|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
25 - 31 October 2001
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In whose interests?The Palestinian Authority is jeopardising national unity with its crackdown on the PFLP, writes Khaled Amayreh
Citing Palestinian national interests and warning resistance groups to observe the "cease-fire" reached with Israel a few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is cracking down on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The group has claimed responsibility for the 17 October assassination of Israel's extremist Minister of Tourism Rahavam Zeevi.
Thus, on 21 October, the PA outlawed the group's small but effective military wing, and detained "for questioning" more than 20 of the prominent political leaders and activists of the organisation that was once second only to Fatah in terms of popularity among Palestinians.
The ban came as the Israeli occupation army effectively reoccupied many Palestinian towns, practically undoing the Oslo Accords.
Among the people arrested are Ali Jaradat, PFLP spokesman, Ahmed Musalmani and Rabah Mohannah, both members of the front's politburo and heads of two important non- governmental organisations in Gaza and the West Bank.
Palestinian sources reported on 22 October that the PA Preventive Security Chief in the West Bank, Jebril Rajoub, issued an ultimatum to PFLP leader Ahmed Sa'adat to turn himself in or face arrest.
Rajoub was quoted as saying that "the PA is committed to implementing its part of the cease-fire package," adding that "this includes arresting anyone who violates decisions taken by institutions of the PA."
Israel earlier alleged that Sa'adat had ordered Zeevi's assassination in retaliation for the assassination by the Israeli army of PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa in Ramallah nearly two months ago.
PA security agencies have been harassing PFLP activists and supporters, ostensibly to demonstrate to Israel and the United States that it was serious about combating "terrorism."
PA key spokesmen like Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nabil Amr have painstakingly tried to explain to the Palestinian public, which is not giving the PA the benefit of the doubt, that the crackdown was necessary for the national interests.
"We can't allow a group of individuals to destroy the national cause. There is one Palestinian Authority and everybody must abide by the decisions of that authority, or else anarchy will prevail," said Amr.
Abed Rabbo hinted that the murderers of Zeevi unwittingly served Sharon's bellicose designs against the Palestinians.
"We know that Sharon wanted to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and redefine the Palestinian question from one of illegal occupation to one of violence and terror. Therefore, we believe the killers of Zeevi served Sharon with the needed pretext to carry out his evil designs against the Palestinians," said Abed Rabbo.
Predictably, the PFLP and other Palestinian opposition groups, including Hamas, rejected PA reasoning to that effect.
"The PA should never cave in to Sharon's dictates and blackmail. It should have told Sharon to hand over the killers of Abu Ali Mustafa in return for turning over to Israel the killers of Zeevi. Zeevi's blood is not more precious than that of Abu Ali Mustafa," said Maher Al-Taher, a spokesman for the PFLP.
He added that his group, along with other Palestinian resistance groups were only defending themselves and the entire Palestinian people against Israel, which excels in terrorism.
"We believe that we have an absolute right to self-defence. It is the Israeli army that is spreading murder and terror. Should we tell the criminal Zionists 'thanks' for killing our children?" said Al-Taher.
Undoubtedly, the PFLP's argument attracts overwhelming sympathy and understanding from virtually all segments of Palestinian society, including Fatah, Yasser Arafat's own organisation.
Hamas, which could be the next target of PA suppression should its military wing carry out a high-profile operation against Israeli targets, condemned the crackdown on the PFLP, calling it "a shameful surrender to Israeli pressure."
"We believe the arrest of the resistance fighters by the PA is a tremendous political and moral blunder. The PA should realise that Sharon would give us nothing even if half of our people were incarcerated," said Hamas's spokesman in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi.
He added that it was "illogical and unacceptable that Sharon continue to assassinate, murder and maim Palestinians, while the PA arrests those who rise up to defend our people. It is Sharon and his murderous army who are the real terrorists and who should be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity."
Interestingly, the PA does not completely reject this argument.
However, it responds that the Palestinians should strive to isolate Sharon in the international arena, particularly after the United States and Britain expressed clear verbal support for the creation of Palestinian statehood.
"We know and understand that Sharon and [Israeli chief of staff Saul] Mofaz use the so-called 'terror' to expedite their political goals, namely the liquidation of the Palestinian cause and the destruction of the PA. However, it is very important that we strip them of this excuse so that we can expose them naked before the entire world," said a PA official.
Nevertheless, the PA's task of maintaining the cease-fire, and "reining in" the opposition, which now includes sizable segments of Fatah, is not going to be easy at all if only because the Israeli army is continuing, even escalating, its rampage of murder and terror throughout the West Bank.
On 20 October, Israeli occupation soldiers murdered Mustafa Abdel-Rahman Nufal, an Islamist leader, in Qaliqilya, reportedly in full view of his wife and children.
"They captured him, and then shot him in the back and the head several times, then they shot him in the head once more to make sure that he was dead. All of that happened in full view of our children," said Nufal's brother.
On 22 October, the Israeli army likewise murdered Ayman Halaweh, the head of the Izzedin Al-Kassam Brigades in Nablus.
The number of Palestinians killed since the assassination of Ze'evi on 17 October has reached 25, the vast majority of them children, housewives and olive farmers. And as the killing continues unabated, Sharon continues to cry "terrorism."
"Sharon will continue to murder our people with or without the cease-fire. So, we prefer to die fighting than being slaughtered like meek sheep by his criminal killers," said a Hamas official in the Bethlehem region.
"Sharon is not after terror and violence, he is after the entire Palestinian people and their just cause," added the official.
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