failed to carry out his commitments to the United States.

The Palestinian media regard Bush as being under pressure from Congress. Congress has been examining a bill that would prevent U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state until the United States recognizes a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinian commentators view this as a way to torpedo Abbas’s visit to the United States and Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state.

The commentators see the U.S. pressure on the PA for security reform as a means to weaken Abbas. One commentator advised Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership to use all means to improve the PA position and bring pressure on Israel. [6]

Abbas was said to have been concerned of Bush’s purported agreement to Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank. Jack Khazmo, a leading commentator with close ties to the PA leadership, accused Bush of siding with Sharon against the Palestinians and United Nations Security Council resolutions. According to Khazmo, Bush has recognized eastern Jerusalem as part of Israel.

C. Bush Loses Credibility

As a result, the Bush administration has lost credibility in the Arab world. Commentators said the administration has merely angered Arabs with its promotion of democracy. Indeed, the feeling is that Washington exploited the democracy and freedom issue to advance U.S. interests. When U.S. interests are not served, the democracy issue is dropped. [7]

Palestinian television went further and sought to portray the United States as seeking to conquer the Arab world. PA television broadcast sermons from Friday prayers in the leading mosque in Gaza City that portrayed a U.S. and Western plot against the Palestinians. Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris declared in his weekly sermon in late April that Israel and the United States intend to occupy Arab and Islamic territory.

"Our enemies want to occupy Arab and Islamic lands, under their leadership," Mudeiris said. "Our enemy has become strong and fed on us like prey in our lands, in the East and in the West, because we are weak, and our only strength lies in the Koran." [8]

D. U.S. Uses Democracy to Extort

It is a message that has been reinforced in Palestinian dailies. PA-financed publications regard the U.S. promotion of democracy in the Middle East as a lever for extortion from oil rich countries. They see the United States as using democracy to stir unrest against Gulf Arab regimes. In one cartoon, Uncle Sam shouts pro-democracy slogans in a bullhorn held in one hand while the other hand holds a large container. In the next frame, an Arab pumps oil through the bullhorn, now used as a flask, and into the container. [9]


PA spokespeople have warned the Palestinians not to press for rapid reform. Shaath told a Gaza conference on reform that any change would be gradual and that the process would be supervised by parliament. He said reform must include measures against corruption while stressing that nothing could be implemented that would endanger national unity. [10]

Still, the United States regards reform as the leading requirement of the PA. American visitors who have met Abbas have pressed this condition at every opportunity.

E. Frist Praises Abbas

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist met Abbas and expressed satisfaction with steps taken by the PA. Frist called Abbas a "brave leader who is committed to reform. He has shown tremendous leadership. I commended the president for his strong leadership, for his commitment to the Palestinian people and to his commitment to reforms. It's been a pleasure to be here today to express the support of the [U.S.] president and his Cabinet. [11]

But this has not been enough for Abbas. He has been under tremendous pressure from Fatah and the opposition to exploit American goodwill for strategic concessions from Israel. Indeed, Palestinian sources have reported that Fatah operatives have threatened to assassinate Abbas in a ploy to cancel elections sought by the United States. [12]

Palestinians have pointed to the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ramallah. Putin offered Abbas Mi-17 helicopters, BRDM-2 infantry fighting vehicles and munitions without strings attached. Putin did not discuss democracy or demand reform.

Once again, however, the Americans intervened. Shaath criticized the U.S. objection to the transfer of Russian weapons to the PA. The PLO Executive Committee condemned the Israeli objection to Russian weapons to the PA and called this a violation of the understandings at Egypt’s Sharm e-Sheik in February 2005. [13]

II. The Response

A. Uprising as a Strategy

Abbas has made it clear that he would not accept U.S. dictates and that any solution unacceptable to the Palestinians would result in violence. During the Frist visit, Abbas warned that the Palestinians would not accept anything less than an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. PA officials have also stressed that the Palestinian leadership would not cede on their demand for the right of Palestinians to return to their homes in what is now Israel. [14]

A proposal that has received exceptional attention was submitted by Bassam Abu Sharif, the former longtime adviser to the late Yasser Arafat. Abu Sharif has long been close to the United States and regarded as a leading strategist and an informal adviser to Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.

Abu Sharif, in articles published in several Palestinian dailies, has called for a massive uprising by Palestinians against Israel in an attempt to resist U.S. pressure. As Abu Sharif sees it, Bush has promised Sharon too much to willingly side with the Palestinians. The only thing that could break the deadlock is Palestinian violence, what Abu Sharif terms a "popular peaceful uprising," to prevent the Israeli annexation of lands of the West Bank. [15]

"The tasks facing the members of Palestinian organizations, especially Fatah and Hamas and the organizations whose representatives form the majority of the PLO leadership, focus first and foremost on resisting the occupation and establishing a state on Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 and not on the distribution of security and civil positions," Abu Sharif writes. "Resisting the swallowing up of lands is not only possible, but vital and a national duty. This can be done by rallying thousands from the members of the organization that dominate the PLO and the general public to carry out continued demonstrations and sit-ins at the locations of annexations in full view of the world."

B. Israel Seeks Settlement Blocs

Abu Sharif shares the view that Sharon plans to cede the Gaza Strip in exchange for U.S. support of annexation of 48 percent of the West Bank. He said Israel also plans to maintain control over the Jordan Valley.

The annexation would focus on several key areas of the West Bank. The first area would be the Israeli city of Ariel, southwest of Nablus. Abu Sharif sees this move as ensuring water and strategic depth for Israel.

The second area of Israeli annexation would be Latrun, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Abu Sharif points to the Israeli construction of 27,000 units meant to house 500,000 people.

The third area is Maalei Adumim, east of Jerusalem. Abu Sharif regards this effort as seeking to ensure Israeli control of the area northwest of Jerusalem up to the Dead Sea. Already, he said, Israel has begun construction of border points in these areas, particularly the Kalandia crossing, in northern Jerusalem. [16]

C. Bush to Ask Abbas for Patience

Abu Sharif sees Bush as prepared to express warm words to Abbas, but little else. Abu Sharif envisions that Bush would ask Abbas to demonstrate patience until the Israeli withdraws from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. Bush would urge Abbas to live with Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank even as the American president reiterates his support for a Palestinian state.

Abu Sharif said Abbas must not mince words during his meeting with Bush. Abbas must demand that Bush to stop the Israeli annexation plan and stop pressuring the PA. Abbas must reject any effort to reform the security agencies without Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Abu Sharif envisions a scenario that Bush would tell Abbas that Israel could not be expected to withdraw to the 1967 borders.

It is expected that Bush would ask Abu Mazen to be patient until the Israelis begin the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Abu Sharif said Bush would argue that Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would constitute a precedent that could be followed in the West Bank in the framework of the road map.

"The effort must begin with a strong conviction that without mass resistance by the people against the annexation and expansion plan, the Israeli government will not be stopped and the U.S. administration will not be forced to make an effective move," Abu Sharif writes. "We say yes to negotiations and the political process in a serious manner. But negotiations will not begin seriously unless the peaceful mass resistance by the people against the annexation, the expansion and the wall."


D. Israel Will Again Be Isolated

Abu Sharif envisions Abbas as leading an uprising against Israel with the Jewish state responding with "terrorist force and organized fire." The Israeli response would lead to massive Western pressure on Israel that would isolate the country and embarrass the United States. As a result, the Israeli people and American Jews would protest against the Sharon government. [17]

Such an uprising constitutes a no-lose proposition, Abu Sharif said. It would bolster the Palestinian stand, reverse the pro-Israeli policies of the United States and strengthen Abbas. As Palestinian violence rages back home, Abbas could be tough with the American president. "The peaceful Palestinian uprising will rally Palestinian forces again under the leadership of Abu Mazen," Abu Sharif said. "It will increase the influence of the Palestinian position and provide the PA with benefits to exert pressure absent amid the current circumstances."

Abu Sharif wants Bush to change his policy and act as a previous U.S. president. The president was Dwight Eisenhower, who forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip in 1957 without any conditions. Bush, like Eisenhower, must resist Congress and ensure the establishment of a viable geographically contiguous independent Palestinian state.

E. Sharon Is Afraid

"Washington needs Palestinian and Arab pressure to stand up to Congress and to confront powers whose interests are tied to Israel. Sharon is afraid of such steps. Therefore, in the first time in four years, he has decided to attend the AIPAC conference and meet leaders of the American Jewish community in May to stir up these groups. He knows that the Bush administration is capable of moving in a direction different from that of Bush’s first term.

"American decision-making now stems from the interests of the major economic cartels in the United States," Abu Sharif said in a message to Abbas. "It stems from the interests of America and not from the positions of neoconservatives as was the case in the past. Your excellency, be decisive and you will see an active U.S. position. The way to this is a peaceful uprising."

It appears that Abbas has been listening. Following a two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 29, Abbas warned that without a "political horizon" toward Palestinian independence, new violence could erupt.

Conclusion

The Palestinian Authority leadership and particularly Abbas are in a weaker position than ever and appear ready to resort to the same violent solutions employed by Arafat. The pressure on Abbas is to wait no more than a few months to approve a massive uprising. Abbas is expected to delay any uprising until at least after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. At the same time, he has demonstrated little control over Fatah or his security forces.

Research Method

This report was based on a review of the Palestinian media from April 22 to May 8. It included monitoring of the leading Palestinian newspapers, magazines and Palestinian Authority radio and television. Al Quds is the largest Palestinian daily and according to Information Minister Nabil Shaath has received financing from the PA. Al Ayam and Al Hayat Al Jadida are owned by the PA. A-Bayadar is a privately-owned publication with close ties to Fatah.

ENDNOTES:

1. Al Quds. April 22, 2005. Pg. 1.

2. Al Quds. April 28, Pg. 2.

3. Al Quds April 22, 2005. Pg. 7.

4. Palestinian dailies and the Palestinian news agency Wafa, April 26, 2005.

5. Al Ayam. April 26. Pg. 1.

6. Al Ayam. April 26 Pg. 22. Op-Ed by Rahab Abu Sariya.

7. A-Bayadar Al Siyassi, April 25, Jack Khazmo, editor.

8. PA television. April 22.

9. Al Hayat Al Jadida. May 1. Pg. 23.

10. Al Ayam. May 1. Pg. 6.

11. Al Hayat Al Jadida. May 1. Pg. 1.

12. A-Sharq, Qatari newspaper. May 2.

13. Al Ayam. May 1. Pg. 1.

14. PLO Executive Committee member Zakaria Agha, PA television May 10, 2005.

15. Al Quds. April 28 Pg. 19.

16. Abu Sharif’s analysis was also published in a supplement called Al Democraty in Al Hayat Al Jadida. Abu Sharif was cited as chief editor of Al Democraty, available on www.palestineone.com

17. Al Democraty. May 2005 issue. Pg. 8.


David Bedein, author of the forthcoming book, "Swimming Against the Mainstream", has run the Israel Resource News Agency. www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com, since 1987, at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also heads the Center for Near East Policy Research and serves as the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, www.thebulletin.us.


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