Hamas leader Shaikh Ahmad Yassin, whom Yasser Arafat was obliged by public pressure to greet as a hero when he returned to Ghazzah last year after eight years in an Israeli jail, was placed under house arrest by Palestinian police on October 29. The move was a high-profile sop to Israeli demands that Arafat’s Palestinian National Authority (PNA) act against Islamic activists opposed to the ‘peace process’. More than 100 Hamas and other activists were also arrested, including 12 whose arrest had been specifically demanded by Israel as part of the Wye agreement reached in Maryland on October 23.
Hamas’s political response to the agreement remains unclear, despite renewed military operations against Israeli targets since the agreement was signed. In one operation, in the West Bank, an Israeli jeep was destroyed and a soldier killed. (This operation was described by Israeli authorities as an attempted attack on a school-bus carrying Israeli children in order to misrepresent it as a ‘terrorist’ attack.) Palestine’s Islamic movements have consistently opposed the ‘Middle East peace process’ since the Arab-Israeli Summit in Madrid in 1991 launched it, but have been reluctant to openly declare the PNA an enemy of the Palestinian cause, for fear of an internecine Palestinian conflict.
However, Arafat’s willingness to step up attacks on Hamas and other Islamic groups in order to appease Israel, as well as the additional concessions he has made at Wye, may now put this strategy back in doubt, with the possibility of the Islamic movement re-asserting its presence in the occupied lands and re-launching direct opposition to the zionist occupation, even if that means also fighting the PNA. Until now, Arafat hesitated attacking the Islamic movements directly, knowing that they command more popular support than the PNA. But he is now coming under increasing pressure to do so from the Israelis and the Americans alike.
There can be little doubt that the CIA’s role in Palestine - written into the Wye agreement - will be to help and co-ordinate Israeli-PNA operations against the Islamic movement, rather than to ‘monitor the detention of those arrested by Palestinian police’, the role they are ludicrously given in the Wye agreement. (The CIA, after all, has far greater experience and expertise in abusing human rights than in protecting them.)
Despite his crackdown on Hamas activists, however, Arafat has continued to try to woo the movement’s political leadership. PLO representatives met with Hamas and other leaders early this month to try to persuade them to endorse the peace process, renounce military activities, disown their armed activists, and become a part of the PNA’s political system.
This effort is almost bound to fail. This failure will probably be attributed, in the west, to Arafat’s agreement at Wye that the Palestinian National Council will amend its Charter to remove the clause calling for the destruction of Israel. The real reason, however, will be that there must be a limit to how much Palestinians will permit Arafat to concede, and that limit may now be very close indeed.
It is a common feature of post-colonial regimes, seen repeatedly in the Muslim world, that they are able to institute far greater more oppressive and damaging policies in their countries than the original imperialists ever dared even to attempt. This is now being seen in Palestine.
Although much has been made of the Wye agreement’s provision for free highways that will supposedly link Ghazzah and the West Bank, lifting Ghazzah’s isolation from the PNA-controlled areas, little attention has been paid to the highways which will be built in the West Bank. These highways, controlled and patrolled by the Israeli military, will link the scattered Jewish settlements in the West Bank (the numbers of which have been increasing by the day since the Wye Agreement) with ‘Israel proper’, and with the Israeli-controlled security zones running north-south along the West Bank’s eastern and western borders.
The result will be that the supposedly PNA-controlled areas will be divided into isolated slivers of land within boundaries controlled and patrolled by the Israeli military. Within these strips of land, the PNA will rule with an iron fist on behalf of the Israelis, while being totally dependent on Israeli and US economic and military assistance. This will effectively give the Israelis a degree of control over the territories such as they would never have dared attempt to exert before the Oslo Accords.
It now seems a very long time since the intifadha in the 1980s, when Palestinian youth armed only with stones and faith struck fear into the Israeli army which had defeated every Arab army it had ever faced. Like so many Muslim movements before and since, the young mujahideen of the intifadha had their gains sold away by political leaders manipulated by their enemies. From the 1991 Israeli-Arab summit in Madrid, through the Oslo Accords of 1993, the ‘deal’ over Al-Khalil (Hebron) last year, and now the Wye Agreement, the Palestinians’ self-appointed political leaders have sold their people down the river for illusory mirages of political gains... and ever-decreasing political gains at that.
At the Oslo Accords, the ‘land for peace’ formula promised Palestinians self-rule over 90 percent of the West Bank in return for acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. The Al-Khalil deal permitted Israelis to remain in control of a third of the town in order to protect 400 settlers out of a population of 130,000.
Now, Arafat accepts the reduction of the ‘Palestinian state’ to a possible maximum of 40 percent of the West Bank (which will almost certainly be further whittled down over time), divided into strips overseen by Israeli-controlled and patrolled roads, with almost a tenth of that land set aside for a ‘nature reserve’ on which Palestinians will not settle or build, and a ‘government’ with less autonomy and authority than municipal councils in most other countries. Such is the nature of the Palestinian State for which Arafat is now demanding Israeli recognition, which Israel may soon prove willing to give as a great and magnanimous concession.
Sooner or later, the Palestinian people and their popular leaders will realize that they cannot allow the PNA to sell away any more of their rights, and Israel to further consolidate their control. The lessons of the intifadhah have not been forgotten: Israel cannot stand up to the collective will of the Palestinian people. The reluctance to move against fellow-Palestinians, even Palestinians effectively working for the Zionists, will be set aside and the Israelis confronted with a force they will not be able to handle.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1998