A Palestinian civil war? Israel must be dreaming

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Give or take a few exceptions, reports in mainstream media have usually adopted Israeli language to describe events in the Occupied Territories. For years, attacks on Israel have been consistently translated as “terrorism,” whether they were legitimately aimed at the occupying army, or whether they regrettably targeted civilians.

International law, and moral and religious conventions condemning the killing of civilians, however, are equally clear on what constitutes permissible self-defense, and on the definition of invaders and occupiers.

No matter how fiercely Israel tries to twist it, the recent attack on the Erez border crossing in Gaza was a Palestinian act of resistance, not an act of terrorism. Even Americans have not dared to depict similar attacks on their troops in Iraq as terrorism, rightly recognizing them as actions by pockets of resistance.

While the terrorism slant remains its favorite mantra, Israel’s propaganda machine has begun to slip new phrases into daily media briefs; suddenly, it would have the world believe that Palestinians are on the verge of a “civil war,” and no sooner had the notion been uttered that it had begun to spread internationally. That Western media would pay lip service to Israel is customary; that Arabs would do the same, however, is baffling.

Until now, nothing new indicates that civil war looms in Palestine, and things are -é depressingly -é as they have been for a long time. Palestinians are not quite fighting each other, if only because all their energy is spent on fighting their occupier.

In fact, serious rifts between different Palestinian parties seem somewhat distant, with all factions showing cohesion recently. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the three main parties of the Palestinian resistance, showed their unity at Erez by jointly attacking Israeli soldiers and sending a message to the Palestinian Authority. Together, they confirmed their opposition to the “road map” as accepted by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at the Aqaba summit. In answer to this message, the latter, while disagreeing with their opinion, called for more dialogue and wondered whether his statement at Aqaba had been misunderstood.

While this incident highlights disagreements between the government and various parties, it simultaneously demonstrates the exact opposite of discord amongst the parties themselves, falling far short of a prelude to civil war.

If this were not enough to squash unfounded reports of an ominous civil war, subsequent events in Gaza have helped dissipate any real signs of civil strife. When Israel tried to assassinate Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, a major Hamas leader and spokesman, Abbas was quick to declare that Israel had committed a terrorist act.

So how can this possibly translate into a threat of civil war? Ever since Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, there have been fundamental differences of opinion between the Palestinian Authority and various segments of the Palestinian population, who failed to see exactly what they have gained for so many concessions. Since the intifada’s revival in September 2000, the Palestinian Authority wavered repeatedly between full support for the protesters and pressure from Israel and America to suppress the revolt. Whether they were being rounded up by Israeli soldiers or by their own policemen, scores of Palestinians found themselves in jail for refusing the terms of Oslo, for continuing resistance, and for demanding a bare minimum of human rights.

Isn’t it then strange that reports of civil strife have arisen just as President Bush had finally committed himself to a Palestinian state, and just as he had apparently cornered Ariel Sharon to reluctantly accept the road map to which the Palestinian Authority eagerly consented? Isn’t it strange that in spite of the Likud’s resounding refusal to ever establish a Palestinian state west of the River Jordan, it is the alleged inter-Palestinian disputes that are being blamed for the lack of progress on the peace track? Isn’t it also strange that Arafat was deemed irrelevant when his people protested, but that the same protests are skewed as civil war now that Abbas, still relevant, is the one cooperating?

Israel is deliberately trying to create mayhem within the Palestinian community, and its schemes to provoke a real or contrived civil war cannot be allowed to prevail. A civil war is exactly what Israel wants, and it will strive to create it with the perpetual strategy of divide and rule.

Civil wars, or in this case implied civil strife, justify extreme measures. While most Palestinians are under a quasi-constant state of martial law, even more drastic steps could be taken to crush any semblance of resistance against Israeli forces or Palestinian Authority concessions. As illusions of civil war spread and the Israeli occupation becomes ever more brutal, Palestinians will be increasingly depicted as people who simply cannot govern themselves and who need to be contained. It is not only this wishful thinking that is dangerous, but also Israel’s manipulation of ideas; even if they are not waging civil war, Palestinians will suffer more if the world believes they are.

It is not surprising that Israel is now pushing for this new stigma to stick. It seeks to liberate itself from the confines of a peace process that would force it to make what Ariel Sharon likes to term “painful concessions,” éto adhere to the basic demands of UN Resolution 242.

It is not surprising that Israel would try to place the onus on Palestinians alone, delaying the dismantlement of illegal settlements, the restitution of Jerusalem (or at least its eastern part), and the question of refugees. Nor is Israel’s objection to 14 major points in an already elusive road map surprising. So what else is new?

What is new and surprising is that some Arab analysts have forgotten that nothing has changed, and have begun circulating this fabrication, berating Palestinians for disagreeing with each other and lamenting the various Arab regimes’ support to opposing factions.

Extremists and radicals on both sides of the conflict aren’t strong enough by themselves to inflict major deviations on the road to peace. The Israeli disinformation system, in contrast, can shift mountains. Palestinian suffering is great enough as it is, and falling victim to the added curse of civil war would be unbearable. Just as importantly, Israel’s fabricated brandings of civil war must be contained; as its victims have discovered throughout the years, Israel’s mere claims of threats to its security have been sufficient justification for all-out violence.

As long as Israel can spread its cancerous cells of danger and discord, it will create further excuses for “intervening” in the Occupied Territories and continuing its creeping annexation of Palestine. Suddenly qualifying inter-Palestinian concerns as civil war amounts to toeing Israel’s line, spreading its propaganda, and possibly contributing to pushing the Palestinians into the profound torments of civil war even as they fight the occupation hell.

Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.

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Rime Allaf is an associate fellow at Chatham House in London. She is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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