Report from the Gaza Strip. (Current Affairs).
With Israeli tanks still placed deep inside the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank cities surrounded by the Israeli army, the Arab call to Palestinians to "halt the violence" and implement security arrangements that would essentially save Israeli lives while Palestinian lives remain threatened, is unprecedented. The almost daily loss of life on the Palestinian side, goes largely unreported, while every Israeli casualty is widely broadcast as being the result of "Palestinian violence". The Israelis are reported as making concessions by not launching major invasions, meanwhile, their `minor' daily invasions are reported as mere `incursions', `retaliatory missions', or simply `operations'.
The Palestinians have been annoyed by demands from Israel and the US for PNA internal reform. This, they feel, is an internal matter, for which they have pushed for nearly half a decade. When the perceived dishonest broker, the US, and the enemy, Israel, come out and demand Palestinian reforms it is seen as interference and possibly a "devious" ploy.
On the one hand Palestinians are sick of violence, having been on the receiving end of it for more than half a century. On the other hand the Israeli yolk around their necks continues to suffocate them. After almost a decade of negotiations they feel they have seen insufficient evidence of Israeli goodwill, in fact they have seen almost none.
Illegal Israeli confiscation of Arab land, denying the Palestinians rights to property legally theirs, as well as restricting freedom of movement, access to water resources on their own land and the right to self determination, has only reinforced Palestinian disgust with Israel. More than that, it has created anger and opposition to the Palestinian leadership, which is widely seen as weak, corrupt and worst of all, partially co-opted by the Israelis and their American patrons.
Among the ruling leadership, only Arafat and to a greater degree local leaders, such as Marwan Barghouti, are seen as still holding true to the much-curtailed Palestinian dream of a homeland cum State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
With Arafat clearly unwell after his month long confinement to three rooms in his Ramallah compound, and the likes of Barghouti dead or in Israeli dungeons, horizons have shrunk. Palestinians now believe that there is indeed a plan, mapped out by Israelis; sanctified by the US administration; swallowed by the Arab governments and now, imposed upon them. The plan is one, which spells surrender.
Arafat is unwilling to sign the declaration of surrender to the occupier. But some of his handpicked lieutenants, who have become increasingly visible, are clearly headed in that direction.
Ahmad Qurei, (Abu Ala'a) and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) until recently, "heirs" to Arafat's reign, have all but disappeared into the woodwork.
So, who are these new Palestinian lieutenants? There is no great line-up. Just the same old hands reshuffled. Increasingly prominent is the head of preventive security in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, a 41-year-old veteran of the first Intifada, trained in preventive security matters by the CIA. Then there is Mohammad Rashid, also known as Khalid Salam. Rashid is an Iraqi Kurd who joined the once awe inspiring Palestinian revolution in its heyday some 25 years, or more, ago. Now, the 50 something outsider has harnessed considerable economic influence, as a result of Arafat's trust and backroom support. Palestinians think even less of him than they do of Dahlan, who, they say, ordered the torture of fellow Palestinians imprisoned upon his orders in the mid-1990s.
Many analysts fear this potent combination of influences from men most Palestinians believe have "no national loyalty" and could easily sell them down the river.
With everyone selling them short the sole Palestinian hope lies with their own reformers. These are, of course, not the Arafat lieutenants who shake hands with Shimon Peres while Israeli tanks still occupy most of the Palestinian areas. The reformers come from another clay and cast, representing the educated, not always populist civil society that, in part, led the Palestinians during the final phase of the first Intifada.
Mustapha Barghouti is sometimes mistaken for his distant cousin the Fatah leader now in jail. This Stanford graduate is an eloquent speaker. His niche, thus far, has been medicine rather than politics. But the very visible service provided by the two health organisations he leads and his frequent appearance on satellite television across the Arab world, has brought him to the attention of every Palestinian household. With each Palestinian city and district divided from its neighbours by the Israeli army and its barriers, a national leadership is not an easy thing to build.
Barghouti's first problem arose from the fact that he is, for all practical purposes, a political independent. Initially a member of the Peoples Party, a left wing progressive political grouping. He could assume a high profile in reformist Palestinian politics and is tipped as a runner for parliament and possibly the presidential race in the post-Arafat era.
Hanan Ashrawi, the famous Palestinian spokeswoman, who became a talk show hit during the first Intifada, has had many ups and downs in the last decade. Initially, she was faced with deep animosity from Arafat himself, whose first cabinet she joined. Later, she raised millions of dollars to found a nongovernmental office (NGO), MIFTA, whose aim and target group remains uncertain. With the exception of a very informative web-site, www.miftah.org, it is sometimes difficult to discern what this outfit actually does to help the Palestinian people. However, Ashrawi exited the Palestinian political scene leaving a major gap in eloquent and mature spokespersons to convey the increasingly misrepresented Palestinian messages to the international community.
Her acceptance as spokeswoman for the Arab League (AL), in a bid by the League's president Amr Musa to increase the profile of the Palestinians, backfired when she was no longer able to speak as a Palestinian but rather as an AL representative. Recently she has partially regained the niche she occupied, lobbying the Arab world to take unified positions on issues as varied as reconciliation between Iraq and Kuwait, and effective aid for Palestinians refugees.
Azmi Shuabi, a former political exile who returned in the first bus load of "returnee expellees" in 1993, was a member of FIDA, a breakaway from the DFLP. An elected member of parliament and early member of the Ararat cabinet, who later resigned, he has lobbied for more transparency and more popular participation in government. Much of his constituency is in the camps and among young people.
Ziad Abu Amr, is another elected member of parliament. His home is in the large Shujai'ieh quarter of Gaza city. Known to be a middle of the road liberal, with no history of corruption and abuse, he is considered a "safe candidate" for most Palestinians, meaning he will not compromise on the basics. A professor of political science, he runs the Palestinian foreign relations committee and also represents the Palestinian image of themselves, educated, middle class and neither too liberal nor too conservative. Although he has "clan" support, ordinary Gazans also believe he is a good, decent and articulate representative who will not sell their best interests down the river.
Iyad Seraj, is a psychiatrist, who on occasion has been jailed by Palestinian internal intelligence for telling Arafat he was wrong in his approach to internal politics. A much-respected public servant, his profession and social class have removed him from the hurly burly of political life. But precisely because of his understanding of the traumatised psyche of his people he is percieved as beyond reproach. He does however, dabble in political discussions and has a clear vision of what a Palestinian society without Israelis could look like.
With Israel's Likud party voting overwhelmingly to reject a Palestinian State "west of the Jordan river", and former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's announcement, "we have no choice but to exile Arafat", who he described as "the maker of one million martyrs", PNA reform becomes more pressing with each passing day, not for the Israelis or the Americans but for the Palestinians themselves.