Arafat turns on Islamic movement as Iran conference supports jihad

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Palestinian ‘president’ Yasser Arafat launched his expected crackdown on popular movements sustaining the Al-Aqsa Intifada last month. Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, the Hamas spokesman in Ghazah, was arrested on April 28, reportedly for making ‘inflammatory’ statements. Dr. Rantisi, who has previously spent more than five years in zionist jails and two years in Palestinian Authority (PA) jails, joined over 100 Islamic activists who had been arrested in previous days. His arrest had long been demanded by the zionists as proof that Arafat is serious about suppressing the Islamic movement and the intifada.

Most have been arrested by Palestinian police commanded by Ghazi al-Jabali, described by the Islamic Association of Palestine as “the notorious police chief who was largely responsible for the reign of repression against Islamists during the height of the Israeli-PA security co-ordination between 1995 and 1999.”

Arafat had earlier ordered the dissolution of the Fatah Tanzim and other militant groups, and stepped up ‘security co-ordination’ between his men and the Israeli military forces occupying the West Bank and Ghazah, and besieging Palestinian towns and villages. His order to disband was greeted with derision by militant groups. On April 30, two field commanders of the popular resistance told the Al-Ayyam newspaper that “stopping the resistance is unthinkable – all we are doing is reacting to zionist aggression.”

They also said that the intifada had not been ordered from above – ie. by Arafat – and could not be terminated by an order from above. “We are not a political party, and we don’t need a permit from anybody to exercise our right in self-defence.”

Dr Rantisi was arrested for making similar points during a rally on April 28, when he criticised the co-operation between PA security men and Israeli troops, and said that “our resistance against the zionist occupation will continue regardless of what the PA position may be.”

The PA crackdown had been widely anticipated. Arafat remains committed to the ‘peace process’, which has been exposed as a ploy by which the zionists hope to strengthen their control over the whole of Palestine while sub-contracting the dirty work of suppressing opposition to Palestinian proxies. Arafat knows that such as arrangement is the only way he can maintain any power in Palestine. As the intifada exploded last year, he knew that he could not afford to oppose it. Having posed as its leader so far, he now hopes to wind it down.

The crackdown also coincides with two other developments: an International Conference on the Palestinian Intifada hosted by the Islamic State of Iran in Tehran from April 24-25, which was attended by the leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, and gave a massive boost to the popular Islamic movement in Palestine; and news of renewed and intensive diplomatic and political contacts between the PA, Israel and Arab states designed to relaunch the ‘peace process’.

At the same time, of course, zionist repression and atrocities against Palestinians were continuing unabated, as were resistance operations against the occupation. Four-month-old Iman Hijjo became the youngest martyr of the uprising on May 7. She was being breast-fed by her mother in their home at the Khan Younis refugee camp when an Israeli tank shell burst through the wall, killing her and critically wounding her 19-year-old mother. The shell was fired during an Israeli “incursion” – ie. invasion – into the camp. The previous day, a five-year-old boy lost his arm to an Israeli shell while he was walking with his father in Beit Jala.

Such invasions have become commonplace, with Israeli tanks rumbling into towns and refugee camps and wantonly destroying houses and property as punishment for supposed offences. On May 2, 20 homes had been destroyed in Rafah during a similar operation.

Assassinations of Palestinian activists have also continued. An Islamic Jihad activist, Ahmed Ismail, was martyred on May 4, when Israeli soldiers riddled him with bullets while he was standing outside his brother’s store in the village of Urtas, near Bethlehem. His 3-year-old nephew was wounded in the attack.

Despite such continuing atrocities, high-level contacts between Arafat and Ariel Sharon were revealed to have taken place late in April, as well as numerous lower-level contacts between officials on the two sides. It is not a surprise that the PA crackdown began at about the same time. It would also not be surprising if it was later to emerge that such contacts have been taking place since the beginning of the intifada.

These contacts were followed by a Jordanian-Egyptian initiative for ‘ending violence’ and restoring ‘peace’ and ‘order’ in Palestine, proposed by the governments of Husni Mubarak of Egypt and Abdullah II of Jordan. This proposed a cessation of ‘violence’ on the Palestinian side in return for Israel halting military operations in Palestine and halting the expansion of settlements. It also proposed the resumption of talks on the basis of the agreement reached at Sharm al-Shaikh in October, shortly before the Israeli elections. This offer to surrender, which could only have been made with PA agreement, was rejected by Israel.

Such politicking, however, is rendered irrelevant by the continuing determination of popular Islamic Palestinian groups to maintain the uprising whatever the cost. This determination was given a massive boost by the conference in Tehran, at which the Islamic State reasserted its determination to support the jihad movements, and that the only possible solution to the zionist problem is the abolition of the state of Israel.

As the conference was hosted by the State, Iran’s parliament to be precise, diplomatic and political niceties had to be followed. Many of the delegates were representatives of the parliaments of other Muslim countries, therefore, and secular Palestinian groups, such as the Palestinian Authority itself and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) were also represented. The tone of the conference, however, was set by the leadership of Islamic Iran and the leaders of Palestinian Islamic movements, and representatives of secular or compromising groups could only have taken a sobering message to their leaders.

Ayatullah Khamenei, the Rahber of Islamic Iran, inaugurated the conference with a broad-ranging speech in which he re-stated Iran’s determination to see Israel destroyed and its commitment to support jihad groups despite Western opposition and pressure (see p. 8). The same message came from speeches by president Muhhamad Khatami and the speaker of the parliament, Mehdi Karroubi.

This line met a powerful response from Khalid Misha’al, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, and Abdullah Ramadan Shallah, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both reiterated the Palestinian people’s determination to defeat Israel totally, with Khalid Misha’al making a powerful call for arms and other practical assistance for Palestinian mujahideen. Shaikh Sayyid Nasrullah, the secretary general of Hizbullah, also spoke, confirming that Hizbullah remains committed to fighting the zionists and supporting the intifada. The example set by Hizbullah in defeating the Israeli military machine in Lebanon was a recurring theme at the conference.

The Tehran conference, in sharp contrast to the Arab League and similar earlier meetings, was also greeted with enthusiasm by Islamic leaders and activists in Palestine. Statements in response to the conference by leaders such as Shaikh Nayef Rajoub of Al-Khalil, Dr Rantisi and Islamic Jihad spokesman Abdullah al-Shami in Palestine no doubt rattled Arafat and contributed to his decision to try to reassert his control over the intifada. But he must fear that events have gone too far and that the inevitable end of the ‘peace process’ is imminent.

Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is editor of Crescent International.

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