Al-Ahram Weekly Online
13 - 19 December 2001
Issue No.564
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Unity above all

Israel's attempts to create a power vacuum in Palestine must be defeated, writes Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie In the face of intensive efforts by the PA and other Palestinian groupings to end the spiraling violence, Israel's prime minister is determined to sabotage every diplomatic effort to reach a cease-fire and agree on a new starting point for implementing the Mitchell report. Developments in Palestine also make it clear that Israel's war government is forging ahead with its terror agenda, the object being to topple Arafat, reenter areas under PA control and annex large swathes of the West Bank.

Sharon callously exploited recent suicide bombings in West Jerusalem and Haifa to make new incursions into PA territories and unleash another wave of terror against the Palestinian people. In keeping with his modus operandi he has ignored Arafat's condemnations of these acts and, more importantly, worked to obstruct the PA's efforts to prevent the recurrence of such acts. The bombardment of PA government buildings and the assassination of PA security personnel have impeded the pursuit and capture of suspects and undermined Arafat's efforts to obtain a consensus among Palestinian factions to end such operations.

Sharon's greatest fear is that Arafat will succeed in keeping the Palestinian street under control. Hence, his ceaseless attempts to humiliate Arafat and his instructions to Israeli forces to bombard PA presidential offices. Hence, too, Israeli assaults against PA security forces, in the hope of goading them into self- defensive response. Nothing illustrates Sharon's intentions more clearly than his rejection of the offer made by four Palestinian factions to halt all operations inside Israel until the end of Ramadan in exchange for an Israeli halt to aggression against the Palestinians. For Sharon to accept this offer would involve his putting on hold a policy of deliberately provoking reactions that he can then exploit by adding yet more atrocities to his already chilling record.

Washington's virtual consent to Sharon's onslaught is particularly disturbing. US declarations that Sharon has a right to defend his country and people -- the response by Dick Cheney to Arafat's plea that Washington urge Israel not to use American-made weapons in its war against the Palestinian people is but one example -- have given Sharon the green light to vent his venom against the Palestinian people and the PA. Curiously, Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper was more discerning as to Sharon's real intentions, which could not be more removed from defending ordinary Israelis. Last Sunday it wrote that army generals and security officials were working to force Arafat out of the Palestinian territories. And adding weight to this conjecture was the recent appeal from Congress to the White House to punish Arafat, which would give further impetus to Sharon's bid to dismantle the PA.

The US, then, has encouraged Sharon's obstinacy in rebuffing European and Arab efforts to end the violence and has strengthened the hand of the war generals in steering Israeli policy. In short, and bolstered by Washington, Sharon's only targets are PA installations to bomb, personnel to be assassinated, and Palestinian homes to be demolished to make room for more settlements.

Developments in Palestine confirm President Mubarak's repeated assessment of Sharon as a man who understands only bloodshed and who is prepared to forfeit all opportunities to seek political solutions that might spare the lives of civilians on both sides.

The most effective response in the face of this onslaught is to safeguard Palestinian national unity. Palestinians and Arabs must stand firmly behind President Arafat as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people and a symbol of the Palestinian cause. As tangible affirmation of their backing Palestinian factions should declare a halt to all operations inside Israel. The call to cease such operations has both moral and political imperatives. As religious and political leaders throughout the Arab world have repeatedly stressed, the murder of civilians is an abomination. Such acts serve only to tarnish the Palestinian cause and furnish Sharon with the excuse to confuse the issues.

The historic responsibility of Palestinian leaders is now to preserve the PA. Only by presenting a united front will the Palestinians be able to thwart Sharon's plan to divide and conquer.

The initial reactions of some Palestinian leaders have been encouraging: we hope others display a similar sense of responsibility and declare the need to stand behind Arafat and work together with him on an agenda that meets with national consensus. All Palestinian leaders must realise the extent of Sharon's plans to disrupt the unity of Palestinian ranks and debilitate Arafat and the PA before picking off other Palestinian groups one by one.

Concerted Arab action that does not play into Sharon's hands is also essential in supporting Palestinian unity. There are many ways the Arabs can lend their support, foremost among which is to augment financial assistance to the Palestinian people and their governing institutions in order to help them sustain their current struggle. At the diplomatic level, it has become imperative that Arab governments compound their efforts to lobby for an international monitoring force to protect the Palestinian people. The international community must be made to see that an unrestrained Sharon means ever greater outrages perpetrated against the Palestinian people.

And it must be made absolutely clear that what the PA and other Palestinian factions are being asked to do cannot be realised until Israel stops its aggression against the Palestinian people, withdraws its forces from the areas it has reoccupied and clearly commits itself to a plan for resuming negotiations and implementing its obligations under previously concluded agreements. To continue to allow Sharon to rampage through Palestine will steer the region to disaster.

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Related stories:
Besieged and alone
Sharon spells chaos
Writing off Arafat?
Modest expectations
See Intifada: year one 27 Sep. - 3 Oct. 2001
Intifada in focus

Getting rid of Arafat

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