May 17, 2001 Special Dispatch No. 217

Continuing the Intifada: Palestinian Concerns and Considerations

May 17, 2001
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 217

The escalation of military operations in the Intifada on the one hand, and the Egyptian-Jordanian political initiative on the other hand, have raised concerns among the leadership and the activists of the Intifada over how to continue it.

The Political Process and Security Agreements

The PA leadership sees the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative as a basis for the resumption of the political process, and rejects any changes that Israel suggests, claiming that they damage its essence.[1] However, many Palestinians object to this initiative, including Fatah Secretary General in the West Bank, Marwan Al-Barghuthi, who explained that "no initiative that does not put an end to the occupation can succeed... no one on the Palestinian side can promise Israel to stop the operations against the occupation." Al-Barghuthi also criticized the security coordination meetings: "These meetings are useless and unnecessary. As long as there is no basis for a political settlement, there can be no security coordination."[2]

In an interview with United Arab Emirate's Al-Bayan newspaper, Al-Barghuthi clarified his position on the political process: "The PA must adopt the position of all the political forces in the Palestinian public, namely that a return to the negotiation table according to the previous principles is a waste of time and gives Israel the opportunity to change the situation on the ground even more. It is [also] useless to agree on the resumption of negotiations through American arbitration because the US is not an arbitrator but rather a partner with Israel in its aggression against the Palestinian people..."

"The Palestinians and the Arabs must find a new formula for the negotiations in the framework of the UN and under the auspices of the European community and Russia... The Intifada is not merely a response to Sharon's visit to Al-Haram Al-Qudsi [the site of the Mosques]... this visit was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Intifada is a protest against the occupation and against the peace process in its previous formula..."

"If the Intifada stops, the negotiations will not succeed. The Intifada and the struggle are two basic conditions for the success of the negotiations. There is no point in sitting at the negotiation table without the support and aid of the national struggle. The Americans and the Israelis have in the past turned the Palestinians into captives of the negotiations, but we will not agree to such a situation again. It is in the PA's interest to continue the Intifada because we cannot return to square one."[3]

A Columnist in the London daily Al-Hayat, Jihad Al-Khazen, described the Palestinian position as it was presented to him in a telephone call from Gaza [apparently by the head of the "Preventive Security" apparatus, Muhammad Dahlan], as follows: "A security agreement with the Israelis is impossible if it does not include an agreement about the political negotiations that will take place in a limited time frame. The struggle will not stop completely as Ariel Sharon wants and the quiet will not last for weeks before the beginning of the negotiations. The political negotiations [must take place] on the basis of agreements that have been signed, as stated in the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative; the leadership can stop the confrontation immediately once the political negotiations are agreed upon. Al-Khazen adds that he asked one of the field-leaders of the Intifada if Arafat can really stop the violence and was answered that "if the instruction is given to the youth to stay at home... it will be carried out."[4]

Mortars against Israel

The Palestinian "Supreme National Security Council" gave instructions to stop shooting from among houses and slinging mortars at Israeli targets. According to General Secretary of the PA Presidency, Al-Tayyeb Abd Al-Rahim, this decision was made in response to the public request not to use mortars in the Intifada, "because the negative effects [of this action] are greater than its effectiveness." Abd Al-Rahim explained that "the Israeli side is trying to describe the situation as if there are mutual raids, and this gives Israel the justification for escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people and for using new heavy weapons."[5]

In an interview in the daily Al-Quds, head of Military intelligence, Musa Arafat, explained his opposition to using mortars: "From a purely military perspective I believe that the mortars have an effect solely on morale, and have no military results. All of the mortars that have been fired since the beginning of the Intifada have hit [Israeli targets] only once or twice because they do not have a precise aiming system. I hope that we will develop our weapons in order to create effective military results... I am not opposed [on principle to firing mortars], but as a result of the use of this weapon we have suffered much greater casualties than the other side. I wish that the Israelis would have greater casualties so that they might understand that our Intifada is durable, and be convinced that continuing the occupation will do them no good... shooting mortars gives Israel [the] unjustified [opportunity]... to appear as if it is attacked while in truth it is the aggressor. We are capable of using [other] means that will deny them this bargaining chip, through the popular Intifada and the armed struggle."[6]

On the other hand, Fatah Secretary in the West Bank, Marwan Al-Barghuthi, explained the effectiveness of firing mortars: "The mortars are one of the Intifada's chips. Although they are a weapon of limited [accuracy] -- and indeed dozens of mortars have been fired without causing any damage whatsoever -- they [still] send an important message from the Intifada to the Israelis: 'We are not only in a position to retaliate, but we have the ability to initiate surprising actions and to invent new means of struggle. When mortars have reached Israeli territory and the settlements, the Israelis have been forced to reconsider their considerations and understand that the arm of the struggle is long."' Al-Barghuthi emphasized the legitimacy of using mortars: "It is our right to use any means available to us in order to fight the enemy; any means that deters the enemy is legitimate; we still have many [means] and the mortars are not the last of them."[7]

The Decision to Dismantle the 'Popular Struggle Committees'

Since the firing of mortars did not stop, it was decided at an emergency meeting of the PA's "Supreme Military Council" on April 28, 2001, to take a number of steps towards implementing the decision. As part of these steps, it was decided to dismantle the "Popular Struggle Committees" which have been established throughout the Intifada and were responsible for a number of lethal attacks with weapons, explosives, and mortars. Since members of the security apparatuses and the police are also members of these committees, they were re-called to the PA's security apparatuses to which they belonged. Likewise, it was decided to increase security patrols in order to prevent the shooting of mortars.[8]

A leader in the Fatah Movement, Munzir Rashid, explained that, "Arafat made the tactical decision to dismantle the Popular Committees so that Sharon would lose the opportunity to retaliate fiercely against the shooting of mortars at Israeli targets and because he wishes for the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative to succeed."[9]

Head of General Intelligence apparatus, Amin Al-Hindi, emphasized the need to adhere to the decisions of the political leadership and to dismantle the Popular Struggle Committees: "The political leadership decides what are the supreme national interests, and no group can replace the PA, which is the sole political and military authority for all of the security apparatuses. Groups that wish to establish new political frameworks must ... apply for a permit."[10]

Head of Military Intelligence apparatus, Musa Arafat, explained that the decision was made in order to prevent overlapping authorities and to conduct the struggle in an orderly and coordinated fashion. According to Arafat: "About 90% of these committee members are members of the [PA] security apparatuses. We do not want there to be two groups in our apparatuses, and [therefore] we just decided to set internal order within our ranks. I stress the need for restraint and for order within the PA's apparatuses. This will be accomplished sooner or later, because we will not allow the chaos to continue."[11]

However, some Palestinian officials refused to accept the decision to dismantle the committees. According to Fatah Secretary General in the West Bank, Marwan Al-Barghuthi, "the Popular Struggle Committees will continue their struggle until the end of the Israeli occupation... It is the right of members of the Fatah movement and other groups, as well as individuals, to join these committees and to be active in them." Al-Barghuthi clarified that Yasser Arafat, who participated in the meeting of the Supreme Military Council in Gaza by telephone from Ramallah "did not demand that these committees be dismantled, and [the decision] can by no means be interpreted as an attempt to stop the Intifada or something like that." However, Al-Barghuthi noted that he is not happy with the decision and that in his opinion, "everyone must participate in the struggle against Israel."[12]

In his Al-Bayan interview, Al-Barghuthi added: "These committees cannot be dismantled because they were created by the popular Intifada, and they are spread out in all of the Palestinian cities, neighborhoods, and villages. Furthermore, they are running the Intifada everywhere. No one has the right to dismantle these committees."[13]

Member of the Fatah's High Council, Samir Al-Masharawi, explained that the decision related only to the members of the security apparatuses in the committees, with the goal, "to re-organize their daily operations, following the excessive violence by the occupation forces against PA bases." He noted that there is no need for a decision in the matter because those in charge of the security apparatuses are capable of overseeing [the return of their people to their jobs], and added that the number of people involved is limited.[14]

Commanders in the committees reported that their leadership received no official notification of the decision to dismantle them, but that they heard about it through the media. One of the leaders of the Popular Struggle Committees, Abu Al-Sa'id, explained: "We are not a party, an organization or a union; we [need] no one's permission to use our right and our duty to struggle and fight in order to liberate our Palestinian people... our goal as Palestinians is to live in freedom and honor on our land, because no one can give up his homeland and his rights, not to mention the fact that the international resolutions and divine laws promise our people the right to struggle and to protect its country and its homeland... We in the Popular Committees will continue in our struggle."

Another prominent leader in The Popular Struggle Committees, Yasser Za'anun, said similar things: "The Struggle Committees were not established by a decision and they will not be dismantled by a decision. The justification for their existence still stands, and it is the presence of the occupation on Palestinian land. The Popular Struggle Committees will continue to defend themselves and the Palestinian people until their rights are achieved." Yasser Za'anun discounted the claim that the committees are subordinate to the Fatah movement alone and explained that they are a public body comprised of elements from all of the national and Islamic groups, although some of their activists work in the PA's apparatuses. Za'anun added that members of the committees are willing to resign from the PA's security apparatuses if it embarrasses the PA.[15]

The Use of Explosives

Following a number of lethal explosions that happened recently inside Palestinian cities, the PA decided to stop the "irresponsible actions" and not merely to automatically and categorically lay the blame on Israel. On May 2, 2001 the PA published instructions banning the sale of chemical substances that can be used to make explosives. Head of General Intelligence apparatus, Amin Al-Hindi, told the Voice of Palestine radio that the PA "demands that those who are dealing with explosives in populated areas will stop." According to Al-Hindi: "The PA is calling on all of the factions to stop these actions that have turned into a dangerous phenomenon, and that it will invest most of its efforts to stopping these childish actions that harm the Palestinian people and increase the number of casualties."[16]

Head of Military Intelligence apparatus, Musa Arafat, addressed the "efforts of some of the Intifada's activists who sometimes lack the precise technical know-how": "I must direct the public's attention to the incorrect ways of handling explosives. These are not at all amusing; the first mistake is the last and deadly one. I hope that they will learn the correct ways of using explosives... there are trained military men who reap good results from their operations, and they are capable of struggling against the Israeli technological advancements...we have experts in these fields."[17]

[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), April 26, 2001.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 26, 2001.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 8, 2001.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), May 5, 2001.

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 1, 2001.

[6] Al-Quds (PA), May 5, 2001

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 29, 2001.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 1, 2001.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London ), May 3, 2001.

[10] Al-Quds (PA), May, 2, 2001.

[11] Al-Quds (PA), May 5, 2001.

[12] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 1, 2001.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 8, 2001.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 3, 2001.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), April 30, 2001.

[16] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 3, 2001.

[17] Al-Quds (PA), May 5, 2001.

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