"The Intifada of Al-Aqsa" - Roots and Goals
by Yigal Carmon and Yotam Feldner
The Camp David Summit ended with a Palestinian rejection of the American proposal for shared sovereignty over Jerusalem in general and over the Temple Mount in particular. Following this rejection, President Clinton placed full responsibility for the failure on PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. This resulted in a major change in the political stature of both Israel and the PLO in the eyes of the international community. While Barak was praised for his courageous peace initiatives, Arafat faced difficulties even in states that traditionally supported the Palestinian cause. Now, in France, South Africa, China, and Russia and throughout the world, leaders will not support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of an independent state.
Because of the shift in the international position towards Israel, the PLO realized that it had reached the limit of its possible achievements in the current political process. Worse, even the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state (UDI) - Arafat's immediate and long awaited goal - had lost international support. Arafat found himself at a dead end.
The PLO's Dual Strategy
The PLO has prepared for this stage. From the outset of the Oslo process, PLO spokesmen stated that the PLO would take a political course as long as it continued to bear fruit. But when a dead end was reached, the PLO would turn to the military option in order to continue to advance its basic goals: an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 line, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the implementation of the Palestinians' right of return.
As early as January 1996, PA Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Sha'ath stated in a symposium in Nablus: "We decided to liberate our homeland step by step...this is the strategy...we say: 'should Israel continue - no problem. And so we honor the peace treaties and non-violence, so long as the agreements are fulfilled step-by-step. (But) if and when Israel says 'enough,' namely, 'we will not discuss Jerusalem,' in that case it is saying that we will return to violence. But this time it will be with 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom. I am the first to call for it. If we reach a dead end we will go back to our war and struggle like we did forty years ago."
In most of his public speeches and interviews, Arafat stated that "all options are open," a slogan that became a permanent motif in the declarations of PLO spokesmen throughout the years. "No one believed him when he used to say it," said Nabil Sha'ath, "but in fact throughout the period in which we conducted negotiations, three Intifadas took place. This one is indeed the most important...(but) the Palestinian people did not cease throughout the seven years of negotiations (since Oslo) from carrying out Intifadas against Israel and stating its positions by means other than the negotiating table."
"The choice," explained Sha'ath, "is not at all between options of negotiation and fighting: You can have negotiations and fight at the same time...the Palestinian people fight with weapons, with jihad, with Intifadas and suicide actions...and it is destined to always fight and negotiate at the same time."
But in the aftermath of Camp David, the PLO needed an excuse to begin violent pressure, in order not to be viewed by international public opinion as the initiator or violence. The excuse was found when Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. And indeed, the international community accepted the Palestinian version about the causes for the outbreak of violence, and world leaders criticized the "provocative visit" - a position which was also echoed in the UN Security Council resolution.
Preparations for Violence
However, in public statements before the end of the Camp David summit, high-ranking PLO officials betrayed their feeling that the time for the "military option" was nearing. A senior PA security official, told the Israeli Arab paper Kul Al-Arub, "The Palestinian people are in a state of emergency in view of the failure (to achieve an agreement) at Camp David... The next Intifada will be much more severe and violent than the first - the official forewarned - since the Palestinian people (have) weapons enabling it to defend themselves in a confrontation with the Israeli army."
The following week, the same source announced that, "The popular recruitment in the PA's territories has significantly increased, and a Palestinian Liberation Army was established under the Fatah leadership. The PA has already distributed weapons to the citizens and is supervising training and preparation for the possible confrontation with the forces of the Israeli occupation."
As early as the beginning of July, the Director-General of the PA Ministry of Information, Hasan Al-Khashef instructed the Palestinians: "If all the households are turned into storage houses to secure the residents' basic needs, this will lift a heavy burden off the leaderships' shoulders, since it will allow it to focus on the chief and necessary challenges that it will inevitably face."
The failure of the Camp David Summit heightened the awareness among Palestinian officials that the violence was getting closer. Hasan 'Asfur stated that "The failure to reach a final agreement will force the Palestinians to opt for military action" including inside Israel proper. PA Justice Minister Freih Abu Middein went even further, and warned that "Violence is around the corner, and the Palestinians are willing to sacrifice even 5,000 casualties."
The Political Goals of the Intifada
The PLO hopes to translate the violence into political achievements. Its primary, constant and ultimate goal is Israel's withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borderline and the realization of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. But is also has the intermediate goal of declaring an independent state. To support these objectives the PLO is pursuing an interim goal: internationalization of the Palestinian problem through the deployment of international forces to "protect the Palestinians." This would deprive Israel of its sovereignty and may improve Palestinian opportunities for a UDI. The PLO's demand for an international committee to investigate the reasons for the outbreak of violence is the first step in this direction.
"I believe that today we are no longer talking about going back to negotiations," Nabil Sha'ath states. "Now we are talking about the need for an Israeli withdrawal and about the need to end the occupation. If there are going to be negotiations, they must be determined by international legitimacy, namely withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borderline and the return of the refugees."
The PLO hopes to reach this immediate goal by conducting negotiations at the same time that it orchestrates and escalates the violence. Consequently, Palestinian leaders are increasingly making public statements that the violence is PLO policy and constitutes a part of the PLO's negotiating strategy. In a symposium in Ramallah, PA Finance Minister Muhammad Al-Nashashibi said, "The Intifada will continue until the achievement of our national goals."
PLO representative in Washington, Hassan Abd Al-Rahman clarified the PLO's policies: "The Intifada is a means of popular struggle in which all parts of the people take part in order to realize the internationally recognized legitimate rights of the Palestinian people... This is the goal of the Intifada... The use of violence, the struggle and martyrdom... used by people to achieve their rights."
The Struggle for World Public Opinion During the Intifada
Parallel to the battle on the ground, and integral to the PLO's goal of internationalizing the conflict, is the struggle for the support of world public opinion. The diplomatic success that Israel's Prime Minister initially achieved at Camp David assisted Israel in its struggle to win over international public opinion.
"The only way to impose our conditions," explained the Director-General of the PA Ministry of Information, "is inevitably with out blood. Without it, the world would lose interest in our cause. Consequently, the continuation of the popular confrontation is of an urgent necessity... the force of the Intifada is our only power... our national duty is to continue the confrontation, the Intifada and martyrdom, so that our martyrs and our injured will not be in vain, and the Intifada of Al-Aqsa will be the gate to independence and liberty."
Escalating the Violence
The head of the Fatah organization in the West Bank, Marwan Al-Barghuthi, stated, "The Intifada should be continued and escalated." Al-Barghuthi even reorganized his Fatah 'Tanzim' armed men in Nablus into a new militia that in order to create the appearance that Fatah is not responsible for the continuation of the violence. Additionally, the PA released 60 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, who may engage in terrorist acts that would then not be attributed to the PA. The field leadership of the Fatah also seeks to continue the use of violence. The October 9, 2000 Flyer No. 1 of the "United National Leadership of the Intifada," which was recently re-established, prepared the Palestinian public for a long-term confrontation: "The blessed Intifada is a strategic choice for the liberation of our lands from the Zionist occupation and it is not a temporary thing."
The Palestinian use of violence after the failure of the Camp David summit gained the PLO a public relations advantage, but no political achievements. While Israel has been criticized for its use of force, this has not translated into international support for the PLO's goals. Barak, who will have difficulty meeting Arafat as long as violence continues, nevertheless stated that he is willing to do so. Barak also withheld the seemingly inevitable creation of a national emergency government in order not to be held responsible for the failure of the peace process. The PLO, on the other hand, which is withholding its consent for a summit with Clinton and Barak, is again perceived as the party rejecting peace and insisting on continuing the violence.
Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI. Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.
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