Complete text of
Palestinian Authority and P.L.O. Non-Compliance with signed agreements and commitments:
The present wave of violence - led by the Fatah "Tanzim" - is essentially an attempt by Arafat to achieve, through violence, his maximal political goals: and avoid the choices necessary to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
Key assumptions have thus been shattered
The dynamics of "the struggle" took precedence over Palestinian commitments. Breaches of these obligations include:
It should be recalled that the P.L.O. was not an "unknown quantity" when it came into the Peace Process: its institutional record - of terrorism, breach of agreements (with Arab governments - Jordan, Lebanon), and abuse of the "governed" in areas under its control - meant that extensive formal commitments were required - beginning with the pledges given to Prime Minister Rabin prior to the signing of the Declaration of Principles. These, however were often interpreted in a slippery way, or honored only when it was expedient for Arafat and the P.A. to do so.
Table of Contents
Why were formal commitments important in the post-1993 peace process?
Since September 1993 the P.L.O., as an organization, became a signatory to the Declaration of Principles and Israel's negotiating partner. This meant that on a broad set of issues, formal commitments were needed - to try and ensure, as much as possible, that the P.L.O. leadership had clearly broken with past positions, practices and patterns of bad faith, which had marked its conduct as a coalition of "Fidai" (i.e. terrorist) organizations.
At various points in their history, the P.L.O. and its constituent organizations were committed to a strategy of eliminating Israel as a state, (this strategy was embodied, at the time, in the Palestinian National Covenant). They were implicated in:
It is against this background that Israel felt obliged to demand formal commitments on some of the most basic and presumably obvious aspects of the process. Such commitments were indeed obtained; but more often than not, they were interpreted in a slippery way, particularly as regards the key issues of security, the use of violence, and the prevention of terrorism.
Against the mounting evidence of bad faith, as detailed below, .Israel - and other parties engaged in the negotiations - kept alive the hope for a stable peace, based on the assumption that the process, and its momentum, would modify Arafat's stance on compliance and on the question of violence as an option. This hope has now been shattered.
Indications of Essential Bad Faith; Arafat creates a rationale for non-compliance
As early as Arafat's own speech on the White House lawn, on September 13, 1993, there were indications that for him, the D.O.P. did not necessarily signify an end to the conflict. He did not, at any point, relinquish his uniform, symbolic of his status as a revolutionary commander; moreover, in terms of the broader historic "narrative", as distinct from the official position at the negotiating table, the map of "Palestine" remained as it has always been for him, the entire territory of pre-1948 mandatory Palestine (as the attached photograph, of an August 22 1999 visit to a school, clearly indicates[photo from Al-Hayat al-Jadida showing Arafat standing next to such a map].
On various occasions, Arafat continued to use the language of "Jihad", literally a "Struggle", but in the specific (religiously colored) context of the Palestinian struggle, a clear reference to the violent option. Thus, in a eulogy to a Palestinian official on June 15 1995 (at the height of the Oslo Process) - he paid homage, among others, to two women terrorists (Dalal al-Mughrabi and 'Abir Wahidi); and spoke of the children throwing stones as "the Palestinian Generals". He also swore to his audience (which was clearly sympathetic with the Hamas) that "the oath is firm to continue this difficult Jihad, this long Jihad, in the path of martyrs, the path of sacrifices".
Of special interest, in this context, are Arafat's repeated references to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, signed by the Prophet Muhammad with his Meccan enemies when they were still stronger than him, and then abandoned (as he conquered the city) within a much shorter time than the Treaty itself warranted. The first such reference made public came shortly after the signing of the Interim agreement, in the "Jihad" speech he made at the Mosque in Johannesburg (obtained by the Jewish community, and broadcast in Israel in May 1994).
What Hudaybiyyah means for him was made even clearer when he spoke, a few months later, on the occasion of the anniversary of the fire in al-Aqsa (an event, in 1968, caused by an Australian madman, but often used in Palestinian propaganda as proof of Israel's evil intentions).
"Did the Prophet, Allah's Messenger, the Last of the Prophets, really accept a humiliation [as "umar bin al-khattab blamed him?] No, and no again. He did not accept a humiliation. But every situation has its own circumstances" (Palestinian Television, August 21, 1995).
The reference to the Hudaybiyyah treaty re-surfaced in 1998, coupled with the warning that "all the options are open to the Palestinian people". (Orbit television, April 18, 1998). In essence, here was a rationale for accepting Oslo and the place at the negotiations, and the various commitments involved, not as the building blocks of trust and cooperation but as temporary measures, to be shed off when circumstances allow.
To Muslim audiences, such as the one he had in the Mosque in Johannesburg in May 1994 (one of the first such speeches in the post-Oslo phase) Arafat - a former Muslim Brother, forced to leave Nasser's Egypt for that reason in the 1950's - spoke in the familiar idiom of Islamic radicalism.
To more secular audiences he offered a possible argument for the conditional or .temporary nature of his commitments by addressing them in the context of the "Strategy of Stages" for the Liberation of Palestine, as endorsed by the PNC in 1974.
References to the 1974 decision to establish a "Palestinian Authority" on any piece of land Israel would withdraw from were made by Arafat both on the White house lawn in September 1993, and on the occasion of the first session of the P.A. Legislative Council in March 1996 ("al-Ayyam", March 8, 1996).
This instrumental view of the commitment to non-violent means, central as this commitment may have been to the entire process, was shared by Arafat's lieutenants.
In a speech (documented on video) to a forum in Nablus in January 1996 - again, at a time when the negotiations were going forward - Nabil Sha'ath described the strategy in terms which then sounded unrealistic, but now ring familiar:-
"We decided to liberate our homeland step-by-step... Should Israel continue - no problem. And so, we honor the peace treaties and non-violence... if and when Israel says "enough"... in that case it is saying that we will return to violence. But this time it will be with 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers and in a land with elements of freedom... If we reach a dead end we will go back to our war and struggle like we did forty years ago".
Following the change of government in Israel, and three weeks before the actual outbreak of violence over the opening of the Western Wall tunnel in Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian Officer - Muhammad Dahlan, the Head of "Preventive Security" in Gaza and currently complicit in the license given to terrorist activity there - warned ("Al-Hayyat", September 2 1996) that a return to the armed struggle, with the active participation of the P.A. forces, cannot be ruled out in view of the impasse in the process.
In the wake of the "Tunnel" events (referred to by the Palestinians as the "al-Aqsa Campaign"), Arafat spoke at the Dhaisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, and again stressed the continuous nature of the Palestinian Jihad ("we know only one word...") and the fact that "All the options are open".
Others continued to reflect this sentiment. The highest religious functionary in the Palestinian hierarchy- the Mufti of "Jerusalem and the Palestinian Lands," Shaykh lkrimah Sabri, told the Palestinian newspaper "al-Ayyam" (March 3, 1997) that Jerusalem cannot be retrieved through negotiations, and hence the only option is war. The Fatah leader in the West Bank, Marwan Barghuti - a key operator in the present crisis warned as early as March 1997 that his men are inclined to resume the armed struggle, and applauded the Hamas bombing in Tel Aviv, in which three women were killed (";al-Ayyam", "al-Hayyat al-Jadidah", March 26, 27 1997).
In a rally on November 15, 1998, Arafat again openly threatened that "the Palestinian Rifle is ready and we will aim it if they try to prevent us from praying in Jerusalem... the "Generals of the Stones" are ready". (al-Ayyam, November 16, 1998). In much the same vein, he spoke to Fatah cadres from the Jerusalem area on the occasion of 31 years after the battle of Karameh, and expressed readiness to face such battles in the future to defend Palestinian rights ("Haaretz", March 21. 1999).
More recently - to some extent, under the influence of what was perceived as the "victory" of Hizbullah in Lebanon - references to the violent option proliferated, and indeed the training of children for the armed struggle was deliberately used - during the Camp David Summit - as a hint of what was to come if Palestinian demands were not met.
As the present crisis unfolded, it was Nabil Sha'ath again who offered an explanation as to what Arafat had meant when he said that "All the options are open": in an interview with ANN television in London (October 7, 2000) he reminded his interlocutor that "No one believed him when he used to say it... [but] The choice is not at all between options of negotiation and fighting: you can have negotiations and fight at the same time" (as did the Algerians and the Vietnamese). Hence, "the Palestinian people fight with weapons, with jihad, with Intifada and suicide actions... and it is destined to always fight and negotiate at the same time."
Specific aspects of non-compliance
The issues listed below are by no means exhaustive. They do, however, prove that the rationale for non-compliance, as presented above, actually led to a repeated pattern of abuse, misconduct and outright violence on the part of the P.A.
In this respect, the current crisis does mark a watershed. It has been preceded by previous "eruptions", including the "Tunnel" Crisis of September 1996, and the short-lived "Nakba" events in May 2000. Nevertheless, nothing in previous P.A. practice resembles the collapse of all existing commitments, and the systematic creation - day by day, week by week - of an atmosphere of raw emotions, fear and hatred, in pursuit of a general Palestinian and Pan-Arab mobilization.
All of this is not only in breach of the clearly stated commitments offered at the beginning of the Oslo process, but also in obvious, at times blatant, rejection of the understandings reached at the recent Sharm al-Sheikh Summit. The overwhelming pattern of disregard for both written and informal understandings (overt or otherwise), and in particular the use of an illegally armed militia answerable to Arafat - in a Low-Intensity Conflict masked as "popular protest" or an "Intifada", all confirm that from a Palestinian point of view, the new dynamics of the "struggle" - and of the call for Arab and International intervention - take precedence over "pacta sunt servanda".
Beyond the current state of warfare, Palestinian non-compliance encompasses broad aspects of everyday practice, from school texts to car theft. Some (not all) of these are discussed here.
Direct Use of Violence
Clearly, the most obvious breach of the Palestinian commitments involves the direct participation of its armed forces - the Palestinian "Police" (in effect, Arafat's regular army) and the various Security organs in armed clashes with the I.D.F. or in attacks on Israeli citizens.
The pattern evident in the current crisis had already been established in 1996, when Palestinian policemen played a major role in the extensive clashes that left 15 Israeli soldiers dead; in effect, they acted as a fighting force - even in places where only hours earlier some of them participated in the Joint Patrols with the I.D.F., according to the Interim Agreement.
In the recent crisis, the role of the regular Palestinian forces has been somewhat more ambiguous - in line with Arafat's interest in keeping his hand half-hidden, and using mainly his militia forces - the Fatah "Tanzim" or cadres - in the firefights and attacks on Israeli targets. Still, in the context of the overall crisis.
Local Police commanders were, in fact, given orders, at times, to re-establish law and order and restore the calm but their actions often indicated that they felt (or rather, realized) that such instructions do not fit in with Arafat's broader support for the struggle (as reflected in the propaganda effort, as detailed below) and were therefore half-hearted in carrying them out.
In many cases, Palestinian Policemen took an active part in the fighting, in an organized fashion or as individuals; and there is no evidence (now or on previous occasions) of disciplinary action being taken against those who did so. There is evidence, moreover, as to the complicity of Preventive Security operators - particularly in the Gaza Strip - in armed attacks on the I.D.F. and on Israelis.
Perhaps the most serious event for which the Palestinian police bears a major share of responsibility in the recent crisis was the lynching of two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah on October 12, 2000. It was indeed a mob which killed them and mutilated their bodies: but it had been the Palestinian policemen who captured them, brought them into the Police Headquarters at the center of town, and then put up only a half-hearted effort to prevent the attack. So far, the P.A. did nothing to punish those responsible.
Everyday Practices: the Palestinian Security Organs - such as Preventive Security, as well as the General Intelligence Service and its arm in the West Bank, under Colonel Tawfiq Tirawi, have been involved in other violent actions in breach of the agreements, such as the abduction or unlawful arrest of Israeli citizens (in some cases, Israeli Arabs suspected as "collaborators"), and the murder of Palestinian real estate dealers (suspected of selling land to Jews).
Another salient case (outside the context of any specific local confrontation - in which a senior P.A. official acted, in effect, as a terrorist - involved BG (now a Major General) Ghazi Jabali, the Commander of the Police Force, issuing orders for an attack - actually carried out by two of his colonels - on settlers in the West bank in July 1997 ("Yediot Aharonot", July 18 1997).
Moreover, at various "friction points" (e.g. events in Bethlehem, March 1998; the Gush Katif road in the Gaza Strip, July 1998; Khan Yunis, February 1999), Palestinian policemen and members of other organized forces drew weapons in support of violent demonstrators or in direct confrontations with the I.D.F.
Ambivalence towards, or outright complicity in, acts of terrorism "I want to make it clear that any arrangement or active understanding between the P.L.O. and the Hamas on the possibility of continued terrorism by the Hamas, with the consent of the P.L.O., would preclude an agreement and prevent its implementation" (Prime minister Rabin at the Knesset, April 18 1994).
In terms of its impact on Israeli society, and hence on the prospects for building the necessary bridges of trust and cooperation, it was the Palestinian failure to comply with its commitments on restraining terrorism - and in fact, the periodic courting of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad as partners in the struggle which left the most bitter legacy in 1995-1996, and now seems to be repeating itself.
An important development, in this respect, was the understanding between the P.A. and the Hamas leadership, in preparation for the January 1996 Legislative Council elections - in effect, encompassing the sort of "rules of the game" for terrorist action that Prime Minister Rabin had warned against, more than a year earlier. -What the P.A. sought (in the draft exchanged with the Hamas in October 1995) was "an end to military operations in or from the National Authority's territory, or declaring them in any form". (JMCC daily Press Summary, October 12, 1995).
The actual understanding, reached in Cairo between PNC Chairman Salim al-Za'anun and Hamas leader Khalid Mash'al on December 21 1995 ("al-Quds", December 22, 1995), allowed the Hamas to "hold on to its reservations" as regards the Palestinian commitments [to restrain terrorism]; but the movement did undertake "not to aim at embarrassing the Authority" - i.e., avoid operations which the P.A. could be blamed for.
In a joint interview ("al-Nahar'", December 23, 1995), Za'anun went so far as to explain that in the event of an attack in Hebron (then still under Israeli rule) it will not be the Palestinians' duty to do anything about it; if Israel wants to avoid such action, it should hurry up and withdraw from the rest of the territories...
This concept was clarified by the PLO representative in the Arab League, Muhammad Subayh, a few months later: Hamas, he said, had committed itself not to act from inside Palestinian controlled areas (MENA in Arabic, March 8 1996, in FBIS-NES-96-048, March II). By the time this revelation was made, the terrorist campaign within Israel - which nearly brought down the entire process - was already well underway. This only confirmed a general pattern of negligence - and at times, active complicity, or at least tacit moral support for the Hamas - on the part of the P.A. and its security organs.
Throughout the early period of consolidation in the areas under its control - from May 1994 onwards - Arafat resisted constant pressures by Israel to restrain the Hamas and restrict, if not destroy, the infrastructure established by the terrorist organization. The failure to do so put in question the basic underpinnings of the Oslo accords; and its most evident outcome was a sharp rise in the number of Israelis who fell prey to terrorist attacks during this period.
Arafat, throughout this period, continued to embrace the Hamas, in political terms; when the "Engineer" Yahia 'Ayyash - the man behind many of the worst Hamas attacks - was killed, he came to pay his condolences to the Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahhar ("al-Quds'\ January 6, 1996). Meanwhile, the Preventive Security Chief in Gaza, Dahlan, apparently kept his contacts with the leader of the ";Izz al-Din al-Qassam" forces - the Hamas military arm - Muhammad Dheif (a childhood friend) and broke them off only after the second bombing in Jerusalem. ("Haaretz", March 10 1996).
It was the political fallout (including intense international pressure) following the suicide bombings of February-March 1996 which finally led to a break in this pattern, as the P.A. belatedly awoke to the consequences of its conduct on this issue.
Still, in March 1997 there was once again more than a hint of a "Green Light " from Arafat to the Hamas, prior to the bombing in Tel Aviv (later applauded by Barghuti, as mentioned above): this is implicit in the statement made by a Hamas-affiliated member of Arafat's Cabinet, Imad Faluji, to an American paper ("Miami Herald", April 5, 1997).
The next few years, in which the question of "reciprocity" took center stage in the negotiations (culminating in the Wye River memorandum and the attached security understandings), were marked by mixed results - the pressure for security cooperation did lead to partial compliance, but no real steps were taken against terrorist infrastructures; and the "revolving door" practice - i.e., the release of active terrorists and Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad operators, long before they had served their terms - became (and remained) a constant problem.
The P.A., since its establishment, has in fact taken a consistently lax attitude towards terror activists. It did act, in periodic bursts, to arrest some of them, and to respond (until the recent crisis broke; very rarely since) to specific information from Israel or other (mostly U.S.) sources on actual attacks being planned; but most of the time:
One such event - the mock trial of two brothers in Jericho, for the murder of two Israeli hikers in Wadi Qelt, in September 1995 - gave rise to a sharp reaction in Israel: the Minister of Education at the time, Prof. Amnon Rubenstein - a strong supporter of the process - made official note of the fact that the P.A. was doing nothing to educate Palestinian youth for peace, that its statements were destroying the effort to build trust, and that a "bad joke" such as the Jericho trial rubs Israeli opinion up the wrong way. (Education Ministry statement, September 18, 1995).
Failure to Collect Illegal Weapons
Within days of the signing of the Interim Agreement, in Cairo, May 1995, The Preventive Security Chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajub, made it clear that the Agreement while expedient for the Palestinians, given the damage done to their cause by the fall of the Soviet Union and Saddam's defeat in the Gulf war - would not oblige them to act as "Lahad's Army" (the SLA, Israel's allies in South Lebanon at the time) in restraining those who seek to carry out armed actions against Israel.
"As to the question of weapons' reported "al-Nahar" on May 25 1994 - "Rajub divided it into three parts: the first, those under national control, i.e. the weapons in the hands of national factions [such as Fatah] which are directed against the occupation - those we shall sanction and tolerate out of national responsibility. The second - those carried, now and in the future, for social or personal reasons, and we shall study how to deal with them. The third - weapons in the hands of suspected characters, bandits and spies, which will be collected at all costs".
This clearly meant that no serious effort would be made to implement the unambiguous commitment to collect all illegal weapons. Fatah members continued to carry arms openly, and in recent events have displayed items strictly forbidden to be held in P.A. territories, such as various automatic weapons and hand-grenades. There are indications that heavier weapons - bought, stolen or smuggled - are in the hands of Palestinian forces or militias. In one case, a cache of weapons from a stolen I.D.F. vehicle (see illustration) was commissioned by a Palestinian commander, and retrieved only after intense pressure on the P.A.
The requirement to collect illegal weapons was therefore re-incorporated in the Wye River
memorandum, and again in the February 2000 Sharm el Sheikh summit. The Palestinians agreed
to design and implement - step by step - a detailed plan
The use of illegally held weapons - particularly in the hands of the "Tanzim" - thus became a key problem in the present crisis. It is also a problem for Palestinian society at large: regular reports on the extensive use of such weapons at wedding parties, etc., has given rise to sharp debate. The answer, as propagated by the nationalist media - "turn all your gun barrels towards the enemy".
[Photographs: Illegal weapons in the PA territories: A rifle with a telescopic sight. A hand grenade. Uzi submachine gun. Anti-tank missile]
Incitement and the Perpetuation of Hatred Since the Palestinian leadership continued to look upon the current situation as transitory, no systematic effort was made to re-educate Palestinian youth, or the public at large, as to the need to accept Israel as a neighbor and peace as a value. Most of the work done in this respect was carried out by external NGO's, such as Seeds of Peace.
It took a long and sustained effort to introduce some change and remove explicit anti-Jewish texts from Palestinian school books, and even so, they do not include any map showing Israel or even Tel Aviv as a city. As indicated above, there is only one map of Palestine in use - and displayed in huge format everywhere. Schools and institutions of higher education are used to perpetuate this historic narrative. The question of education and incitement was raised at the Wye River talks, and a joint committee was established to discuss it: but not much action was taken - it was impossible to bridge the basic conceptual gap - and the committee soon became defunct. The extent of Palestinian efforts to perpetuate hatred and rejection of Zionism and Israel (and all too often, in more popular usage, "the Jews") is too broad to cover, beyond certain glaring visual examples.
In the run-up to the present crisis, two key officials played a salient role in stressing to the Palestinian public the impossibility of any compromise and the need to prepare for a confrontation:
Once the actual violence erupted, incitement took an unprecedented form, designed to instill hatred and to mobilize "the Arab Masses". It was marked, above all, by the incessant exploitation of the terrible visions of Muhammad al-Durra's death (captioned as an "execution") - as well as visual and highly detailed displays of the dead and injured, including guided televised tours to the morgue, and close-ups of the wounds. Woven in with nationalist songs - "where are the millions" [of Arabs], where are 'Umar and Saladin. (armed conquerors of Jerusalem) - this mix is broadcast without respite for days on end, broken only by the news and by political talk-shows (where participants, and even more so the callers, vie with each other in the intensity of their anger, hatred and plans of action against Israel).
In the final statement read by President Clinton at the recent Sharm el-Sheikh summit, both sides were clearly expected to have committed themselves to put an end to incitement as well as to violence. That did not happen. For a few hours there was some" toning down in Palestinian television coverage of what was described as "a peaceful intifada": but as night fell and the Tanzim kept shooting, the propaganda machinery took its cue and the constant parade of suffering and death resumed.
The suffering is real enough: so is the use made of it. It is increasingly obvious - even to Palestinians? - that the mix of violence, and the political exploitation of suffering, requires children to be pushed forward into harm's way.
Other Aspects of Palestinian Non-compliance
The key issues discussed above are by no means exhaustive. On a broad range of other questions, the Palestinians either knowingly ignored or at least failed to implement the commitments it has undertook; and its conduct further undermined the very bridges of trust and cooperation which the interim period was supposed to build.
The Size of the Palestinian Police
The number of Palestinian Policemen (in effect, soldiers) is in constant breach of the Interim Agreements: when the overall situation was last reviewed, in March 2000, it continued to exceed the agreed number - 30,000 - by more than 10,000; and only 20,000 among them have had their names submitted for Israeli vetting and approval as required.
The Wye River memorandum, followed by the (first) Sharm el-Sheikh commitments, included a mechanism designed to put an end to this situation; the Palestinians undertook to transfer a list of all policemen. In February 2000 they indeed submitted two lists - one for active service Policemen (26,000)and the other for unemployed men registered as Policemen (16,000). In any case, the Palestinian side did not act to resolve this case of non-compliance.
Palestinian Security Organs Operating Outside the Agreed Areas
Another persistent breach of the agreements is the activity by Palestinian policemen/ soldiers (regularly, in "B" areas - which should remain under Israeli security authority; occasionally in "C" areas - designed to remain fully in Israeli hands). Members of the various security organs, particularly Preventive Security, (at all times and in all areas, including East Jerusalem and Hebron), appear in zones where they may not operate without prior coordination with the Israeli side.
Breaches of the Agreed Practice at the Gaza (Dahanivvah) Airport
Since the Airport Protocol was signed, a pattern of systematic breaches and disruptions has emerged: ambulances being used to circumvent inspection (and in one case, on December 18, 1999, to run-in a wanted terrorist); workers crowding around the aircraft, disrupting the agreed procedures; ignoring the protocol provisions for the vetting of workers: and contracting a cargo facility without notification.
No Action to Implement Agreed Policy on Visitors Permits
As part of a broader pattern of manipulating or violating the rules on immigration and registration, more than 40,000 people are estimated to have overstayed their visitors permits in the P.A. areas, and in fact, to have settled as residents, in breach of the agreements; in some cases, such visitors are known to be in the employ of P.A. institutions.
Much of the P.A.'s network of foreign relations, either bilateral or in terms of Palestinian participation in international organizations - including the trade agreement signed with the European, is in contravention of the Interim Agreement, which defined the limits of its authority (any document, agreement or treaty signed with a foreign entity by a P.A. "Minister", as distinct from a P.L.O. function, is in breach of the P.A.s status.
The PA systematically blames Israel for mismanagement of PA funds. To its public it claims that Israel has not transferred 800 million NIS to the PA and that is the reason for lack of payment to teachers and other public workers. That, in spite of the fact that Israel had transferred its dues (even during the current crisis) and signed an agreement with the PA in June 2000 to include purchase tax in the transfers.
The PA refused to acknowledge or pay the debts, which have grown to considerable amounts, of the municipalities to the Israeli utility companies. Whenever the utility companies tried to cut their services because of non-payment of debts the Palestinians blamed Israel for hurting the population. Another example is the chop-shops which have thrived in the Palestinian controlled areas.
The P.A. regularly ignores agreed planning and zoning, as well as the agreements on economic cooperation:
The Interim Agreement of 1994 committed both sides to cooperate in preventing crime and to exchange information; the Wye River memorandum in 1998 added a specific Ad Hoc Committee to discuss their economic relationship, including "Cooperation in combating car theft".
In fact, however, car theft and other forms of criminal activity continue to thrive, often on such a scale that it is no longer possible to argue that it could go on unless sanctioned to some extent by the Palestinian Police and Security organs. There are indications that they take their cut on this "industry" (most of the 45,000 vehicles stolen in Israel in 1997 are assumed to have ended up in the P.A. areas, stripped for parts or even "appropriated" by P.A. functionaries - "Haaretz", August 21, 1998) - and that a well placed call to senior Palestinian officers can in fact retrieve a stolen vehicle.
Other forms of criminal activity that the P.A. regularly ignored or even sanctioned involve financial fraud, large-scale excise tax schemes (one of which involved the Preventive Security Chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajub - his Israeli accomplices were arrested and convicted); intellectual property crimes, and marketing sub-standard products.
Failure to Protect Holy Places
On two major occasions, during the recent crisis, P.A. forces failed to uphold their Interim Agreement obligations - and in the case of Joseph's Tomb, a promise just given to Israeli commanders in the Nablus area - to protect holy Jewish sites.
Following Israel's decision to evacuate Joseph's Tomb - so as to avoid further bloodshed - it was looted, torched and in parts dismantled. Local Palestinian commanders openly stated that no Israeli would set foot there again; and indeed, one man who apparently wanted to visit the site was brutally murdered, and a group of hikers (including women and children) "suspected" of coming too near to the Tomb, were shot at, wounded and one was killed.
Moreover, in October 12, 2000, Palestinian Police failed to prevent the desecration of the ancient "Shalom al Yisrael" synagogue in the Jericho area, which was looted and partly torched.
Belated attempts to undo the damage seem to have been made largely because of the severe international reaction to these failures to uphold Palestinian commitments (let alone recognize Jewish religious sensitivities: an atmosphere made worse by the crude arguments, used by Arafat and others to dismiss any Jewish claim to the Temple Mount) .
The Shattered Assumptions
The very nature of the Oslo Process assumed that over time, if not overnight, a new reality of bilateral relations would be created on the ground, with an open prospect to Palestinian Sovereignty in sight. This would lead Arafat away from the option of violence and "struggle" (which he and others in the P.A. continued to articulate). This has not happened.
An Irreversible Choice for Peace?
In a recent article, written as a letter to Arafat ("Time to Choose, Yasir", October 6 2000) the American columnist Thomas Friedman called upon him to choose who he is: a peacemaker or an unregenerate revolutionary.
The evidence presented in this document - along with his conduct in recent weeks - strongly suggests that this choice has not yet been made; or else that the P.A. leadership has opted for violence, in response to the call for "hard decisions" placed upon it after the Camp David Summit. Arafat had let it be known to the Fatah movement, his key political and paramilitary instrument, that he expects them to act (and take up arms); and this action was supported and sustained by the heated intensity of the incitement dished out by Palestinian media organs - papers, radio stations, and above all by Palestinian Television.
The option of an armed "intifadha" has been long in preparation, both in terms of planning (as overall evidence, including the indications from intelligence sources, has been showing well before the actual outbreak of violence), and in the manner in which Palestinian and Arab public opinion was worked up against the possibility of compromise on the key issues.
A Stake in the Welfare of the Governed?
Another assumption which sustained the process was the hope that as the P.A. became an established "government", its choices in the future would be colored by the need to provide for the best interests of the governed - even if the evolution of democratic politics in the P.A. was far from complete.
This assumption, too, has been brought into question over time, and shattered by recent events. In addition to broader problems arising from the P.A.'s mismanagement of public and economic affairs, specific aspects of its policy towards Israel - above all, the failure to deliver on the restraint of terrorism and terrorist infrastructure - obliged Israel to apply restrictions on the freedom of movement and employment of Palestinians. It is particularly young people who are easily mobilized by the Hamas and its likes, within Israel.
It was easy enough for the P.A. to blame Israel for the consequences of these restrictions; but at their root was Arafat's persistent ambiguity on his security commitments (and indeed, when these were more strictly adhered to - under pressure from outside - economic life in the Palestinian governed areas improved significantly, as in 1998-1999).
The Palestinian leadership's disregard for the welfare of the governed has now risen to a new level. The thrust of Palestinian propaganda in recent weeks is unmistakable: suffering, particularly the death of children, has become instrumental as its rallying cry to its own people and the Arab world. Thus, it has systematically exploited the tragic death of the child Muhammad al-Durra at Netzarim junction - where he was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle, the P.A. deliberately misrepresenting his death as a "cold-blooded execution", often several times an hour throughout its television broadcasts.
In effect, this strategy feeds upon further suffering and disruption - including self-induced economic hardships, while Israel actually seeks to ensure supplies to the P.A. areas. The tactics of the Fatah "Tanzim" (militia) are also apparently designed to bring about further suffering upon civilian populations - as made evident by their use of Beit Jala a Christian community - to fire on Gilo in Jerusalem, with the full knowledge of the consequences for the (unwilling) residents.
Give and Take at the Bilateral Table?
At the core of the present strategy, as clearly stated in Arafat's speech at the Emergency Arab summit in Cairo (October 21), is the threat that there will be no regional nor international stability unless Palestinian demands are met; and the call upon the international community to replace the current structure of the process (the U.S., according to Arafat, having failed to impose "International Legitimacy" in its Arab interpretation) with a mechanism of coercion.
Palestinian suffering is thus made the focus of an 'appeal to the U.N. - including an abuse of the "Uniting for Peace" procedure (which enables the UN General Assembly to overrule the Security Council), and a spurious call for the Security Council to send forces, Kosovo-style, to "protect the Palestinian Territories" - all in an obvious effort to walk away from the negotiating table and avoid the tough choices involved.
Evidence for such concepts of "Internationalization" being worked on by Nabil Sha'ath, the P.A. Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, has been available for well over a year (e.g. his statement to al-Ayyam, an official P.A. organ, on May 9, 1999); the current drive for an international commission of inquiry is part and parcel of this design.
The Root Causes
What has led Arafat and the P.A. leadership to opt for violence and incitement as an instrument of policy? A consistent pattern of behavior over several weeks, with a clearly defined set of goals ("Internationalization" of the conflict) and with the means (televised Palestinian sacrifice and suffering) apparently well-tailored to achieve them, cannot be simply dismissed as a passing aberration or a "caprice". Within the limits of what modern political science calls "bounded rationality", Arafat's gamble is risky, but not irrational.
Still, to understand the root causes for this choice or rather, the Palestinian refusal to choose, once and for all, the path of peace - it is necessary to point out, albeit briefly, some of the recurrent themes in Arafat's political conduct over the years.
Arafat's Strategy of Avoiding Choices
Throughout his tenure as a leader of Fatah movement and the P.L.O., Arafat attached particular importance to the principle of maintaining "Istiqlal al-Qarrar", i.e. his ability to avoid becoming anyone's "agent" (and there were many in the Palestinian arena identified as working for some Arab or foreign interests...).
A key element in his ability to do so, at least until a major crisis forced a choice or a decision on him, was the constant manoeuver between the poles of any regional or international system in which he worked - Egypt and her rivals in the Arab world; the Cold War protagonists; the Syrians and their enemies in Lebanon.
In recent years, this pattern of "fence-sitting" and indecision evolved around two polarities:
Diverting Attention from Domestic Failure
In recent months - well before the Camp David Summit, and not necessarily in connection with Arafat's positions in the negotiations - a broad body of evidence (albeit vague and circumstantial, given the lack of reliable tools to analyze Palestinian public sentiment under an authoritarian power structure) indicated that much of the P.A.'s initial credit with its own "constituency" has been spent: Khalil Shikaki's surveys of Palestinian opinion found that Arafat's approval rates have been falling steadily - well bellow 40% - and that a vast majority of respondents thought of the P.A. institutions as venal, corrupt and incompetent.
At the core of the problem is the system of centralized economic monopolies, dominated by Muhammad Rashid (Khalid Salam) and his PCSC - with a monopoly Of several basic commodities ("Guardian", April 27, 1997); the al-Masri family and their holding company, PADICO; and the varied economic interests of the Security "bosses", Dahlan and Rajoub.
The results are clear to see: in a climate hostile to real competition and to transparent free market practices, blatant disregard for personal property, bribery, corruption and mismanagement of domestic and aid funds, as well as the lack of compliance with commitments to refrain from those customs have been well documented by the PA'S own public monitoring department, the "Donor countries" and numerous NGO's.
[Graph: The development of the Palestinian Real Product per capita
The most striking proof of the PA'S mishandling of its population can be found in the lack of care for its most needy population - the refugees. Not only does the PA insist on not using any portion of its budget towards improving their living standards, it is demanding 'that the international community increases its support for them.
Calls upon Arafat, by some of his best friends - such as the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) team, which examined Palestinian governance - - went unheeded, and calls for change from within were roughly repressed. Given this bleak prospect (which reportedly led even Jerusalem's Palestinian residents, let alone Israeli Arabs, to resist the notion of being transferred to P.A. governance...)
It is not surprising that Arafat may have felt more comfortable igniting a nationalist struggle - and pinning the blame for future deprivations on Israel - than focusing on the urgent need to reform the Palestinian system.
Conspiracy Theories and Miscalculations
Another recurrent pattern which does color Arafat's judgement, at times - and was certainly evident in the manner in which he "explained" the current crisis to the Emergency Session of the Arab Summit - is his tendency to weave conspiracy theories (Mu'amarat) and use them, with a thin line separating fact from fiction.
Thus - as an example - in a series of interviews in March and April 1995, including a fascinating meeting with a sympathetic Israeli and American audience, Arafat raised the argument that a secret Israeli organization - an "O.A.S." within the GSS... - working through the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was in fact responsible for a series of terrorist attacks such as the bombing in Beit Lid (in which 22 Israelis died). It should be noted that this fantastic argument came (already then) in conjunction with a warning: any attempt by Israel to stall on the peace process - because of the security "excuse", as he saw it - would have a terrible affect on Israel's standing in the world:
"King Hussein will not go on with you, the Egyptians will not, Senegal will not, Mandela will not, if the process with us fails ...not with the whole of Africa, and the five Muslim states in Central Asia, not with all of them, not even with China. You know how strong our links are with all of these states..." (Gid'on Levi in "Haaretz", April 28, 1995; see also "al-Hayyat l-Jadidah", March 22, 1995).
This mixture of wild conspiracy theory, and the threat that Israel, the region and the world will know no stability - unless his demands are met - was central, more recently, to his speech in Cairo, where he blamed Israel and the I.D.F. for having conspired for more than a year to prepare the "butchery" of the Palestinian people: hence the urgent need for international protection to be introduced into all "Palestinian Territories".
The danger implicit in such manipulative assertions and "claims on reality" is that they can easily develop into a major misreading of the situation and a harmful miscalculation as was the case in 1995, when Arafat absolved himself in this manner from any serious effort to curb terrorism; and might be the case now.
[Illustration: The map of "Palestinian Territory" in an official PA document including all of Israel]
Appendix A: The key commitments undertaken by the P.L.O./ P.A.
"In light of the new era marked by the signing of the Declaration of Principles, the
PLO encourages and calls upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to
take part in the steps leading to the normalization of life, rejecting violence and
terrorism, contributing to peace and stability and participating actively in shaping
reconstruction, economic development and cooperation".
This letter to Hoist, and many other formal commitments made since, -were in fact kept at times', but in a haphazard fashion, and only when it was expedient to do so. All of this contradicts key commitments asked for - and obtained from the Palestinian negotiating partner over the years:
Combating Terror and Violence
Prevention of Incitement
Prohibition of Illegal Weapons
Undertaking to implement its responsibilities for security and security cooperation (Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, Article 8).
29 Oct. 2000
Public statements unequivocally calling for an end of violence
Opening of international passages
Opening of the Gaza Airport
Opening of internal closure
Ensure an end to violence and maintain the calm
Renewal of security cooperation
Renewal of cooperation towards the prevention of terrorism
Eliminating points of friction
Reimprisonment of released terrorists and security fugitives
End of incitement
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