February 11, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 468

Palestinian Leaders: Our Strategy Brought Sharon Victory

February 11, 2003
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 468

In assessing the Likud's victory and the Labor-left camp's defeat in the recent Israeli election, some Palestinian Authority figures concluded that it was the PA's strategy that led to the election's outcome. Therefore, they have called for a change in the PA's strategy in order to prevent such an outcome in the future. The following are excerpts from articles written by three prominent Palestinian figures:

'We Should Persuade the Israelis that We are Not Threatening Their Security'

In the Palestinian daily Al-Quds, Palestinian Interior Minister Hani al-Hasan wrote: "The [Palestinian] leadership should examine Israeli society's shift Rightward. It seems that Israeli society does not understand Palestinian actions and aims… We should learn a lesson from the outcome [of the elections], and form a policy that can persuade the Israeli citizen that we are not threatening his personal security… and that we truly want a just peace that will guarantee the rights of the Palestinian people as well as the mutual security of the two states – Palestine and Israel."[1]

In his regular column in the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, 'Adli Sadeq, deputy to Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Nabil Sha'th, wrote: "Palestinian steadfastness is in itself insufficient [to bring down Sharon], and a number of factors were necessary to make [Palestinian] steadfastness effective and decisive in the attempt to change the map of political forces in the Hebrew state… One such factor would be a unified Palestinian strategy sending a message to the Israeli public that all Israelis are not facing [a] security danger – that it is the occupation that is the target, and that we are convinced there should be a distinction between those who support the occupation of the 1967 territories and those who do not support it, do not settle [in these territories], and do not kill together with the occupation army. [Sending] this kind of message requires political courage and responsibility…"

"The Palestinian position today would not have met the terms even of the defeated Meretz[party] had it succeeded [in the elections]. Any government that can come to power in the Hebrew state will demand from us a clear-cut strategy, which must include at least [the principle] that the Palestinians are not targeting all Israelis. Sharon gained from the absence of these necessary elements [in our policy] and so won [the elections] even though he failed [as prime minister]. He won because of our unplanned and emotional way of action…"[2]

'Today We Yearn for a Road Map that Offers Much Less Than The Clinton Plan'

In an article titled "Palestinian Extremists Voted Twice for Sharon," published in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam,[3] columnist Taufiq Abu Bakr argued that it was PA policy that brought Sharon to power, because the PA hadn't restrained extremist elements and rejected the Clinton initiative: "Realizing that events are caused [by something] is not part of Arab political thinking – even though it is an essential element of modern political thinking the world over… Our papers are full of talk about Israel's 'hegemony of the Right' and the Israeli citizen's bias in favor of 'extremist' parties – as the recent elections have shown. But they do not seek the cause of all this."

"This [the electorate that brought Sharon to power] is the same Israeli public that gave the Labor Party an overwhelming victory in 1992, when it had not been in power for 15 years, and gave them power of attorney to walk the path of peace. This is the very same public that brought Labor Party leader [Barak] to power and gave Labor 26 seats, brought Likud down to an all-time low of 19 seats, and gave the left-wing Meretz movement 10 seats [sic]…"[4]

"Why has the picture changed so that this same public voted for Sharon in early 2001's direct prime-ministerial elections and then, in the recent elections, voted Likud in even larger numbers, doubling their seats? [This happened] even though Sharon's term saw the highest number of Israeli casualties and a serious recession. Why did it happen? Have they [the Israelis] suddenly gone mad? This is a question many flee from facing."

"In 2001 and 2003, it was because of the policies of the Palestinian extremists and because the moderates in the Palestinian leadership wavered regarding curbing them in time… Had we declared a period of calm six weeks prior to the premiership elections in 2001, Sharon would not have come to power at all. This was in fact proposed at the time, but those who wavered failed to exploit that historic moment. The Palestinian extremists, with Hamas in the vanguard, escalated their operations to prevent Barak from returning to power, because his return would possibly have brought a political settlement based on mutual concessions – something they vehemently opposed. In objective terms, the [Palestinian and Israeli] extremists are allies. What they did was to push Israeli society to extremism, which suited their fanciful and destructive plan… The question that should be thoroughly explored is why the Palestinian leadership has allowed them to do this, as every day it further diminishes the chance of stopping them?"

"My opinion was and remains that that we should have declared a period of calm as of December 17, 2000, on the day following Clinton's initiative, and have announced our firm acceptance of that initiative. Today we yearn for a road map that offers much less than that."

'Calm and Acceptance of the Clinton Initiative In Time Would Have Prevented Sharon's Rise'

"In history, you have opportunities and risks. When the train of history comes by the station where you stand, you should not hesitate to board it… Hesitating at crucial historic moments is fatal. Calm and acceptance of the Clinton initiative in time for the February 2001 elections would have prevented Sharon's rise and the sweeping shift towards the Right in the Israeli street. Had the Taba talks taken place a few days after the initiative proposal, the face of Palestinian history might have been changed. This is a fact from which many flee…"

"Three times the Israelis expressed faith in the forces of the Left and the Center, which could have made peace for them. The most serious [violent] confrontations took place while the Left and Center ruled, with the encouragement of Palestinian extremists with fanciful plans – which pleased the Israeli Right. The Israelis remember that during Benjamin Netanyahu's term of office, there were the fewest confrontations, and the fewest Israelis were killed. They also remember how the opposite happened during Peres's time, on the eve of the 1996 elections, when buses were exploding in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon."

"The [Palestinian] leadership knows well who the local forces were who drove this violence, with the aim of preventing Shimon Peres from rising to power at that time. Had Peres succeeded – and he lost by one half of one percent – perhaps he would have obtained an agreement with the Palestinians even before the end of the interim phase in May 1999, and perhaps the Legislative Council would have then declared a Palestinian state. What frightens those opposed to a solution that will lead to recognition of Israel and the regional powers [is that they] would be pushed aside [in such a scenario]."

"All this is understood, but what is not understood, at least to me, is why the PA permitted these frightening developments that contradict its policy? Why didn't we sign a shadow agreement with the Labor Party, the Meretz Movement, the Left, and the men of peace [i.e. the peace movement] in Israel, and declare complete calm for a number of weeks – not for a few days – before the elections? Had we done this, perhaps some elements on the Israeli political and party map would have changed…"

[1] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), January 30, 2003.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 30, 2003.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), February 5, 2003.

[4] Meretz dropped to 6 seats in the election.

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