The media, in both East and West, which have been shaping the public's view of the players in this latest Palestinian drama, has done all that it can to ignore, or minimize the fact that the Islamic resistance movement in Palestine is a viable and long-term player. In spite of calls for the elimination of the movement, if history is an indicator of what to expect in the future, the Islamic Resistance movement in Palestine will survive this most recent call for its disassembly. It will survive, not because its enemies will end their attempts to eliminate it through arbitrary arrests, illegal detainment, circumvention of due process, torture and murder, but because the resistance movement, like the idea of a Jewish State exists not in the land, but in the hearts of the people. It is an idea. It is an idea about freedom. But unlike the Jewish State, it does not have any requirement so far as race, religion, or nationality. It is open to all. Neither bombs nor bullets can reach it. Prisons cannot contain it. Its influence expands like a creeping vine, rooted in the universal consensus that all people should be free and equal. Only the Islamic movements have inspired the people, and presented hope that can become the herald of change in the occupied territories, reawakening the positive aspirations of the Palestinian people with programs designed not only to alleviate their hardships, but to guide them toward self-sufficiency and self determination.
Numerous writers and pundits have considered that Ariel Sharon is looking for a new peace partner, having tired of Arafat and the political games that he has played. These articles, including one written by the Zionist Christian journalist Cal Thomas, who wrote that no vacuum of power should be created in Palestine that might be filled by the Islamic movement, have sought to persuade people that the hopes of the Palestinians should be less important than the desires of their enemies. They believe that everything in Palestine must be configured to serve the Israeli interest. Not only is this approach to the situation arrogant and self assuming, it is based merely on wishful thinking, since neither Cal Thomas, nor anyone else can truly contain, control, or dictate the future of the Islamic movement in Palestine.
Arafat's reported willingness to play along in this most recent effort to silence once and for all his only legitimate opposition is reminiscent of his former alliances and political stratagem, which increased his wealth and status, while frustrating the people. An example is his use of Palestinian statehood as a bargaining chip against his ouster from power. On numerous occasions he raised the hopes of Muslims and Arabs throughout the world, while capturing and sustaining support based on his professed determination to declare statehood in spite of Israeli and U.S. opposition. Obviously his determination to establish the state of Palestine was less important than the power this threat gave him over the United States, who had invested its credibility and millions of dollars to keep him in step with the process. His Israeli "peace" partners had no other choice than to negotiate with him, Arafat being the only secular political icon that could, in the eyes of many, muster the Arab and Muslim support needed if controversial Oslo concessions were to succeed. Not many of us gave it much thought that Israeli and American permission is not a requirement for statehood, or that Israeli violence is a persistent threat that looms eternally over Palestine, state or no state. Just as Arafat maneuvered his way around the Jerusalem issue, he could have found his way to statehood if his commitment had been as strong as his rhetoric.
Until now, Europe, the United States and Israel have dictated the fates of Palestinians, deciding when and if there would be war or peace, starving the people, killing at will and now delivering ultimatums that are premised on the further denial of Palestinian freedoms and life.
The geographic borders that were proposed by Israel were no doubt unacceptable. Yet serious negotiations to determine borders, or to work out the details of co-existence, upon which both peoples could live harmoniously would have been more meaningful to peace. The repeated tug and pull at pro-Palestinian hopes that we received in place of statehood, or any meaningful or productive dialogue on the issue, played a significant, though yet unexplored role in creating the volatility that exploded upon the least provocation. Upon every insistence that talks on statehood ensue, the world was put off by Oslo's "final status " treatment of the issue, which placed statehood out of the reach of serious contemplation. Yet Jerusalem, which was also supposedly a final status issue, found its way to the negotiating table via Clinton's ill advised Camp David II summit to which Arafat was advised by his own advisors not to attend. Jerusalem became a topic of discussion at this summit, even though Israel continued to complain that Arafat had not kept his end of the deal to thoroughly eliminate the Islamic resistance movement, a precondition to final status negotiations for obvious reasons.
How Jerusalem made it to the negotiating table before there was even an official commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state is anyone's guess. The result of this poorly timed political ploy was Israel's realization that Arafat cannot deliver Jerusalem, the coveted prize. The ultimate test of his power failed, Arafat was doomed, and Ariel Sharon took an historic walk to Al-Aqsa mosque, apprising the world of the fact that Oslo, and possibly Arafat are both finished.
In an article entitled, "There are no Cheap Wars" by Uzi Benziman, published by Ha'aretz, July 8, 2001, the author says, "the political lobby for bringing the violent conflict with the Palestinians to a military decision is well known; it is led by the settlers and their right-wing representatives in the government-not only Avigdor Lieberman, Rehvam Ze'evi and Natan Shranksy, but also a large number of the Likud ministers." According to Benziman, "there's a clear majority among the decision makers now in favor of going to war". Benziman goes further to say, "The logic behind the concept is that the state cannot absorb more and more victims of terrorism, that the current methods of fighting Palestinian murders are not effective enough, that the IDF's deterrent capabilities must be proven once again to the Palestinian people and leadership and to the entire Arab world lest Israel end up bleeding forever and becoming weaker and weaker. Behind the demand to declare real war on the Palestinians is also the assumption that a major military blow will return tranquility to the state and end ,the 10-month nightmare of terror."
Writer and journalist, Akiva Eldar, in the article "Big Pines II-Rumors are Rife of an Invasion Plan," Ha'aretz, July 10, 2001, says: "in early May the Foreign report of Janes- a particularly serious journal- published details from what was purported to be Sharon's plan to reoccupy some of the West Bank's towns and once and for all put an end to the Palestinian Authority. The report even mentioned the casualty estimate-1,000 Palestinians and 100 Israelis. The last paragraph was the most interesting. It said that the U.S., Britain, and France have not only been informed of the plan's details but have also given Sharon a green light to strike at Arafat if the Palestinians don't cease the violence. "Only the French," said the report, "are opposed to any escalation." Eldar says that Arafat was told about the report, and during a conversation with U.S. envoy William Burns, Arafat asked Burns what he knew about the plan. Burns, reportedly said that the United States did not give any agreement, authorization, or blessing to such a plan. One is immediately reminded of Saddam Hussein's excursion into Kuwait and the duplicity that led up to that affair. The article also reports that French President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin told Sharon, "Europe is united that a peace agreement will be reached with him (Arafat), not against him, and not without him".
Aluf Benn and Dalia Sheori, also reporting from Israel, in the article, "Sharon Rebuffs Rights calls for War," Ha'aretz, July 10, 2001, said, "Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the Palestinians informed Israel and the United States that at a Saturday night meeting in Yasser Arafat's office, it was decided to take very serious steps to calm the territories, including arrests, preventing terrorists from entering Israel and clear instructions to implement the Tenet Agreement". If this is true, Arafat has no doubt gotten the message that he can no longer play both ends against the middle. He must either eliminate the resistance movement, or Israel will eliminate both him and the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat manipulated the world community with his bogus call for a Geneva Convention conference, threatening to enforce the Convention in protection of the rights of his people, bluffing his way through attacks on his credibility. Arafat knows that his interim agreement with Israel is not sufficient to guarantee the security of the Palestinian people, and that in fact, Oslo does not address the issue of Palestinian rights and security. The interim agreements give Arafat's Authority the right only to police the Palestinian people, preventing them from defending their lives against Jewish settlers. It allows the PA a police force of a paltry 1200 policemen who are only allowed to carry light arms. They cannot arrest, detain, question, or even request to see the paperwork of a suspicious Jewish settler, or soldier. The implementation of international laws and treaties relevant to the occupation are not only rejected by Israel, but also by Arafat, since both have violated the law without accountability.
Until now, Europe, the United States and Israel have dictated the fates of Palestinians, deciding when and if there would be war or peace, starving the people, killing at will a,nd now delivering ultimatums that are premised on the further denial of Palestinian freedoms and life. Pro-Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs have forgi,ven Arafat for numerous blunders and in the name of unity and solidarity have turned the other cheek of a face that has been slapped too many times. There should be no cheeks left. Not only has Sharon's patience with Arafat run thin, but the people's patience should also be running thin as each step towards freedom for the Palestinian people and self determination is reduced to nothing as a result of the political posturing of both Arafat and Israel.
A return to pre-Al-Aqsa Intifada status in Palestine is not sufficient compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the people of Palestine during this recent round of violence. The people were forced to fight in an attempt to preserve their own lives in the face of the apathy offered by the international community as their blood filled the streets. Not due to any particular support for the PA. The Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Agreement, and the U.S. call for an end to home demolitions and assassinations cannot take the place of the people's demand for a program that focuses on the Palestinian people's rights to return to their homeland, defense, security, social and economic development, and self determination within secure and sovereign borders. As in the past, Hamas and the Islamic resistance movements in Palestine are convenient pawns and scapegoats for all concerned. But unlike before, the people, not only of Palestine, but also of the world are not so nave. We have been introduced to the realities of Palestinian and Israeli politics through a most brutal lesson. Political rhetoric and promises may not so easily sway the people again, nor will fear cause them to remain silent, their futures ignored. The irony is that as a result of this recent episode, Arafat may be more impotent than before, and the cooperation and loyalties of the people might be reserved for true leaders. Their trust and support may not be accessible any longer to political games-men that see their lives as little more than revenue and clout.
The Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine has given life and limb in defense of their people, while Arafat fought to stay in power. We cannot deny the sacrifices of these young men and their willingness to risk it all for the sake of the many. They have asked for no reward and sought no gain. They have never promoted themselves as competitors with Arafat for either the affections of the people, or the fame associated with a "peace partnership."
It is suspected that at least one of the bombings supposedly carried out by Islamic Resistance activists, specifically the one reportedly conducted to "celebrate" the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, were actually carried out by others. The objective is to make it appear that resistance activities are motivated by trivial lusts for death, rather than in retaliation for crimes against the people of Palestine. It is doubtful that an Islamic movement would "celebrate" anything by killing people.
Rather than attempting to eliminate the movement, why doesn't anyone consider that an answer to resistance military operations in Israel and the territories might be the imposition of international law and an international force that will protect the Palestinian people, and a court of law that will hear their complaints, and punish the perpetrators of the crimes committed against them? But instead of such progress, the so-called leaders are back to business as usual, because business as usual serves another agenda; the agenda of secular Arab nationalists represented by Arafat, and lef,tist Jews represented by Shimon Peres, who while decrying an all out war, predictably proposes only the return to Oslo as an alternative.
There is no new plan for Palestine, only a way back. Void of insp,iration the "leaders," Arafat, Peres and Sharon retreat to business as usual. Too bad for these secularists, who lacking vision, hope or faith, have opted for a return to the empty past, when freedom and real peace might be just over the horizon. Why couldn't they give the lives of their dead some meaning, and reached sincerely for peace? A return to Oslo is not progress. It is a step backwards. If Israel should unleash an all out war on Palestine, with or without the blessing of the U.S. or Europe, it will lead to catastrophe. Pity that these are the only two options we see; either war, or Oslo when surely there are other solutions.
Anisa Abd el Fattah is editor of the Middle East Affairs Journal and director of media and public relations for the United Assoc. for Studies and Research.