"I think Sharon is currently the most important leader the Zionist movement has had since [Theodor] Herzl."
ABU MAZEN SLAMS INTIFADA AS DISASTER
[Ha'aretz, 27 Nov]:
Palestinian violence has in the last two years cost the Palestinians everything they had gained until then and must be halted immediately before it does even greater damage, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the head of the PLO's executive committee, told a closed lecture in Gaza on Monday.
But his remarks were greeted angrily by the listeners. They included leading members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, including some involved in Fatah's military wing; leaders of the "Popular Committees," one of the most extreme militant organizations in Gaza; and representatives of the Gaza refugee camps.
According to a transcript of the lecture, which was published in full yesterday by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, Abu Mazen - who was once considered a leading contender to succeed Arafat - said, "what has happened during these two years, as we now see, is the complete destruction of everything we had built until then. We are living below the poverty line in Gaza and the West Bank and our nation is enduring loss, hunger and suffering. And the reason for this is that many people responded to the Israeli provocations and the intifada departed from its natural path."
Those who began using guns, he charged, turned the intifada into a "military campaign" rather than "a popular uprising that expressed popular anger - to which no one could have objected to and against which no one could have employed the methods of destruction now being employed.
"As you see, all the cities of the West Bank are now subjected every day to operations of destruction because of Israel's exploitation [of the Palestinian violence]."
He specifically criticized the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for publicly claiming responsibility for the murder of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi, saying it was this that caused Israel to besiege Arafat's Ramallah headquarters last spring.
Abu Mazen called for an immediate end to the violence, as "people can no longer endure the burden of life under these conditions." And Gaza, he said, was the logical place to begin this new approach. "I call on the Palestinians to say `enough,' clearly and determinedly, because if we stop, we can prevent an Israeli invasion of Gaza," he said.
The Palestinians, he continued, should have conducted negotiations with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as Sharon's unwillingess to compromise would then have turned most Israelis against him.
He noted that when Sharon was first elected, many Palestinians predicted that his inability to restore security to Israel would cause Israelis to oust him as prime minister.
Instead, "Sharon did not fall, because the intifada strayed from the correct path. And I think Sharon is currently the most important leader the Zionist movement has had since [Theodor] Herzl - who did not enjoy the 80 percent support that Sharon does."
Abu Mazen also criticized Israeli Arabs for having engaged in large-scale rioting when the intifada first broke out, saying this had caused Israelis to view them as disloyal to the state.
Because of this, he said, it will now be much harder to persuade Israel to agree to let Palestinian refugees return to its borders.
By Daniel Sobelman and Arnon Regular