Title: Intifada's Legacy at Year 4: A Morass of Faded Hopes
The New York Times - Oct 3, 2004
Author: By STEVEN ERLANGER
JERUSALEM, Oct. 2 - The Palestinians refer to the Israeli victory over the Arab nations in 1948 as al nakba, or the catastrophe, when many of them became refugees. Some Palestinians, who thought they were on the brink of statehood four years ago, now say that the second intifada has been a second nakba.
"We have suffered gravely since the eruption of the second intifada, far more than the Israelis have suffered," said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza.
In the four years since this intifada, or uprising, began, after the collapse of peace talks led by President Bill Clinton, Palestinian hopes for statehood, democracy and prosperity have deteriorated.
The lives of ordinary Palestinians have suffered. The Palestinian Authority has fragmented, losing much of its ability to provide law and order and allowing more extreme groups to increase their autonomy and popular support.
What began as a popular uprising quickly became a low-intensity war, one that many Palestinians say they cannot win and that has caused most Israelis, according to opinion polls, to lose faith in the Palestinians as partners for peace.
One result was the election of the hawk Ariel Sharon as the Israeli prime minister, and Israelis have put security before any other virtue, building walls to cut Israel off from suicide bombers and ordinary Palestinians, dividing up the West Bank, into supposedly temporary zones of security and more permanent zones of settlement, and acting unilaterally, judging that a peace settlement was impossible with the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat.
"To me the most damaging result of this intifada is the separation wall the Israelis are building on the West Bank," said Mr. Abu Sada, the Gazan scholar. "Israel is taking over a lot of Palestinian land, and it just entrenches the occupation and it will be very damaging for the future."
Israel insists that the barrier is a temporary answer to suicide bombers, and that any final border with a future Palestine will be negotiated. But the barriers and enclosures have already separated off 11.5 percent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations, and more than 85 percent of the barrier is being built inside the West Bank.
"Our lives are deteriorating on all levels," said Salah Abdel Shafi, 42, a Gazan economist. "This intifada began O.K., but got confused and lacks a clear message," he said. "The moment the intifada was militarized, it lost its popular character, and with suicide bombers and rocket attacks inside Israel, we lost the image of an occupied people. We are playing now on Sharon's field, and we have done everything to help him pretend that Israel is in another war of national survival."
Among the more than 3,000 dead, more than three Palestinians die for every Israeli, and among the Palestinian dead, though figures are hard to come by, easily more than half are civilians. About a fifth of the Palestinian dead, including combatants, are under 18 years of age.
At least two-thirds of the Israeli dead are civilians, singled out by suicide bombers.
The life of ordinary Palestinians has declined sharply over the last four years, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which monitors the Palestinians and the barrier and compiles data from other United Nations agencies, embassies and international organizations like the World Bank.
The data are grim.
The number of Palestinians who worked daily in Israel before the intifada was more than 150,000; the figure now is fewer than 35,000.
Of the 2.2 million Palestinians on the West Bank, 50 percent now live below the poverty line, compared with 22 percent in 2001; the figure is now 68 percent in teeming Gaza, with its 1.3 million people.
The percentage of Palestinians with savings declined from 70 percent to 13 percent.
Before the second intifada, some $500 million a year was provided in aid; the average annual figure for the last four years is more than $1 billion, about $310 a person, the highest per capita rate in the world.
Some 500,000 of the 3.5 million Palestinians are in dire economic straits, said David Shearer, the head of the United Nations agency's office here. Some 40 percent now feel insecure about feeding their families; 29 percent feel severely insecure, and half of them are heavily dependent on foreign aid. Some 30 percent are watching their savings dwindle. "They are the new poor, and they are slipping down," Mr. Shearer said.
Doubling aid to $2 billion a year would only reduce those in poverty by 8 percent, he said. "But if the closures were lifted and exports could pass easily into Israel, poverty rates would go down by 15 percent."
These costs do not address the demoralizing flight of the Palestinian middle class to the United States or the gulf, or the pain of seeing hundreds of young people, mainly men but increasingly women, volunteer to be suicide bombers, or "the shame," as Mr. Shafi puts it, of a Palestinian leadership widely viewed as corrupt, undemocratic and largely uninterested in the details of administration.
A long analysis of Palestinian administration under Israeli occupation, published last week by the International Crisis Group, an independent Brussels-based organization that studies global issues, found that "although the occupation and the confrontation with Israel that is entering its fifth year provide the context, today's Palestinian predicament is decidedly domestic.''
It went on: "Recent power struggles, armed clashes, and demonstrations do not pit Palestinians against Israelis so much as Palestinians against each other; the chaos is a product not solely of Israel's policies, but of Palestinian ones as well. The political system is close to the breaking point, paralyzed and unable to make basic decisions."
Local actors like mayors, kinship networks, and armed militias compete for authority in the vacuum and "the result is growing chaos throughout the West Bank," the report said.
Mr. Arafat remains the symbol of the Palestinian aspiration to a state. But senior Israeli officials say he believes in rule by "deliberate chaos and indirection," as one official put it, with no interest now in political compromise.
A senior member of Mr. Sharon's team spoke airily of the "political culture of the Arabs," one that he described as undemocratic and fragmented unless governed by a strong, authoritarian hand, as in Egypt or Jordan, and called Mr. Arafat "the world's last anarchist." But this Israeli conceded that Mr. Sharon's military and political policies, in the face of the intifada, have "accelerated the fragmentation."
Many Palestinians regard the war against Israeli occupation as necessary and unavoidable, and take pride in the killing of Israeli soldiers and civilians. Some regard Mr. Sharon's effort to withdraw from Gaza as a victory of the intifada, even if it is done unilaterally and for Israeli interests.
But by contrast, the first intifada, running from 1987 to 1993, led to the Oslo accords, the acceptance of a Palestinian state, and international recognition.
The problem for Israel, the senior Sharon official said, is that the Palestinian Authority, slowly losing ground to extremists, is too weak to carry out a peace treaty even if one were signed. In the meantime, he and senior Israeli military officials insist, even the military side of the intifada is being financed and controlled by outsiders, like Hezbollah, a Lebanese group financed largely by Iran.
At least 74 percent of 130 attempted or successful suicide bombings originating from the West Bank so far this year were "directly controlled by Hezbollah's apparatus in Beirut, with Iranian money, know-how and weapons systems," a senior Israeli military officer said.
A suicide bombing effort costs only about $4,000, he said, including payments, usually negotiated in advance, to cover the expense to a family of a funeral for a suicide bomber, as well as payments to those willing to provide transport, documents or shelter.
The Israelis are convinced that the barrier, in combination with better intelligence and regular military incursions into the West Bank and Gaza, has sharply reduced successful terrorist acts inside Israel, and the numbers bear them out. In the last four years, there have been 406 thwarted terrorist attacks and nearly 140 others that went ahead. There were 35 in 2001, 60 in 2002, and then a decline to 26 in 2003 and to 14 so far this year.
But there has been a significant cost for Israel, too, in lives and dollars, in international criticism and to its standing as the Middle East's only real democracy, as it occupies land and operates checkpoints that often prevent Palestinian cancer sufferers, for example, from traveling to Israel for treatment.
This is "a war without winners," wrote the respected military analyst Zeev Schiff in Haaretz. "In the diplomatic realm, Israel has suffered severe defeats."
Even worse, Mr. Schiff said, Israel has failed to stop "the motivation that spurs so many Palestinians to enlist for violent actions," including an increasing number of Israeli Arabs. "Israel has failed to convince the general Palestinian public that it is better not to be involved in violence."