FOURTEEN MONTHS back there was a faint hope of an early agreement on East Jerusalem, the issue that had blocked the way to the elusive agreement between Israel and Palestine. Madeleine Albright was troubleshooting between Barak and Arafat, and later, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had played host to both. And just before the next round of violence broke out, Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat had even visited each other’s houses.
The violence was triggered by a villain called Ariel Sharon, at that time leader of the opposition party Likud. The reason had more to do with the messy internal politics of Israel. He had marched on September 28, 2000, to Haram al-Sharif, reportedly Islam’s third holiest place (Israeli Jews normally do not visit this place as their religion forbids it). The next day an inflammatory sermon from him from Al Aqsa mosque, exploded the pent up frustrations of Palestinians, and a new wave of intifida began. For a state ostensibly seeking a peaceful solution to the dispute, Israel, used force to an astonishing degree. Unarmed demonstrators were attacked by anti-tank missiles and helicopter gunships while Israeli tanks ringed the towns. This one-sided war left some 60 people dead – 57 of them Palestinians. It left an indelible image (captured by a French televisions crew) of a tiny 12-year-old boy cowering in terror under his father’s arm while Israeli soldiers fired heartlessly for 45 minutes in his direction, eventually killing him.
With his provocative act, Mr. Sharon thus ensured an end to the 7-year-old Oslo peace process. Mr. Arafat, already hamstrung by accusations of ‘compromise’ and ‘betrayal’, slowly found his authority eroding as the attitude to his people hardened. In Israel, too, Mr. Barak found the going tough as the Israelis were constantly reminded that the one million Palestinians living among them could not be trusted.
Eventually, in the Feb. 2001 elections, Mr. Barak had to make way for Mr. Sharon. Mr. Sharon immediately went about pursuing his vision of an Israel retaining large stretches of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with a truncated and cantonized ‘state’ dotted with Israeli settlements. Mr. Sharon’s barely concealed his intention of breaching ceasefires and thus putting the peace process into a freeze. His succeeded admirably and before the current round of bloody violence began on Dec 2, the carnage of the past 14 months had left 725 Palestinians (and 192 Israelis) dead with their land and economy devastated.
His Government adopted the policy of assassinating the Palestinian leaders. On July 31, Jamal Mansour, Hamas’s most prominent leader in the West Bank, was killed when three helicopter-launched missiles smashed through the windows of his third-floor office. On August 27, Israeli helicopters killed Mustafa Zibri, the leader Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a constituent of PLO. On November 23, another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, was assassinated.
This targeting both Hamas and Fatah leaders encouraged the formation of cross-factional groups, binding together the national and the Islamic resistance. The National and Islamic Forces is one of them. Both the nationalist and the Islamist Palestinians realized that the armed struggle is the only way to resist the occupation. The current Intifada, where Hamas has been joined nationalist groups, has a solid backing of common people. And it is not just the violent resistance alone, but also the social work by the resistance groups in places like Gaza, where one in three workers is now without a job and one in two families is impoverished, that has been greatly appreciated by a much despaired populace.
The current spate of violence was triggered off when on Dec 2 and 3, in retaliation of Nov 23 massacre of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, two Palestinian suicide-bombers blew themselves up killing 10 Israeli teenage boys. A little later, a car-bomb went off nearby. The next day, a suicide-bomber sent 15 fellow-passengers to their death. Ariel Sharon was in Washington at the time. President Bush, encouraged probably by the relative ease of victory over the Taliban, gave a nod to the worst retaliation that was to follow. Israeli bulldozers have since ploughed up the runway at the Palestinians’ sole airport; aircrafts have bombed offices and police stations in several West Bank cities, including a site next door to Mr. Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.
It seems now Ariel Sharon believes that the time has come forcibly dismantle the Palestinian Authority and deport Arafat and his entire leadership back to Tunisia. The White House spokesman, observed in support of current terror campaign, “Obviously Israel has the right to defend itself and the President understands that clearly.” Ariel Sharon is busy equating Palestinian Authority with Taliban, as harbourers of terrorists. The US-Israeli game is clear. It was Israel that originally promoted Hamas much the same way the Americans promoted the Taliban. Now they want to destroy the PLO, holding it responsible for violence by militant groups. Thereby they have made political solution impossible and left Palestinian resistance without any other option than to continue the war against occupation. With this the Palestinian resistance enters a new phase. Or, will it be more appropriate to say that it has been thrown back to the pre-Oslo days?
– Girish Ghildiyal