Well-protected Israeli soldiers were initially surprised this week when they entered six Palestinian cities to the fact that there was no organised Palestinian resistance to them, as had been the case in earlier incursions. The Israelis military entered six Palestinian cities two days after gunmen assassinated a right wing Israeli cabinet minister in an Israeli hotel built on expropriated Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians were also surprised to hear after a meeting of the supreme Palestinian military council of the decision that considers all military wings of Palestinian factions to be illegal. This Palestinian decision was followed up with a series of arrests of Palestinian activists that has netted 30 activists mostly from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as from Islamic groups. Sixty others are reported in hiding from the attempts to arrest them by the Palestinian security. Those arrested included a spokesman for the PFLP and a member of the gurilla oranisation’s politbura.
Spokespersons for the Palestinian Authority attribute both these actions to the cease fire decision made by the Palestinian leadership after the September 11 terrorists attack against the United States. Yasser Abed Rabo the minister of Information has insisted in public statement broadcast on local and satellite television stations in Arabic that the Palestinian decision is strategic and not a tactical one. He has elaborated in detail about the need to end what he called “illegal” Palestinian militias .” Abed Rabo and other senior PNA officials have insisted on the sensitivity of the situation and the need for a single security power to be in charge in the Palestinian areas.
This dramtically Palestinian turnaround has gone almost unnoticed as Israeli troops have roled into Bethlehem, Ramallah and other Palestinian cities. Diplomatic efforts by European and American officials has also gone unheeded. Israeli arrogance has reached a level that Ariel Sharon has chosen to ignore public calls by US officials to withdraw from these newly occupied areas.
For Mr. Sharon and half of his government, the events of September 11 and the assasination of a cabinet minister were opportunities to reverse Israeli withdrawals from populated Palestinian cities under the Oslo Agreement. When asked about the effects of the terrorists attacks to US-Israeli relations, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an American television reporter “very good.” Only moments later did he realise what he said and tried to correct himself.
There is little doubt among many, including leading Israeli analysts, that Sharon’s incursion had been planned for some time and was awaiting an excuse. It is ironic that in 1982, Sharon decieved Israelis and the world by saying that he only wanted to enter a 40 kilomter radius of south Lebanon only to end up beseiging Beirut within days. At that time Israel invaded Lebanon after an assasination attempt against an Israeli diplomat. This time we are told that the latest Israeli incursion is temporary and is not meant to destroy the Palestinian Authority. When his attempts to link Arafat with Ben Laden failed, he waited for another justification. The Palestinian ceasefire offer and the meeting with Peres after four attempts that were blocked by Sharon, produced a relative quite that forced the Israeli army to begin revfersing its crippling seige on three million Palestinians. But Israel’s agreemetn to the ceasefire apparently didn’t include their refrain from assasinating Palestinians. For three consecutive days after the cease fire went into effect, Israel assasinated Palestinian activists. This is when the second leargest PLO faction decided to avenge the assasination of its secretary general Mustafa Abu Ali. This was the justification that Mr. Sharon had wanted.
For sure the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility to contribute to the American and western desire for a quite Middle East in order to strengthen the international campaign against Afghanistan and Ben Laden’s Qaeeda movmeent. Palestinian leaders have a diificult balancing act. They must show that they are serious about living up to their part of the cease fire, but they have to deal with a popualtion one third of which is now under curfew imposed by Israeli tanks. To ask Palestinians to refrain from resisting this latest occupation is akin to denying people the right to self defence.
The problems in the Middle East are not restricted to Israeli tanks rolling infront of this street or outside this church or mosque. The underlying problem is the
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.