By GERRY FOLEY
As Yasir Arafat has been risking his regime and perhaps even his life to meet the demands of Israel and the United States, going to the brink of opening up a civil war among the Palestinian people, the Israeli army has been continuing to shoot at his police and the offices of his government.
And while Arafat has been under fire, the United States, which has been offering him an assurance of a negotiated settlement with Israel and even the prospect of a Palestinian state, has only been tut-tutting the Israeli rulers at the same time as endorsing Israel’s “right of self-defense.”
As long as Arafat continues to seek a deal with Israel, he has no choice but to hope that the United States will restrain the right-wing Israeli government from launching escalating attacks on the Palestinian people and their organizations.
However, Washington’s more and more obvious double game provoked an outburst during an appearance by Arafat on Israeli TV in which he tried to convince the Israeli public that he was doing everything possible to suppress the Palestinian militants.
When the interviewer told him that the U.S. authorities considered his crackdown on militants a sham, he exploded: ” Who cares about the Americans? The Americans are on your side and they gave you everything. Who gave you the planes? … Who gave you the tanks? … Who gave you all the money?”
The Palestinian Authority chief had argued that he has already arrested 17 of a list of 33 alleged terrorists given him by U.S. authorities. In total, he has already jailed 180 Islamist activists and put their most prominent leader, Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest.
When a crowd gathered to protest the Islamist leader’s confinement, Palestinian Authority police fired on the assemblage, killing one demonstrator. This is not the first time that PA police have fired on an Islamist demonstration. It seems to be a harbinger of much worse inter-Palestinian bloodshed to come if Arafat continues to try to meet the demands of the Zionists and their imperialist patrons.
It seems that the Zionist rulers of Israel are demanding nothing less from Arafat than that he launch a civil war among Palestinians. It does not make much sense to criticize the Palestinian Authority police for not rounding up the militants, when the Israel army is shooting down Palestinian police and wrecking their headquarters. Or perhaps the demands on Arafat are only a cover for launching a general war on the Palestinian people.
In its Dec. 8 issue, the London Guardian reported that a poll published in the right-wing Israel daily Maariv indicated that 54 percent of Israelis thought that Arafat should be removed, and 51 to 42 percent that the Palestinian Authority should be abolished.
The second position is in fact the logical corollary of the first. No one believes that the Zionists or the imperialists can find any other Palestinian leader who could play the role they expect of Arafat.
The second logical corollary, not mentioned in the poll, is all-out war to crush or expel the Palestinian population. What else could abandonment of compromise mean?
Public opinion polls are often, notoriously, self-fulfilling prophesies. In this case, the poll certainly reflects the attitudes encouraged by the Zionist chiefs, their attempt to whip up support for a “final solution” to the Palestinian problem. However, the tactics of the Islamists have played into their hands.
The suicide bombings organized by Hamas and Islamic Jihad aimed indiscriminately at Israel civilians have clearly had the effect of convincing many Israelis that the Palestinian militants want a communal war to the death, and therefore it is “us or them.” The proposal of an Islamic state also rules out coexistence with the Jews.
The suicide bombings reflect the essential political cards of the Islamist movement, the idea that it can achieve its objectives through the determination and fearlessness of its activists, who are not afraid to die and are convinced that God will give them victory. From this stance, it is difficult for the Islamists to offer any compromise with the Jews. The minute they begin to bend, their mystique crumbles.
However, it is not only Islamists who have carried out suicide attacks. Suicidal assaults have also been mounted by radical factions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, although not directed to indiscriminate mass killing.
The problem is that the Israeli repression of the Palestinian population has created such desperation that suicidal attacks seem the only way to make protests that will be noticed. Since the start of the new upsurge of the Palestinian struggle in September 2000, the Israeli authorities have implemented a policy of closures and fragmentation of the Palestinian areas that has condemned them to slow strangulation.
Unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza has climbed to 70 percent. Ten percent of Palestinian families reported that they had lost their entire income since the start of the new struggle. Some 50 percent reported that they have lost half their income in the last six months.
Students have been prevented from attending classes and final exams. In violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which guarantees the right to medical care for the population of occupied territories, the Israeli closures and raids have virtually destroyed the Palestinian medical services.
According to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health, 68 percent of Palestinians live in rural areas where the closures have prevented access to medical care. The Palestinian Red Crescent has reported that as of June 15, there had been 237 attacks on its ambulances, damaging 73 percent of its fleet. Then there is the constant insecurity created by Israeli raids and shelling of Palestinian towns and refugee camps.
In these conditions, it is hardly surprising that Palestinian young men are willing to die to protest and their deaths are received with thanksgiving by the Palestinian population, even by their bereaved relatives. This is a virtually inevitable human reaction to such a brutal occupation, as has been seen in other places-notably the Warsaw ghetto.
A central problem is the political isolation of the Palestinians, who face the overwhelming military and economic power of imperialism. The Palestinian people risk division and annihilation unless they can find a strategy that can win broad international sympathy for their struggle.
The most effective political strategy that the Palestinian movement has produced is the call for a democratic secular Palestine in which all those who want to live in Palestine would have equal democratic rights.
That slogan offers the basis for exposing the fundamentally reactionary nature of the idea of a Jewish state, which is a state based fundamentally on a religious community that has inevitably tended to become more and more theocratic and reactionary. The concept of an Islamic state of Palestine is like a mirror reflection of the idea of a Jewish state.
A democratic secular state was the program of the PLO in its most radical period. It was abandoned as the leadership began to bend to imperialist pressure and more and more to orient to some sort of compromise with Zionism. The experience of 10 years of an attempt to achieve peace through compromise has now shown clearly that no compromise with Zionism is possible.
The rise of the Islamist movement and the demand for an Islamic state has been a reaction to the capitulation of the Palestinian nationalist movement. It has offered a subjective escape from it, the idea that determination and self-sacrifice could win where compromise failed.
The rise of Islamism has reflected the desire of the Palestinian people to struggle. But it is leading them into a blind ally where they risk serious defeats. In a sort of vicious circle it can also eventually revive support for a compromise line based on the idea that even small concessions are better than catastrophic defeat.