The Terrible State of the Palestinians
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The Terrible State of the Palestinians

December 24, 2001



"I hate the Americans. It is their fault what is happening to my people... I hate them... I don't want them to buy anything anymore." Nadia Hazman Tourish Shop owner, Manger Square, Bethlehem

"Arafat is not a Palestinian! He's an Israeli... We don't want such a State!" Rahia Maleha, 80 Jabalia Refugee Camp, Gaza

"A survey of Palestinians released last week found 72 percent opposed the arrests of militants and just 16 percent favored ending the intefadeh." MID-EAST REALITIES - - Washington - 12/24/2001: After all his bluster and threats, Yasser Arafat remains essentially an Israeli prisoner in Ramallah, one of the militarily-surrounded Palestinian Bantustans that Arafat himself helped create when he put his pen to various Israeli schemes for which he received, quite literally, billions of dollars in payoffs and arms which he then distributed to cronies and entourage to keep himself in power.

Meanwhile, the State of the Palestinian People -- not their political State which Arafat has incessantly promised but which now, in view of what has already happened "on the ground", would matter little whether "declared" or not -- but rather the state of their society, has never been worse. Still growing levels of poverty, misery, and desperation, are taking their toll; all leading to a disintegration of Palestinian life that is the breeding ground for the fanaticism that has understandably begun to take firm root. And, true to Israeli designs, the seeds for a fraticidal Palestinian civil war are now beginning to sprout.

The following articles published today in The Guardian, The Washington Post, and by the Associated Press, all help explain what has happened but do not really capture how miserable and explosive the State of the Palestinians has become. Even when the Arafat regime chooses its own audience for the Chairman to speak "the invitation-only crowd reacted coolly. Some spectators refused to rise when he entered the hall." This too reflects the growing state of despair in the occupied territories; and the urgent imperative for new, principled, and respected leadership to come forward, one way or another, before it is too late.


By Esther Addley

[The Guardian - Monday December 24, 2001:] The main door into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the holiest site in all of Christendom, is only a little over four feet high, so even relatively short sinners have to stoop to get inside. It is not particularly easy to scramble through the "gate of humility", as the site's custodians have come to term it, so squeezing a coffin through the tiny entrance, in the midst of a thronging crowd, must be an even more finicky operation. On Sunday October 21, Johnny Thaljieh's flower-decked open casket was carried from his home to Manger Square, the simple tree-lined open stone space in front of the church, through the tiny entrance and up the steps to the magnificent high altar.

It was a journey of only 100m or so, but for the Thaljieh family, one of almost unbearable significance. The Greek Orthodox priests before whom his body was laid were the very ones that the devout teenager had assisted as an altar boy since he was a young child. Just inside the tiny door is the spot where he would set up a stall from time to time in a largely futile attempt to sell souvenirs to tourists. And in the corner of the square, no more than 20 steps from his front door, is the exact spot where the 17-year-old died, killed instantly by a bullet wound to the heart.

According to the Pope on the day of the funeral, in the 2,000 or so years since Christ was supposedly born in a grotto under the site of the Church of the Nativity, no one has ever died violently on the sacred ground of Manger Square. Until Johnny Thaljieh. The teenager had just left the church following the late afternoon Orthodox service when he met his father in the square, then ran into his cousin Elias and his toddler son, whom he picked up to fling playfully in the air. He was holding the child above his head when a single bullet struck him, passing through his body just under his left armpit. He managed to set the screaming child on the ground before he fell, dying minutes later in the arms of his father.

The arrival of Christmas in Bethlehem this year seems a cruel joke. "No Christmas this year," says Johnny's sister Alice, who is six. "Next year Christmas, maybe."

"No Easter, either," her mother, Suzan, adds quietly, tugging at her pressed palms between clasped thighs. Three times a week they walk the 200m or so to the Greek Orthodox cemetery where Johnny is buried in the family vault, a hilltop site with a quite breathtaking view over the Dead Sea, the Jordan mountains and the Israeli settlements and security posts that pepper the land between. Christmas day will be spent in exactly the same way.

Bethlehem has had a majority Christian population almost since new testament times, the site of the nativity church having been venerated by local believers since at least the second century AD, according to documentary sources. But the town in which Christians believe angels appeared to shepherds to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill to all people, at present demonstrates precious little evidence of either. What are abundant are signs of war.

A little over two months ago, on October 19, Israeli troops moved into Bethlehem and its western suburb Beit Jala in force, occupying hotels and homes in the town and placing tanks and snipers in high positions. The incursion, Israel said, was in response to shots fired by Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala at the Israeli settlement of Gilo, perched on a hilltop across a lush valley from the town. Under the terms of the Oslo agreement, Bethlehem is designated "area A", under the sole security control of the Palestinian Authority, and entirely out of bounds to the Israeli Defence Force. The invasion provoked immediate criticism from international governments and church leaders, but Israel's Prime Minster Ariel Sharon resisted all calls to withdraw, and his retaliation was severe. By the time the IDF tanks finally left Bethlehem nine days later, 23 people from the town were dead, Johnny Thaljieh among them. From the high steeple of the Greek Orthodox monastery next to their home can be seen clearly the abandoned tank position, still draped in camouflage, from which the Thaljieh family insist an Israeli sharpshooter assassinated their son.

Something like 40 people have been killed in the Bethlehem area in the past five months, most by Israeli bullets or shells. For a small town of 28,000 people, where everyone is your cousin or your uncle or your classmate or engaged to your nephew, it is a burden of collective grief that seems almost unbearable.

But even before the Israeli army moved in, the inhabitants were finding life unmanageable. Because Bethlehem is a town under siege. Since the latest intifada began last September, the inhabitants of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and the eastern suburb of Beit Sahour have been unable to leave their municipal boundaries, hemmed in by a ring of Israeli checkpoints and forbidden, on pain of immediate arrest, to move more than two or three kilometres in any direction.

New roads exclusively for Israeli settlers have been built, mostly on confiscated Palestinian agricultural lands, and the ancient highways that run beside them have been dug up or blocked with 1.5m earth ramparts. Those who worked outside the area suddenly lost any source of income, while farmers and manufacturers are now unable to move their goods for sale, many allowing their olives or grapes to rot unharvested since they cannot sell them.

For those working inside the besieged area it has been little better. There are plenty of rooms in the inns of Bethlehem this year, since not a sinner has visited. "You can see, there are no tourists here," sighs Hanna Nasser, Bethlehem's mayor, from his office overlooking the shuttered souvenir shops and empty coach stops of Manger Square. "We have 4,000 beds and none of these are occupied. We have 86 restaurants in Bethlehem, and only two or three are opening and the work is not continuous there. The souvenir shops are not opening. All the tourist industry, all the light industry that is affiliated to tourism - the olive wood, the mother of pearl, the embroidery, the glass - all these things have stopped. Unemployment in Bethlehem is now 70%. The income per capita was about $1,850 per year. Now it has dropped down below $400. Imagine the difference. For two months we were not able to pay the salaries in the municipality. The citizens don't have money to pay their taxes."

To understand the situation of Bethlehem, and by extension the occupied West Bank in general, one needs to grasp the bewilderingly complex geography around which its inhabitants must manoeuvre themselves. The occupied West Bank and Gaza, under Oslo, were divided into areas A, B and C, under Palestinian, shared and Israeli control respectively. Central Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour are area A. But move into the suburbs and you can suddenly find yourself in area C, thanks to the presence of an Israeli security camp or nearby settlement. Twenty-eight Israeli settlements, built illegally under the terms of the United Nations, encircle the Bethlehem area.

For Palestinian inhabitants of area C, life can be enormously difficult. Joseph Hijazeen's house, a large complex of four flats in which he and several of his brothers lived with their families, is around 200m from what is now an Israeli military installation on the southern reaches of Beit Sahour. On October 30 2000, a tank from the base moved to the end of his driveway and fired three shells at the house at point-blank range, as he and his wife and their three children sat inside watching television. The family managed to escape unharmed, but the house was ravaged by fire. He takes a small piece of pink paper from his wallet and reads his tiny copperplate script painfully. "November 3, three missiles. House totally demolished from the inside. January 7, two missiles."

By 17 April, by which time the house had completely collapsed, a total of 22 rockets had been fired at it. "There was no warning, it just happened suddenly. They knew that there were children living here because they would see us at the checkpoints. They knew my family and where my family lived." The house next door was also shattered by missiles; its blackened shell is now open to the elements, electric fans shrivelled by fire still hanging from the crumbling ceilings. There is no insurance against "acts of war", so these families' life savings, all invested in their homes, went up in smoke.

Hijazeen works as a carpenter, but he can barely muster the energy to shrug at the irony of his flight, just like that of the Holy Family when Herod, according to the gospels, threatened to kill the baby Jesus. "Of course it's the same. I'm Joseph the carpenter," he says, with the air of someone who found irony exhausting some centuries ago. Land in area C is cheaper, but few people want to build there now, especially now that the Israelis are building a new settlement overlooking Beit Sahour, a towering development that resembles nothing so much as Brueghel's Tower of Babel, on to which Israeli snipers and tanks occasionally roll to shoot at Beit Sahour. The Israelis call it Har Homa, the hill of protection, built on expropriated Beit Sahour land, but it was once a green hill opposite which the people of the town built their homes.

Beautiful views are ambiguous things in occupied Bethlehem: the more countryside you can see, the better the chance your living room or your balcony, or your child's bedroom, has a direct sightline to an IDF position.

Things feel little more secure across the steep Wadi Ahmed in Gilo. The settlement, established soon after the Israeli invasion of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967, is only minutes from the military checkpoint that marks the outer limit of the area open to Bethlehem's Palestinians, but the wide boulevards and modern shops make it feel like another world. The apartments high on the hilltop enjoy a staggering view of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, but only those on the upper floors can see it, and then only if they remove the sandbagging from their windows. An enormous barrier, built from the same concrete blocks used in the Berlin wall, has been constructed along the length of the hillside.

Julia Lagousker, a 40-year-old artist from Jerusalem, takes a break from painting doves on the inside of the wall and sighs. "We hope for peace but I don't know how long it will be before it comes. I think Sharon is a good leader. He is a strong man. It is a very difficult situation we have here and it is important that he is strong with the Palestinians. I know there must be some good people among them, but the problem is, they don't want peace."

Two young men, Yaron and Ran, are fixing their car next to the wall. "I like living here but it's dangerous," says Yaron, 25. "They shoot from Beit Jala, you know." He says his apartment has been damaged by Palestinian light weapons, but any marks on the stone blocks have been repaired. "Arabs are maniacs. But I'm not scared. Because Israel is stronger. If the Arabs shoot, Sharon shoots back harder. If they attack us, he attacks them back harder. We are not afraid here. We have the wall. We have protection."

About 50m down the hill is an Israeli tank position, readied with ramparts and camouflage netting. Remarkably, nestled between the sandbags and the wall, is the home of Issa Farhan, a Palestinian, whose family has lived on the site since 1848. "The army comes here at night, without lights. They will stay here all night, many hours. In the morning they leave. My children are afraid, of course. It's terrible for me because I am living with the Jewish and they are shooting from here at Beit Jala - this is where I am from. This is the land of Beit Jala but the Jewish people have taken all the land."

The local settlers leave him largely alone, he says, but outsiders periodically make trouble. "The life with the Jewish is very hard. They are always saying 'We want peace, we want peace,' but in this place they don't want peace. Because they are very strong, but if I am strong, why must I take your lands to make peace with you?"

At least Farhan has been able to remain in his home, for the distinct Israeli and Palestinian Authority areas are not the only geographical complication in this territory. Back in Bethlehem, three small parts of the town are under the control neither of Israel nor the Palestinian Authority but of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine. It is here that Bethlehem's population of 25,000 refugees live, a number not counted among the official residents of the town. Deheisheh, the largest of the camps, is home to 10,000 people, all of whom were driven from their homes in 1948, on land in what is now the state of Israel. There is one doctor to serve the entire camp, whose surgery closes daily at 2pm.

The narrow, rocky streets of Deheisheh are jammed with children, running, screaming, staring shyly at incomers. Almost every one of the boys carries a plastic revolver or automatic weapon, pointing it playfully in naive stances of aggression at passing cars. "This is the problem, for the Palestinians, the children," says Naim Abu Akkar, who was four when his family fled their village of Ras Abu Ammar, just west of Jerusalem, 53 years ago. "We do not teach them to shoot guns. We cannot educate them to see the future because there is no future, because they live in the these conditions, and they see on the TV the problem also. We try to make them study more, to be educated, to use computers, but no way."

He calls over his grandson, Naim, seven, who is brandishing a huge plastic Kalashnikov on a strap. "They come home from school, he puts on a kaffiyeh, he puts on a mask, and he grabs a plastic pistol. They are playing Israelis and Palestinians. He says, 'I am wanted by the Israelis.'"

Nineteen people live in their small house. The front room is jammed with people. In the small parlour next door three women sit nursing small children; toddlers are running around and clambering over their grandfather's knees. Abu Akkar has built two more houses on top of this one, but there is no room to expand further, and he doesn't know what these children will do when they are older. The walls of the small salon are crammed with pictures of his son Muhammad, shot by an Israeli soldier during the first intifada in 1988.

Abu Akkar's friend, Abdel al Karem, an elderly man with a thick moustache and missing front teeth, sits next to him on the sofa. "He is 50 years old and he was born here in this camp!" Abu Akkar says, gesturing at his friend in frustration. Al Karem looks at least 70.

The camps are fertile ground for support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but Abu Akkar, trapped less than 10km from the home he fled half a century ago, says this is no surprise, because what other choices do they have? "[During the second world war] were you terrorists or were you defending your land? But America, Britain, France, all of them say that we are terrorists when we are defending our land. Because we are weak."

His wife Malka, dressed in a traditional Palestinian black embroidered tunic and white hijab, reaches over to the top of a sideboard to retrieve three rusty keys, each five inches long. They were the only things her husband's parents brought when they fled their homes, now long since demolished. "Sharon is killing us, bombarding us, and he says that we are terrorists," she says, indignantly. "And America is backing him. To kill who? To kill the children who defend their land by stones!"

Last week the Christmas lights went up in Manger Square, a string of red lamps and baubles on a tall pine in the hotel garden next to the church. But there is no one here to see them. The Palestinian authority "tourist police", stationed outside the church to ensure that pilgrims' hemlines are modest and their backpacks empty of weapons, kick the cobbles aimlessly. "No tourists today," said one, after eagerly leaping forward to greet us. "Not one." The church, normally rammed to asphyxiation levels at this time of year, is silent, cavernous, empty. High in the nave, above the mosaic floor from the original church built by Empress Helena in 326AD and the spectacular 900-year-old frescoes, the small glass windows are broken, also shattered by bullets during the Israeli incursion. It is the first time that the church has been damaged since the Crusades.

A narrow staircase to the right of the high altar leads down into the small grotto of the nativity, in which Christ, traditionally, was born. So this is it, the navel of the Christian world, the spot at which an event so momentous supposedly took place that it shattered western history in two.

In a low recess at the front of the cave, a large silver star marks the very point at which the baby supposedly slid out between bloody thighs and landed in a cattle trough. Above it hang 15 oil lamps, fashioned ornately in grubby gold. Six are the property of the Greek orthodox church, four belong to the Roman Catholics, and five to the Armenian orthodox church. Even here at Christianity's holiest of places, there is an ancient and still lively struggle over territory.

Like Jerusalem a few kilometres to the north, Bethlehem is a place which seems to creak under the sheer weight of significance, ancient and modern, loaded on to it. To wander its narrow streets is to be reminded of snatches of childhood carols, of Eliot's Magi and Yeats's rough beast and Christina Rosetti. And of Phillips Brooks, the American preacher who in 1867 wrote the most famous Christmas lyric about the "little town of Bethlehem", two years after travelling from Jerusalem on horseback and standing rapt in the grotto of the nativity. "The hopes and fears of all the years," he wrote in his paean, "are met in thee tonight."


Palestinian Leader Does the Rounds, Seeking to Bolster Loyalty

By Daniel Williams

[Washington Post Foreign Service - Monday, 24 December 2001 - RAMALLAH, West Bank] -- Yasser Arafat was on full display last week at meeting after meeting with teachers and philosophers, peasants and impresarios, schoolchildren and grandmothers, groupies and gunmen.

Most of the get-togethers were simply festive, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Palestinian leader hugged the women, kissed the men, patted the children, listened to poetry and patriotic songs and engaged in good-natured banter with all.

But on some occasions, Arafat was seeking vows of loyalty -- and didn't tolerate waffling.

"Leadership has been absent in our struggle with Israel," one woman ventured during a gathering of professionals and intellectuals at the Casablanca Hotel here.

"God forgive you!" Arafat bellowed, and went on to the next question.

Arafat may be more isolated than he has ever been in his turbulent career, associates say. He is in as great a danger as ever from enemies in Israel, where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared him irrelevant and forbidden officials to meet with him. He cannot get an invitation to the White House, which he visited frequently during the Clinton administration.

But most glaringly, he is isolated among his own people, who once extolled him as the "symbol" of Palestine, and is under assault from almost every quarter. Supporters of militant Islamic groups verge on outright rejection of his leadership. On Friday, Arafat's police killed at least six rioters who supported organizations that oppose his crackdowns on Islamic militants. At funerals for those killed by the riot police, people chanted that Arafat "must go."

The mainstream Fatah faction of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization remains loyal but finds it more and more difficult to defend Arafat's management of the conflict with Israel. Democratic dissidents accuse him of corruption, dictatorial practices and negotiating blunders.

"His authority and status are at stake," said Bassam Abu Sharif, a veteran comrade in arms and political confidant of Arafat's. "He is having to make clear that there is one power with the ability to control the situation."

The effort began a week ago with a speech in which Arafat called for a halt to all violence against Israelis, especially suicide bombings. From late Monday until dawn Tuesday, he met with top security officials to urge them to "hit hard" against opposition to his decision, Abu Sharif said. The Palestinian leader also listed the Islamic institutions that must be closed and the arrests that would be made.

Arafat contacted leaders in the Arab world, the European Union and the United States to implore them to restrain Israeli military actions. "If Sharon continues the attacks, Arafat can't possibly tell Palestinians not to defend themselves," Abu Sharif said.

His hard line has brought results. The Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym Hamas, pledged Friday to suspend suicide bombings inside Israel. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine appears also to have gone along quietly. Fatah discretely declared an end to guerrilla operations inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"We feel that our operations against [Israeli] occupation are justified, but we understand the situation that Arafat is in," said Hussam Shaheen, an official in the Fatah Youth Organization.

The situation is this: Arafat is largely confined to Ramallah, a West Bank city ringed by Jewish settlements and Israeli troops. For a while, a tank stood at the ready only a few hundred yards from his office in a former jail complex. Israeli troops enter and leave Palestinian jurisdictions in the West Bank and Gaza at will. Soldiers occupy civilian homes and prohibit traffic among Palestinian towns and hamlets.

Arafat has taken the past two weeks to launch an unusual meet-the-people campaign. Until Sharon grounded him earlier this month by rocketing his helicopters and plowing up the Gaza airport, Arafat was an inveterate traveler. He was much more likely to be seen in the ornate anterooms of French or Chinese foreign affairs ministries than in the arms of an ululating farm woman come to wish him a happy holiday.

The meeting at the Casablanca Hotel took place two days before his speech last week. His political message blended defiance, conciliation and praise for his people -- and his own performance. Out of the blue, he recalled his "important" role in trying to mediate among contending factions in Afghanistan. The invitation-only crowd reacted coolly. Some spectators refused to rise when he entered the hall.

At a pep talk in his office two days after his speech, Arafat told Fatah members they must be prepared to pay for the creation of a Palestinian state with their blood, lives and property. He explained his speech by saying he wanted to give negotiations a chance, said Shaheen, the youth activist.

"Of course, we accept that Arafat is in a corner," Shaheen said. "So we must change our tactics. But I object to the use of the word terrorism to describe military actions. Resistance against occupation is justified."

Other groups also trooped into Arafat's office: Jerusalem businessmen, union members and village leaders. Some visitors brought flowers, a traditional tribute to a leader.

But opposition quickly overshadowed the orchestrated shows of unity. In addition to the bloodletting in Gaza, hundreds of activists from various Palestinian political groups demonstrated in Ramallah on Friday to protest the arrest of Palestinians, which are being carried out under pressure from Israel and the United States.

"We have the right to resist, that is the first point," Hassan Yusuf, a Hamas political leader, said in Ramallah. "Arafat is making calculations to save himself in the eyes of the United States," said Abdel-Rahim Malouh, a top official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a longtime Arafat associate. "He is viewing his destiny as the destiny of the Palestinians. It's dangerous to make decisions on that basis."

Democratic opposition leaders said the zigzag in Arafat's policy was confusing Palestinians. "Now, we are paying the price of militarization of the Palestinian struggle," said Mustafa Barghouti, who heads an independent public health organization.

"We don't have the power to battle Israel with guns and bombs, so why did we try?" he said. "It is hard to suddenly shut it off, when so many people have died. Palestinians weren't consulted in all this. It is a one-man show. The show is under threat."

ANALYSIS: Is the intefadeh fading?


JERUSALEM (Associated Press - December 22, 2001) - Yasser Arafat's televised call for ending attacks on Israel, the Palestinian Authority's crackdown on the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups and a pledge from Hamas to end suicide bombings and mortar attacks in Israel leave many Palestinians and Israelis wondering if the intefadeh is winding down.

Israel has pulled back troops from some Palestinian areas and appears to have quietly given Arafat some time to enforce a cease-fire. There have been no Israeli air strikes or killings of militants since Arafat's speech a week ago.

"I believe that we have reached a turning point after 15 months of intefadeh," U.N. envoy Terje Larsen declared, using the popular term for the Palestinian uprising. "It seems as if for the first time the Palestinian Authority is moving with seriousness in order to curb the violence."

Still, Israelis are wary that Arafat's moves are just short-term tactics aimed at easing U.S. and European pressure. And Palestinians have little faith that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is interested in peace.

Since Israel blames Arafat for attacks by militants, any progress could be dashed in a split second by a single suicide bomber. Islamic Jihad has not yet accepted Arafat's cease-fire plea, and Hamas' announcement appeared to leave open the possibility of attacks on Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Some people think Sharon's insistence on blaming Arafat for the militants' action is part of a plan to bring down the Palestinian leader.

The bombers hail mostly from areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority - covering less than half the West Bank and Gaza - but Palestinian officials say it's unfair to hold them accountable for the extremists' actions.

"Arafat is serious about all the steps he talked about in his speech," Palestinian Cabinet member Nabil Shaath said, adding that it was possible some suicide bombers were in Israel already, out of the Palestinian Authority's reach.

Each side blames the other for perpetuating violence that has killed more than 840 people on the Palestinian side and more than 240 on the Israeli side since last September.

Arguing their commitment to pursuing peace, Palestinian officials say they have in recent weeks arrested dozens of key members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as 15 members of their own security services involved in attacks on Israelis.

On Thursday and Friday, Palestinian police clashed with supporters of the two groups, leaving seven Palestinians dead and nearly 100 injured.

Police said that in addition to closing dozens of Hamas and Jihad offices, they shut five metal workshops in the Gaza Strip on suspicion they were manufacturing mortar shells and stopped a Hamas cell from firing mortar shells.

On Friday, Hamas announced in a leaflet that it ordered attacks suspended "until further notice" to preserve Palestinian unity.

Hamas sources said there was a debate within the organization about how to respond - that while most Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza supported stopping attacks at least for now, those elsewhere were against it.

There were indications of a similar debate within Islamic Jihad as well.

Arafat's stepped-up efforts came after the European Union joined the United States in pressing him to crack down on the extremist groups whose suicide bombings and shootings killed 37 Israelis in early December, scuttling a three-week truce mission by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni.

It also followed an Israeli Cabinet decision that Arafat was "irrelevant" and a chorus of Israeli politicians calling for his ouster.

Larsen, the U.N. envoy, said that if a cease-fire takes hold, it must be quickly followed by serious peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. "No cease-fire can be held for a long time if there are no immediate political talks and resumption of negotiations," he said.

The Palestinian Parliament speaker, Ahmed Qureia, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres have been holding informal contacts about a possible interim agreement that would pave the way for talks on a final peace deal.

But experts are skeptical.

"I don't think Sharon or Arafat are under the illusion that they can be each other's peace partner," said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst. "Each of them is just trying to do or to say what will get them more support from the significant players like the U.S. government and the European governments."

Many Israelis believe the Palestinians still hope for international intervention to force Israel out of all the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Israel offered almost all of the areas last year in exchange for peace, but the sides never came together on the future status of Jerusalem or of Palestinian refugees.

Among Israelis, after the collapse of those talks, 15 months of violence and numerous failed cease-fires, "there's no Palestinian credibility," said strategic policy expert Gerald Steinberg.

"Arafat says, 'Let's not have terrorism now because its not good for the Palestinian cause,'" said Steinberg, who heads the Conflict Management Program at Bar-Ilan University. "That's not a strategic shift. It's an absolutely minimal response to external pressure. Arafat is buying some time."

He may be looking over his shoulder as well.

A survey of 1,201 Palestinians released last week by the JMCC polling firm, found 72 percent opposed the arrests of militants and just 16 percent favored ending the intefadeh. The poll had a error margin of three percentage points.

Comment on these article(s)

December 2001


U.S. and Israel Now Have Iraq In Their Sights
(December 31, 2001)
Britain's Telegraph Newspaper is well-plugged in with both the Americans and the Israelis, and is helping fan the flames of the likelier than not upcoming collision with Iraq. At the moment the U.S. is short of cruise missiles.

Sub-Continent Rushes Toward Conflagration
(December 31, 2001)
Pakistan and India are readying their military forces - including their ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons - for war.

Israelis Preparing The Way for 2002 - Now a Potentially Cataclysmic Year
(December 31, 2001)
Yasser Arafat remains under town siege in Ramallah, and his personal as well as historical nemesis, Ariel Sharon, continues to attempt to provoke more Palestinian hatred and violence which he will then use to justify still further Israeli military escalations, potentially cataclysmic in the year about to begin.

"We Will Win Nuclear War"! Crisis Escalates Further!
(December 31, 2001)
As the year turns, not since fourty years ago, not since1962 and the "Cuban Missile Crisis", has the world faced the possibility of an iminent orgastic nuclear war between two major countries.

The "Muslim" Bomb - Both Pakistan and Iran now Targeted in addition to Iraq
(December 30, 2001)
The Israelis have a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons; and in fact helped instigate the very regional arms race they are now so worried about; then fueled it further by ongoing attempts to crush and subjugate the Palestinians while colonizing still more territories.

Now, let's talk about terrorism, shall we?
(December 30, 2001)
If you are still shaken by the horrifying scenes of September 11, please observe a moment of silence for the 5,000 civilian lives lost in the New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania attacks. While we're at it...

"Internationals" Victorious For The Day Over Israeli Army
(December 30, 2001)
You've got to hand it to these international activists, they are succeeding at the moment at least in drawing attention to what the Israeli occupation is really all about, they are putting their bodies on the line, they have now finally after so many years and provocations begun to organize and demonstrate for real. But there are a few serious problems in this.

India-Pakistan War Brews - Potential Nuclear Conflagration Looms
(December 29, 2001)
No matter what American and Israeli officials now say in public, at some point the "war against terrorism" as defined in Washington and Jerusalem was likely to begin to quickly expand in unforeseen ways in both the Middle East and the sub-continent.

Islamic Militants Attack Israeli Patrol, Defying Arafat's Truce Call
(December 29, 2001)
Ignoring Yasser Arafat's truce order, two members of the militant Islamic Jihad group on Friday attacked an Israeli army patrol in the Gaza Strip in a failed suicide mission.

(December 28, 2001)
"I wouldn't be the least surprised if there were a nuclear explosion in Israel or the United States." Congressman Chris Shays (R-Conn.) Chairman of the House subcommittee on national security

The Real "OBSTACLE TO PEACE", and Egypt Targets Women - MER FLASHBACK
(December 28, 2001)
It's front-page news! Bill Clinton says Israeli settlements are an "obstacle" to peace. But this isn't the real story; nor are settlements the real obstacle.

(December 26, 2001)
Both India and Pakistan in recent days have deployed substantial combat forces to important strategic areas along their borders and with tension continuing to mount the Indian army has ordered residents in border villages to leave.

Pakistan warns of nuclear conflict with India!
(December 25, 2001)
As in Palestine, the Kashmir conflict originally resulted from Western policies in the last century. Now both conflicts threaten to explode into wars of mass destruction in this century.

The Terrible State of the Palestinians
(December 24, 2001)
After all his bluster and threats, Yasser Arafat remains essentially an Israeli prisoner in Ramallah, one of the militarily-surrounded Palestinian Bantustans that Arafat himself helped create when he put his pen to various Israeli schemes for which he received, quite literally, billions of dollars in payoffs and arms which he then distributed to cronies and entourage to keep himself in power.

Holy Land ShowDown - Will He or Won't He?
(December 24, 2001)
An atmosphere of tension and expectation has descended on Bethlehem as Palestinians wait to see whether their leader, Yasser Arafat, will successfully defy an Israeli ban on his travelling to the town for a highly symbolic Christmas Mass.

Israel Searches Convoy for Arafat...Political Brinksmanship Awaits Clock
(December 24, 2001)
As the clock ticks toward Christmas Eve and Midnight a grand game of political brinksmanship is underway between the two old protagonists, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat.

Israel Prepares For Arafat's "Walk" or Copter to Bethlehem
(December 23, 2001)
It's even possible Arafat could tomorrow win this round in what has evolved into a kind of personal Sharon-Arafat political wrestling match. We're all anxiously waiting to see just how this drama is going to unfold Monday; and whether Arafat can even approach the political skill and timing of Mahatma Gandhi.

Arab Regimes Helped Bring Sharon To Power - MER FlashBack
(December 23, 2001)
It was the Arab client regimes themselves, especially the Hashemites in Jordan and the Egyptians, who actually helped bring Ariel Sharon to the pinnacle of power in Israel. This from MER archives four years ago:

"It's a humiliation for the entire Palestinian people"
(December 23, 2001)
"This is an example of the arrogance of occupation. It's a humiliation for the entire Palestinian people, Christians and Muslims... Sharon is playing with fire -- he wants blood and tears instead of Christmas carols."

Yasser's Historic Moment Monday To Walk Peacefully Into History
(December 22, 2001)
As we said the other day, we're all aware that Yasser Arafat's record of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons in the right way is rather tarnished, to say the least. But even tarnished almost consumed historic figures sometimes have their possible moments of historic redemption.

War Year 2002 - Stage Set for "Transferring" Palestinians, "Jordan is Palestine"
(December 22, 2001)
If major wars and more "terrorist incidents" break out in the Sub-Continent and elsewhere in the Middle East region, as now seems likely in the weeks and months immediately ahead, that is just what Ariel Sharon and the "right-wing" Israelis -- with at least acquiescence from Barak, Peres and the so-called "left-wing" Israelis -- have been waiting for.

Darkness in the Once Holy Land
(December 21, 2001)
"The Oslo agreements were a sham... The understanding on the Palestinian side was that Oslo would eventually lead to Israeli withdrawal from the territories. In fact, the accords turned into a state-run land grab of astounding proportions..."

Arafat Threatens to Walk to Bethlehem - NewsFlash!
(December 21, 2001)
Just a week ago now MER wrote of the urgent need for Arafat to "do a Gandhi". "Message to Arafat - Do a Gandhi, right now, before it's too late!" was the title of the MER article published last Friday at this time. And it seems MER's impact is even greater than we imagined!

U.S. and Israel Cozier And More Intertwined Than Ever
(December 21, 2001)
The United States plans to offer Israel an expanded missile defense cooperation relationship. The cooperation is meant to follow the model of the current U.S.-Israeli Arrow-2 joint program.

Time to Suspend Israel from the U.N. General Assembly
(December 20, 2001)
The General Assembly could act seriously today; it has the power. And there is the precedent as well -- South Africa in the days of Apartheid. The U.S. has no veto in the GA; something that under today's conditions, and precisely because of last week's "astounding" Security Council veto, should be acted upon.

"So let's hope the president will resist the siren calls for new wars"
(December 20, 2001)
Warnings have already come, and in public, from all over. The Germans, the French, the U.N., there's already quite a long list. But the Americans are definitely planning to march forward on their crusade...there are many "phases" already not just planned but in various forms of execution.

Peres Himself "Shudders"; and "Evil" Israeli-Style Unleashed
(December 19, 2001)
Shimon Peres ought to know. This is hardly the first time the Israelis have been caught at what for most of the world deserve to be categorized as "war crimes." And for every time they have been caught there are ever so many other times that the dastardly things they have done have been successfully hidden from view, so far that is.

Thank You Der Spiegel
(December 18, 2001)
We've yet to see the full English translation of yesterday's important article by Publisher Rudolf Augstein of Der Spiegel. But right away we can certainly comment that it's about time German intellectuals and journalists realized that precisely because of their past they have a special obligation to stand up against racism and facism and brute militarism -- from whatever quarter it rears its ugly tentacles.

LIES, TRICKS, DECEPTIONS...then and now?
(December 17, 2001)
Was what the world watched a few days ago, originally broadcast direct from the Pentagon no less, the real OSB and the whole truthful story of the conveniently found and timed tape? Was this just a part of the real but more more complex and convoluted story? Was there a CIA Sting involved as has been reported by the establishment British press in London over the weekend?

Destroying Saddam/Bathist Regime Being Planned by US, Israel
(December 17, 2001)
When you send a recently retired Marine Corp General and regional Commander to the Middle East as your "Peace Negotiator" it's war not peace you have in mind. But the popular press is ever-so-gullible and compliant of course.

Neighborhood Bully - A Former U.S. Attorney General on American Militarism
(December 15, 2001)
When I picture a high-ranking government official, I think of someone who is corrupt. I think of a corporate shill. I think of someone who is not a friend to the people of this country. I think of Lord Acton's famous line about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Israeli Stage Set For Regional War and Destruction
(December 15, 2001)
"Arafat's real crisis is among his own people. They see him as just an Israeli sheriff who happens to speak their language."

Message to Arafat - Do a Gandhi, right now, before it's too late!
(December 14, 2001)
Palestinian support groups in the US and elsewhere are pathetically weak, terribly lead, and still engaged most of the time in rather juvenile uninformed internal debates about who is who and what is what. But even so, once and awhile there's a good idea circulated in their incestuous and bloated email forums, though there is hardly ever any follow-through in any serious way.

Arafat's Last Stand... European Betrayal... Devastation and Catastrophe...
(December 14, 2001)
"Arafat came as collaborator as much as liberator. For the Israelis, security - theirs, not the Palestinians' - was the be-all and end-all of Oslo. His job was to supply it on their behalf."

Arafat in Bunker; Israeli Missiles Seek Bin Laden; Propaganda Campaigns Escalate
(December 13, 2001)
Greatly emboldened because there have not been the kinds of major demonstrations and violent clashes in Arab and Muslim countries that some predicted, the U.S. and Israel have decided to push forward with crushing military power, still more covert CIA actions, and further administrative and financial restrictions worldwide.

Israelis Spies Held by U.S. While Israelis Unleash More Death and Destruction
(December 13, 2001)
The very day the White House went to great lengths to position the Israeli flag right behind the President, and to purposefully highlight the Star of David to the greatest degree possible, the whole subject of Israeli espionage against the U.S. has also unfurled once again.

Israeli Spying in USA, Part I
(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part II
(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part III
(December 13, 2001)

Israeli Spying in USA, Part IV
(December 13, 2001)

Boycott the USA Says Famous Egyptian
(December 12, 2001)
When Egypt's most popular television commentator, Hamdi Qandil, called for a boycott of U.S. goods, which his government opposes, it got past the censor. But he was stopped from repeating it.

Israel: The 51st State?
(December 12, 2001)
September 11th, 2001, has become the tragedy of opportunity for Israel; a perfect turning point in which the "war against terrorism" analogy has been fully exploited by Ariel Sharon's radical right-wing government to sustain, even intensify, the horrors of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

What Drives A Bomber to Kill the Innocent Child? MER FLASHBACK
(December 11, 2001)
I once asked the head of the Lebanese Hizbollah if he could explain to me how the mind of a suicide bomber works. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah was dressed in his black turban and robes. He had formerly been the Hizbollah's military commander in southern Lebanon and from his legions had emerged the first Arab suicide bombers who would - after more than a decade and a half - sap the morale of Israel's retreating army.

"...Symbol of Hatred and Fury of This Filthy War"
(December 10, 2001)
They started by shaking hands. We said 'Salaam aleikum' - peace be upon you - then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head.

Robert Fisk Nearly Beaten to Death
(December 9, 2001)
Robert Fisk is one of the world's preeminent experts about the Middle East and world affairs. He is the longest serving Western correspondent in the region. He is also an extraordinarily courageous person who always conducts himself with great determination, fortitude, and professionalism.

Just Call Me 'Uncle Jim', Saudi Propaganda, Academia Subverted - MER FLASHBACKS
(December 4, 2001)

Lies About "Peace" and a "Palestinian State" - Then and Now
(December 1, 2001)
More than twenty years ago now another American President was promising a complete "settlement freeze" and a "transitional period" leading to a "Palestinian State". The notion that George W. Bush is doing so for the first time, sui generis, is not only blatantly historically fallacious but downright disingenuous.

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