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April 2000 - Return to Complete Index    MiddleEast.Org         4/09/00
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        "Anyone who has recently visited the territories comes
        back with the same impression: The earth is trembling
        as if a volcano were on the point of erupting."

MID-EAST REALITIES - Washington - 9 April:
   Within minutes of the Pope's departure from the Deheishe Refugee Camp
last month it was a scene right out of the Intifada.  The main difference
was that those doing the beatings are now called "Palestinian Police";
whereas those throwing the stones are of course the same.
   Another of the ironies of today's situation is that one can often find
more honest and direct commentary about what is happening to the
Palestinians in the Israeli media than one can in the Arafat-controlled
Palestinian press.  Hence this recent article from Israel's leading
liberal newspaper, Ha'aretz:

    By Yoel Marcus

[Ha'aretz, 7 March] - The uncovering of a Hamas terrorist cell in Taibeh, the
mass terror attacks that were prevented, the horror-filled scenes that we were
spared and the security alert that was declared in the wake of the cell's
uncovering should set the alarm bells ringing here.Why is this happening now?
Why, at this precise moment in time, has the order been given - if, in fact,
there was such an order - to renew the terrible scenes of 1996, the horrendous
scenes of terrorist attacks on buses, at soldier hitch-hiking stations and in
shopping malls?

The standard reply of our security sources that the terrorists "keep on
trying, but we have been able to thwart attack after attack" is not entirely
precise. The Hamas organization is highly motivated, it has the personnel, it
has the equipment and, if a "strategic decision" is made to renew terror
attacks, it is almost certain that we will see an increase in terrorist

If, up until now, there has been more smoke than fire, the situation could be
attributed, first and foremost, to an understanding between the Palestinian
Authority and Hamas's leadership that acts of terror will only sabotage the
Palestinians' efforts to achieve their goals. This understanding is not some
legal document that you can show in court. Hamas acts or chooses not to act
in response to the mood in the streets of the PA. When the Palestinians
support Yasser Arafat's strategy in the negotiations regarding Israel, Hamas
exercises greater caution. After all, Hamas is a political organization much
interested in grass-roots support. Hamas also wants to fortify its position
and make preparations for the post-Arafat era. Thus, Hamas needs to live in
coexistence with the Palestinians.

The question "Why now?" can have only one answer: Hamas feels today that the
Palestinian public will react positively, if not enthusiastically, to terror
attacks against Israeli targets. The negotiating process between Israel and
the Palestinians is deadlocked and nothing is moving forward on that front.
Arafat, who has felt that he has no partner in forging the "peace of the
brave" since Rabin's assassination, is holding on to the reins of power with
every ounce of strength.

Anyone who has recently visited the territories comes back with the same
impression: The earth is trembling as if a volcano were on the point of

The fascination with Hezbollah among Palestinians, especially among the
younger generation, should surprise no one. It is hard to imagine that
university students or teenagers who grew up in refugee camps and who are now
of "military age" do not express admiration in their day-to-day conversations
for the remarkable performance of a microscopic organization like Hezbollah,
which has managed to erode the power of mighty Israel to such an extent that
the Zionist state wants to get the hell out of Lebanon without delay. And it
is easy to imagine that these young people entertain the thought that they
have no option but to use force to attain their own goals.

As the frustration increases among the PA's inhabitants, the situation
becomes riper for the renewal of Hamas operations and/or a revival of the
Intifada. In a private conversation, IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz has
already stated that a violent confrontation with the Palestinians, if it
breaks out, will not be confined to the hurling of rocks but will move on to
bullets and to a casualty count that will be four times the number of Israeli
casualties in Lebanon.

Even the American administration and members of the Israeli Cabinet have
warned that the abandonment of the Palestinian track in a mad dash for a
treaty with Syria could have dangerous consequences.

"If we leave the Palestinian Authority for last," Shimon Peres has said,
"after Egypt, Jordan and Syria have received every square inch of the
territories they demanded, we will find it very difficult to get the
Palestinians to agree to a deal that will give them only 70 percent of the
West Bank."

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is focusing all his energies on Syria, has
given the Palestinians a low place on his agenda. In an arrogant, know-it-all
fashion, he is broadcasting: "The Palestinian issue is small potatoes."

While the Palestinians observe, with considerable envy, how Syrian President
Hafez Assad is making Barak crawl on his hands and knees and is forcing him
to meet Damascus's demands, Barak is humiliating Arafat. Barak is creating
the impression that the dispute with the Palestinians is an issue that can be
administered, without any attempt to solve it in a fundamental way. At the
same time, he is choosing to ignore the fact that security cooperation with
the PA is conditional upon there being the light generated by a peace treaty
at the end of the tunnel.

The intensification of frustration among the Palestinians will lead to the
launching of terrorist attacks. The reason is that the Palestinian problem
has always been the heart of the Israeli-Arab dispute. Thus, if we do not
reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, we will never achieve a real
peace with any Arab state. The failure to make progress along both tracks
(Syrian and Palestinian both) of the peace process is a terrible diplomatic
error, for which we may have to pay a heavy price.

Someone on this side of the fence needs to do some hard rethinking and may
even have to be shaken up quite vigorously. What we have here is a classic
example of a walking time bomb.

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