BY AHMAD NIMER
RAMALLAH — In the week after the meeting between Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres on September 26 and the announcement of a much-vaunted joint cease-fire, 30 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces — a higher number of deaths than in any week in the past two months.
Virtually all of those killed were unarmed civilians, including six Palestinian children.
Despite the claims that Israel was intent on "easing restrictions" — a euphemism for lifting the military blockades around Palestinian cities and towns that are strangling the Palestinian people's livelihood — these checkpoints have been tightened and Israeli troops have frequently opened fire on pedestrians attempting to move between areas.
On October 3, a large peaceful demonstration at a checkpoint on the road to Birzeit University was attacked with tear-gas and rubber-coated steel ammunition, leading to tens of casualties, among them a member of a delegation of French solidarity activists who was hit in the head by a bullet. The delegation was later denied exit from the country on the charge they were "terrorists". The delegation members are presently taking refuge in the French embassy.
The September 26 meeting between Arafat and Peres has brought to the fore the contradictory role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) during the current situation. Both the US government and a significant section of the Israeli capitalist ruling class — represented in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) by Shimon Peres — want to see the current intifada ended and a speedy return to negotiations.
There are significant indications that negotiations would lead to a fairly quick agreement, not far removed from that which was almost reached in the Egyptian town of Taba early this year between then-Israeli PM Ehud Barak and Palestinian negotiators.
Recent comments by US President George Bush and various "leaks" from the US State Department to the media indicate that the US government also wants to see a return to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, which would include establishing a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and some Palestinian control over parts of Jerusalem.
This rump state would be divided into three separate cantons by Israeli settlements and Israel's control over the Palestinian economy would perpetuate and deepen the already existing colonial relationship between Israel and the Palestinian nation.
The core issue of the Palestinian national question — the right of return to Palestine for Palestinian refugees — would be relinquished in return for the trappings of an independent Palestinian state.
For Peres and the US, Arafat remains key in halting the intifada. The complete centralisation of the PA's power in Arafat's hands and his control over finances and all public appointments make him the best placed to order the arrest and detention those who prefer to continue the struggle against occupation.
The PA is very much a creation of previous negotiations — funded and supported by the US after the Oslo Accords of 1993, a small layer of Palestinian bureaucrats and business people profited from their privileged relationship with Israeli capital and their positions as arbitrators of power.
In return, they were expected to keep the population in line, making them accept the Bantustanisation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Today Israel is cashing in its chips and wants the PA to deliver — first and foremost through the arrest of activists and an end to the intifada.
PA and the intifada
The Palestinian population as a whole, however, is not willing to end the intifada. The cost in terms of Palestinian lives has been enormous — almost 1% of the population has been killed or injured and thousands of Palestinians are incarcerated as political prisoners in Israeli jails. There is a very real sense that this cannot be given away without tangible political gains.
Thousands of Palestinians participated in demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the present intifada on September 29, and support for armed resistance against Israeli soldiers and colonial-settlers remains at an all-time high.
In this context, the task Israel demands of the PA is extremely difficult for it to deliver.
A case in point is Rafah, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip that has witnessed almost daily demonstrations against Israeli troops over the last 12 months. Following their September 26 meeting, Peres agreed with Arafat to allow Palestinian security officials freedom of movement in an attempt to restore "calm" in the area. The following night, Palestinian security offices were stormed by camp residents and the PA forces evicted. One participant told Green Left Weekly: "We gave them a clear message: We don't want you to stop the intifada and we don't want your 'security'."
Even forces associated with Arafat's ruling faction, Fatah, are resisting attempts to pull back the intifada. Many of these activists are from refugee camps and were active in the first intifada that began in 1988. They resent the power that was given to wealthy Palestinian returnees who filled the upper echelons of the PA after the Oslo Accords and in many areas these armed groups wield more power than official PA security bodies. They have made gains during the intifada because of their activity; gains that have come largely at the expense of the PA itself, which is seen as vacillating and non-committal towards the movement on the streets.
Heading for showdown
All factions leading the intifada have rejected the cease-fire agreement and there are significant indications that the situation is heading towards a showdown between the PA and the popular base of the intifada. Arafat has replaced the governor, head of the security forces and the police chief in the Bethlehem area in an attempt to install personnel more able to control the popular movement. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventative Security, an armed body trained and supported by the CIA, has received death threats from Palestinian factions because of a number of arrests made by his forces in the last week.
At the same time the Israeli government is divided in its attitude towards the PA. Leading cabinet members from the Israeli right have called for the outright overthrow of Arafat and military occupation of Palestinian areas. The right has a significant social base in the settlement movement; it draws upon the traditional symbols of Zionism such as settlement of the land (it should be noted that in Israel, the terms right and left denote the level of bellicosity towards Palestinians.)
Negotiations between Peres and Arafat have been stridently opposed by these tendencies, which include some sections of the Israeli military. Some analysts have suggested that Israel's violent use of force since the Peres-Arafat meeting is an attempt by sections of the military and the right to scuttle any further negotiations.
This tension within the Israeli government has almost reached breaking point. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon allowed the Peres-Arafat meeting to happen only after heavy pressure was placed on him by the US and by European governments.
It is clear, however, that the major sections of the Israeli ruling class, those most allied with US capital in particular, want to see a calming of the situation and the implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet agreements which were drawn up several months ago by the US, Israel and the PA.
US foreign policy since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also mandates such a return to negotiations in order to undermine popular opposition in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the US "war on terrorism".
For a return to serious negotiations to occur, however, Washington wants the PA to reign in the popular movement against Israeli colonialism — precisely because this movement is the only serious obstacle to the unjust peace that it wants to impose upon the Palestinian people. All indications are that this will be no easy task.