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From: arens@ISI.EDU (Yigal Arens)

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Subject: 131-Palestinian_Society_12_31

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Report No. 131 Israel Shahak, 31 December 1993

The internal situation in Palestinian society


Four months after the publication of the Oslo Agreement and the

ceremony on the White House lawns, the overwhelming majority of

Palestinians in the Territories perceive their conditions as having

deteriorated. About 50 percent of Israeli Jews also feel that their

conditions have deteriorated in the four months, even if only

marginally, due to the escalation of Hamas guerrilla violence. (The

only community that still supports the Agreement no less firmly than

four months ago are the Israeli Palestinians.)


The deterioration of the situation of the Palestinians in the

Territories can be attributed to three basic factors: the Israeli

government's continuing support for the settlements, the rampages of

religious settlers and increasing anarchy within Palestinian society.

The first and the second of these have been dealt with in Reports 129

and 130. This Report will deal with the third reason, probing into

the causes of the anarchy in Palestinian society. Since, however,

real Israeli policies toward Arafat and toward Hamas have a decisive

impact upon the present situation of Palestinian society, they cannot

disregarded in this Report.


Unprecedented difficulties have stood in the way in the writing

this report. As already noted in Report 130, Hebrew media in general

and Haaretz in particular have done much in the way of ignoring and

misreporting settlers' rampages in the Territories. Their ignoring

and misreporting realities within Palestinian society has recently

become even more blatant. For example, many newsworthy events have

been reported in no more than one newspaper or shown in photographs

unaccompanied by verbal explanations, or else suppressed entirely.

This situation forces me to rely on my private sources, both Israeli

and Palestinian, to an extent that would be otherwise unusual. But I

have needed these sources both in order to check information provided

by no more than a single newspaper and to disclose facts published



According to all my private sources, the dearth of published

information is due not to government censorship, but rather to a

concatenation of other factors. True, the Israeli government has

tried to coax the media into describing the situation in the occupied

territories in terms as optimistic as possible so as "not to give

ammunition to the enemies of peace", as the advocates of the

suppression and distortion like to phrase it. The PLO spokesmen, both

in Tunis and in Palestine have adopted exactly the same tactics. Both

stress the "transitional character of the present situation" and

promise "a paradise to soon materialize". Speaking the truth about

that "transition" can only undermine the chances for that paradise,

and then "you, the correspondent, will be partly responsible for it".

Such perorations suit well the inclinations of most Hebrew press

correspondents in the Territories. The Palestinian media tend to be

influenced by the same arguments even more, given the fright and

anguish gripping the entire Palestinian society.


Let me give two examples descriptive of both the current conditions

of the Palestinians and the difficulty of obtaining reliable

information about them. On December 23, 1993, Davar published on its

front page two sizable photographs. The caption ran: "Two

[Palestinian] youngsters from Khan Yunes [in the Gaza Strip] were

court martialled yesterday. Suspected by the `Fatah Hawks' of stealing a

sheep and some objects from a house, they were escorted to

the town's central square (the upper photo), and mercilessly beaten

up. In addition, one of them (the lower photo) was shot at in the leg

(photographs by A.P)".


The upper photo indeed shows two blindfolded men, with hands tied

up, guided by two armed men holding their weapons improperly. The

lower photo shows one of the supposed culprits kneeling, trying to

cover his face with his tied hands. He is beaten by one of the armed

men, while the other victim just lies on the ground. A crowd of

people are watching. Davar did not deem fit to add a single word of

comment to the photos. The readers have therefore no way of knowing

whether the photos show an isolated case, or whether such cases occur

in Khan Yunes only, or whether it is already a routine practiced

nowadays in the entire Gaza Strip. Even more to the point, Davar

didn't bother to inquire what the State of Israel, still the

sovereign of the Gaza Strip, thinks about such cases, perhaps in

order to avoid suggesting that Israeli authorities may condone or

even encourage such barbarities.

Yet such a possibility cannot be dismissed off-hand, given the fact

that Israeli troops have Khan Yunes, along with all other Gaza Strip

towns and refugee camps, under constant surveillance from a number of

strongholds and from the helicopters flying above them. The Israeli

army and Shabak can therefore be assumed to be well-informed about

such actions of the "Fatah Hawks". They certainly could put an end to

their brutalities. If they don't, it is a sure sign that they want

them to happen. With a single exception, all other Hebrew papers have

ignored Davar's photos and their implications. The exception is Moshe

Zak's question in Maariv (December 27). The question was why human

rights organizations have been silent about "such barbarous

punishments". But even Zak didn't utter a word of substantive

commentary on the case. In fact, Zak's question could be addressed

not only to human rights organizations, Israeli and Palestinian

alike, but also to all those Israelis (primarily on the Left) who

used to protest when similar atrocities were perpetrated by Israeli



In my Report 127, dated October 10, 1993, I mentioned the

occurrence of barbarous "punishments" administered in the Gaza Strip

by "Fatah Hawks". At that time they had barely begun, but they were

already reported by the Hebrew press, even if briefly and in a

value-free manner. Since that time, their occurrence has grown

enormously, as information from my private sources indicates, to the

point of turning into a prevailing norm of public conduct. Yet the

Hebrew and Palestinian media now hardly say a word about those

practices and, as for officialdom, the silence is absolute. No

Israeli spokesman from the Prime Minister on down has ever mentioned

these actions of the "Fatah Hawks". Yet the existence of "Fatah

Hawks" is by no means shrouded in silence. They are regarded as

valuable Israeli allies. Officialdom's silence about their deeds must

in my view be interpreted as implying Israeli approval. For its own

purposes, Israel uses "Fatah Hawks" and their barbarities in the same

manner that it uses the religious settlers and their pogroms.

The second example is provided by the quite unique account of the

situation in Ramallah authored by the Palestinian journalist Khaled

Abu-Tu'ameh, who writes regularly for the Jerusalem Friday paper

Yerushalayim (December 10). Abu-Tu'ameh went to Ramallah in order to

interview Palestinian politicians on how they view the Agreement.

After interviewing Dr. Ryad al-Malki, a leading member of George

Habash's Popular Front and the head of the Engineering Department at

Bir Zeit, something unusual occurred.


Here is Abu-Tu'ameh's description, "As I was taking my leave from

the young and ambitious lecturer at the gate of his house, a band of

about 30 masked youths, armed with axes and chains passed by us. We

ran for cover into the house, waiting in suspense to find out what

was it all about. A few seconds later we heard a hysterical scream of

a woman and then a man shrieking with pain. A little later we heard

the sound of windows being broken, more screams and again the

cracking of glass. From a window we saw the masked youths pulling out

in hurry.


"For several seconds there was silence and then a woman started

screaming again. We went outside, to see an about 50 year-old man

lying in a pool of blood. His face was had been severely disfigured

and he was barely breathing. A frightened woman standing nearby was

screaming, `rescue him, rescue him', but no one from the neighborhood

dared to approach. A car with two Fatah leaders from Ramallah stopped

by. One of them came out, queried the woman briefly, but returned to

his companion in the car and drove away. A good half an hour passed

before a vehicle arrived with two men who took the wounded man to a



"Al-Malki stood there in silence, watching the horrifying scene,

his face pale as a sheet. Only the next morning was the matter

clarified. A Fatah flier distributed in Ramallah assumed

responsibility for the assault on Wajia Kasawani. The flier did not

charge him with having collaborated with the Israeli authorities but

merely described him as a `negative, subversive and rotten element'

in Palestinian society. Fatah youths, some of whom might have taken

part in the assault, explained that Kasawani, an owner of an

apartment building in the city, wanted to raise the rents from the

tenants. The latter complained at the Fatah office, Kasawani was

forewarned, but `to no avail' so he has been suitably punished".

Incidentally, my private informants assure me that there are plenty

of landlords in Ramallah who have also raised the rents of their

tenants, even by more than the amounts that Kasawani demanded,

without suffering any retribution on the part of Fatah thugs. The

real reason behind the retribution against Kasawani was a clan

dispute. Concretely, a tenant of his happened to have a cousin (or

only a second cousin as some informants assured me) who is an

influential Fatah militant in Ramallah, whereas Kasawani hails from a

small clan low in the hierarchy of prestige. The same kind of

situation can be observed in all Palestinian towns and, in a milder

form, also in East Jerusalem. It happens seldom in villages which are

as a rule dominated by clan leaders only loosely connected with any

Palestinian organization.


The two cited examples are to be compared with the Gaza Strip where

firearms are being carried in the open by Fatah militants in the Gaza

Strip, whereas in the West Bank their comrades still must content

themselves with axes or chains. The difference must be due to

different rules imposed in the two areas by the respective Israeli



The Ramallah incident points to the existence of coordination with

Israeli authorities. Ramallah is heavily patrolled by Israeli troops,

yet the thugs (and their higher ups in Fatah) seem to feel safe that

the troops won't intervene. Some of my informants even claim that

whenever an armed Fatah unit is spotted by an Israeli army patrol,

the latter quickly disappears from view. But apparently, due to prior

coordination, such cases are rare.

Proteges of Palestinian organizations which happen to have some

power in a given locality, are seldom if ever attacked by Fatah. And

if they are, they call upon their protectors for help. Violent

clashes between rival organizations have their origin in precisely

such cases.


Before I proceed to a discussion of such clashes and their

consequences, I want to add a word of comment on the organizational

cooperation between the Israeli and Fatah authorities, insofar as the

facts can be pieced together from scraps of information appearing in

the Hebrew press. Some information can, for example, be extracted

from an unsigned story in Haaretz (November 28). The first half of

the story, of no concern to this report, describes the internal

intrigues in the top Fatah leadership in the aftermath of the killing

the settler Hayim Mizrahi. Then, without any apparent connection with

the previous subject, the article states on the authority of unnamed

Palestinians "who travelled from the West Bank to Jordan and spoke

with the Jordanian paper `Al-Balad'", that "local Fatah branches have

already been overseeing the issue of permits by the local Civil

Administration and they also effectively oversee institutions

nominally overseen by Israel, the municipalities and service

institutions such as public hospitals".


The "local Fatah branches" are well-known in the Territories under

the name of "District Fatah Committees". In the Hebrew press that

name has been used only by some senior Israeli officers when

interviewed. In point of fact, each West Bank and Gaza Strip district

has its "Fatah Committee" operating in the open from sumptuous

offices and maintaining direct relations with the area's Military

Governor who accords them all due respect.


Haaretz's informants say that Fatah's supervision of administrative

work of the hospitals is already so minute that "Fatah militants now

fix the outpatient appointments". My own sources confirm this fact,

adding that they often use the occasion for demanding a bribe. In

other services that the Fatah Committees supervise, bribery and

favoritism are also rampant. Haaretz says that as a result, "after a

flurry of complaints from ordinary people that [Fatah] members

viciously abused their authority, the leadership in Tunis found

itself forced to intervene and in some cases even open an



Haaretz's informants say that the chairman of each "Fatah District

Committee" bears the title of "Administrative Governor". They add

that "the so-called `Sub-District Committees' have recently been set

up in each sub-District, each of them headed by a Fatah appointee, an

erstwhile militant. With the full approval of the Israeli

authorities, they are snooping on people in their everyday lives.

This results in considerable simplification of administrative

procedures for Fatah members and their relatives, while increasing

the red-tape for those reputed to be affiliated with rival

organizations and for the politically unaffiliated. The Committees

also do their best to prevent people from applying to the [PLO]

leadership in Tunis over their heads or otherwise disrupting their

political activities".


Apart from this piece in Haaretz, none of this has been reported in

the other Hebrew press. My private informants unanimously corroborate

the story as a fair description of prevalent conditions in the

Territories. No wonder the anonymous author of Haaretz's story

concludes that "since Arafat appointed some Fatah militants to

positions of administrative authority in the Territories, rivalry

between Fatah and all other [Palestinian] organizations has



The story purports to apply only to the West Bank. But the

situation in the Gaza Strip appears to be little different to judge

from scraps of information contained in interviews with general

Mattan Vilnay, the commander of the Southern Command of the Israeli

army and in charge of the Gaza Strip. Interviews with him have

appeared in several papers. I will not bother to quote those

interviews in detail, their main point being an attempt to explain

why Fatah leadership of the Gaza Strip on one occasion joined Hamas

in proclaiming a three day strike, after a high-ranking Fatah

militant was killed by the Israeli army. General Vilnay claims he was

killed by mistake when he happened to be in the company of some Hamas

militants and the Israeli army apologized accordingly. General Vilnay

praised the Fatah men in charge of the Strip, their regular meetings

and good relations with him, their sense of responsibility and so on,

and so forth.


In the process, Vilny reveals that the Israeli army already

recognizes that the Gaza Strip constitutes a single "District", in

the purview of a "Fatah Committee" operating from the "PLO office" in

the city of Gaza. We learn that this District is divided into six

Sub-Districts, each under its own sub-committee. The public service

sectors mentioned by Vilnay as supervised by those committees are

more or less the same as those in the Haaretz story. My informants

consider this particular situation in the Gaza Strip as being no

different from that in the West Bank.


Politically, this system of administering the everyday life of

Palestinians means that Rabin's government has succeeded in bringing

about Begin's idea of "personal autonomy" for the Palestinians. This

vividly contrasts with territorial autonomy, to be granted only in

part of the Gaza Strip and in an area around Jericho, admittedly at

the cost of bestowing on Arafat much personal prestige. There is a

certain analogy here with the Dayan era's policies [1967-74]. The

present Fatah Committees perform essentially the same role as the

Palestinian "notables" performed in that era. From the Israeli point

of view, such informal takeover is preferable to any formal

agreement, let alone elections, precisely because the Committees are

comprised of appointees who have received no popular mandate and

whose mandate is revokable at a moment's notice and depends entirely

on Israeli support.


Although Uzi Benziman (Haaretz, December 17) does not refer to the

existence of these Committees, his article implies that the Israeli

government may intend to perpetuate the present state of affairs.

Benziman begins with a question, "On the face of it, one could wonder

why does Israel insist so tenaciously that the boundaries of the

[autonomous] Jericho area be delineated as narrowly as possible?

After all, in no more than few months' time, withdrawal from Gaza and

Jericho is to be followed by another withdrawal (disguised under the

name of `the Israeli army redeployment') in the West Bank,

accompanied by the transfer of some decision-making and

administrative powers there to PLO appointees. The Oslo Agreements

are clear about this point. But the same applies also to the PLO

side. One could wonder why it haggles with such tenacity about the

borders of the Jericho area if it is anyway scheduled soon to have

all West Bank Palestinians under its control?


"The answer is that this dispute revolves around a tacit assumption

shared by both sides. Both sides find it highly probable that the

entire peace process may be deadlocked right after the implementation

of its first Gaza and Jericho stage. In conformity with that

assumption, Israel and the PLO have already agreed to pretend to

implement the Declaration of Principles in stages so as to first test

its viability on the ground... We should recall that the Oslo

Agreements stipulated two different modes of Palestinian self-rule in

the Territories. The first mode, to be established in Gaza and

Jericho after the withdrawal is now under negotiation, whereas the

second mode needs yet to be defined at the next stage of

negotiations. The agreed upon speedy Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and

Jericho implies that the PLO is to receive considerable authority to

administer the area from which Israel is withdrawing. True, this

authority does not extend to Jewish settlements, army bases and

strongholds. The extent of the self-rule the Palestinians are to

receive at the next stage is envisaged as much more limited.

"Both sides were highly skeptical from the beginning about the

chances of ever agreeing on how to implement some of the Agreement's

stipulations, especially those envisaging the installment of the

elected Autonomy Council in the West Bank, the transfer of authority

from the Military Government to this Council, even if it be elected,

and the quality of future relations between the Council and the

Jewish settlers. This is why the PLO is now trying to obtain of as

big an area around Jericho as is possible so as to govern it in the

same way as the Gaza Strip".


If we assume on the strength of this evidence that the transfer of

considerable Civil Administration powers to PLO (or rather Arafat's)

appointees has already taken place, we will better understand the

present conditions of Palestinian society, the reasons for the growth

of opposition to Arafat in that society, and last but not least, the

hidden agenda in the PLO's negotiations with Israel.

Let me comment first on the last point. Besides what Benziman

described as "a tacit assumption shared by both sides" about how the

Palestinians are to be ruled, the two negotiating parties joinly

share the same problems with respect to the Palestinian opponents of

the Agreement. The best description of how Israel really expects

Arafat to behave has been provided in an article by Alex Fishman

(Maariv, December 17), which obviously drew on sources close to

Rabin. These sources clearly explained to Fishman the nature of

Israeli policies which turn out to be exactly as I anticipated them

that they would be in Report 125. According to the Fishman sources,

the disagreement about the border controls were not due to "security

problems" but to the fact that "Arafat pressed for an accord which

would recognize equality between the autonomy and Israel in

principle, whereas Rabin opposed any formula which would either

directly or indirectly assert the principle of equality.

As a negotiation tactic, Israel is perfectly willing to consent to

formulas bestowing on Arafat almost royal honors, symbols and

ceremonials. For example, Israel would be willing to let Arafat issue

Palestinian currency, with banknotes adorned by his picture, but on

strict condition that the status of those notes would resemble that

of the Scottish Pound Sterling banknotes which only look as if issued

by an independent state, but have the same value as British banknotes

and whose printing is controlled by the Bank of England. But Israel

will never agree to provide Arafat with any non-symbolic

accoutrements of an independent state, like the right to exercise

border controls. The issue may seem petty, but Israeli refusal to

make any concession on it is a matter of principle. Moreover, Israel

anticipates that once it yields on any such matter of principle,

however minor may be its meaning, it will open the door to many

further Palestinian demands for non-symbolic concessions".


As can be seen, Rabin's policies, which in essence are a

replication of the policies of all previous Israeli governments,

consist in masking the inequality between Israel and the Palestinians

by ceremonies empty of content, best typified by the supposedly

"historic" handshake. It is not even the fake equality which exists

between, say, Panama (which is allowed to control its border, issue

passports, etc.) and the U.S. In my Report 125, dated September 10, I

anticipated that "the crucial point" to be understood is "that

Palestinians are to be given only strictly limited powers in order to

use on Israel's behalf" and that "if Arafat and his henchmen really

hope, that in recompense for doing efficently the job that Rabin

assigned to them, they will get the same outward honors as the rulers

of Salvador and similar countries receive, they are deluding

themselves and their people.


"On this point, as on Israeli intentions in general, one can trust

the countless declarations of Rabin, Peres and other Israeli figures

of lesser importance to the effect that Israel will never allow a

formation of a Palestinian state but only `an entity' which will

lack all the attributes of sovereignty". In Report 125, I quoted Uzi

Benziman who expressed the views of the Israeli government in Haaretz

as early as September 3, "If Arafat wants to call the resulting

entity `a state', it is his own business", immediately adding that

"it will not be a state. He may not be prevented from using

stationery headed by empty titles and the people of the autonomy may

be allowed to call him `His Excellency' but he will not even get the

outward honors granted to a President of Panama or of Antigua in his

relations with Israel".


But even to Israeli government "experts" it must be obvious that

the Palestinians are nearly unanimous in demanding a fully sovereign

state, with relations of equality with other states. (Of course, they

are deeply divided about the nature of that state, its territory, and

so on.) It is a good question, therefore, as to how Israeli "experts"

can reconcile Arafat's rule over the Palestinians under Israel's

sovereignty with the denial of this unanimous demand for a truly

sovereign Palestinians state without asking this question explicitly,

Fishman answers it by quoting "a senior member of the Israeli

delegation accompanying Rabin to Cairo" [on December 12]. "If only

Israel had a billion dollars to spare! Everything would then be

different! Once Arafat is handed over a cheque for that sum, he could

use it to bribe the opposition and to buy the [Palestinian] public's

support for whatever he may decide. Arafat's obstinacy and his hopes

to gain time partly stem from his having not enough money to enter

Jericho and Gaza in a befitting manner". It can be seen from the

quote that nothing has really changed in Israeli thinking. The

Palestinians are still perceived as either coercible or bribable, if

not directly by Israel, then by Arafat, into acquiescing to their

inequality, oppression and exploitation. Neither their wishes nor

their self-evident right to self-determination count for anything in

Israeli officialdom's eyes. Since Fishman's sources claim that Israel

does not have "a billion dollars to spare" (a questionable statement,

but never mind), and that "the U.S. and Saudi-Arabia" which have the

money refuse to give it to Arafat for free, "Israel has no choice but

to stall the talks for as long as possible, in the hope that

something new may yet crop up".


It turns out, however, that in addition to Arafat's having no money

(another questionable statement, but never mind either), Israel has

another reason for stalling the talks. This reason was revealed by

Ran Edelist (Ha'ir, Tel Aviv Friday paper, December 17). Like

Fishman, Edelist dismisses both Israeli and the PLO's official

explanations of why the talks had been stalled. "The implementation

of the Agreement has been postponed due to Arafat's extraordinary

organizational inefficiency. He has been unable to assemble the

Palestinian army troops which, as agreed in the secret talks between

General Amnon Shahak and Nabil Sha'ath, were assigned to become the

Palestinian police. Israeli consent to the implementing the Agreement

was conditional on Arafat's appearing in Jericho and the Gaza Strip

with a sizable manpower and adequate money to spend. But about a week

before the deadline it turned out that instead of several thousand

warriors, Arafat commands scarcely several hundred who could be

swallowed by Hamas for breakfast. Even more importantly, Arafat

doesn't have the money to fuel a bureaucracy, so as to convey an

appearance of a `democratic' administration. As soon as Rabin noticed

these deficencies, he was in a position to force Arafat to agree to a

postponement of the December 13 deadline, teaching him a lesson in

efficient business management".


Edelist's sources nevertheless anticipate, or perhaps just want to

reassure the Israeli supporters of the "peace process", that "within

weeks Arafat will be able to finally assemble his freedom-fighting

thugs with whom he will enter Jericho, where they will be allowed to

stage a victory parade up to the [Israeli] governor's residence". The

resistance of religious settlers in the area to the Agreement (which

is Edelist's central concern) will not begin any earlier.

I share the doubts of some of my informants as to whether Arafat is

capable of speedily assembling sizable manpower that would be both

absolutely loyal to him and capable of defeating Hamas. Even if he

obtains enough money for the purpose, the formation of such a force

will take at least several months' time. All my informants, Israeli

and Palestinian alike, agree that Arafat now has under his command no

more than "several hundred" loyal fighters. This means that he

succeeded in fooling everybody concerned for several months, the

State of Israel and its supposedly omniscient secret services

included, that he commanded thousands of loyal troops.


But while all my informants tend to agree with Edelist on the above

facts, some of them believe that Arafat himself rather than others

was fooled, that he really believed that he had thousands of loyal

troops under his command. After all, he often used to visit them, in

countries like Yemen or Sudan, where they paraded in front of him and

pocketed their salaries. What he did not realize, was that most of

them had already taken up some trades and settled down. At a rather

advanced age they are most reluctant to be bothered policing the

autonomy and fighting Hamas. Alternatively, one may conjecture, even

if without supporting evidence, that Arafat's troops turn out to be

so small in size is due to a selection from the point of view of

personal loyalty so rigorous that it perforce entailed rejection of

most of the applicants.


The facts under discussion contrast glaringly with estimates of

some Hebrew press commentators who can be presumed to be close to the

Prime Minister. For example, Shalom Yerushalmi (Maariv, December 29)

maintains that Rabin "will find no difficulty to reassure the

[Israeli] public" that 40,000 Palestinian policemen carrying only

light weapons can pose no danger to Israel, especially since they

must be careful to avoid provoking Israel by acting contrary to the

Agreement. After all, if those policemen or Arafat himself misbehave,

"the Israeli army will not find it difficult to reconquer the Gaza

Strip, after defeating their resistance with ease".


Let us leave aside the argument itself and the question of its

persuasive power for Israeli public. The often-reiterated figure of

"40,000 Palestinian policemen" is truly mind-boggling. The total

Palestinian population in the Territories is estimated to amount to

about two million. (It probably is larger than that by some 10-15

percent.) About 70 percent of them are known to be below age 18. This

means that Israeli planners envisage the ratio of one Palestinian

policeman for 15 adults, which is totally unprecedented. But this

estimated ratio decreases even more if we don't count women (most of

whom do not work), the handicapped and elderly men above 60. The

ratio will then drops to one salaried policeman to six (!) actual or

potential breadwinners. One can only say that this projection of

40,000 cops reveals a lot about anticipations of the Israeli planners

as to the strength of Palestinian resistance to a despotic



One can only wonder about intellectual qualities of those who

believe that a society with such a proportion of "law enforcers" can

be economically developed and have its living standards raised. But

if it is assumed that the Agreement's real aim is only to guarantee

an effective political and economic Israeli domination over the

Palestinians, then assigning some 15 percent of adult males of

economically productive age to enforcing order would make a good



Arafat's rule over the Palestinians can be challenged from three

different directions: by the "left" Palestinian organizations (mainly

the PFLP), by the increasingly powerful Hamas and by the disaffected

in the ranks of Fatah. Potential risks from the PFLP's side can at

the moment be dismissed. The usually well-informed Pinhas Inbari (Al

Hamishmar, December 24) says that "in spite of the strident and showy

opposition of pro-Syrian organizations against the Oslo Agreement,

they are doing hardly anything against it in practice. Their

inactivity is certainly explicable in terms of the officially avowed

Syrian decision to decide nothing definite about its attitude towards

the Agreement before Assad's meeting with Clinton". Inbari comments

that for this very reason the Israeli efforts "to bring to the

attention of the U.S. the fact that headquarters of the [Palestinian]

refusal organizations are still located in and supported by Syria,

these efforts for the purpose of influencing American actions have

thus far failed dismally. Inbari concludes that the real attitude of

Syria, and of the U.S. toward Syria, will be formed only after that



Abu-Tuama (ibid.) says sarcastically that the PFLP leader in the

West Bank, Dr. Ryad al-Malki, "performs the role of a leader of the

loyal opposition, like Netanyahu in Israel". Netanyahu does little

against Rabin apart from making speeches in the Knesset, leaving the

real work to be performed by others, and the same can be said about

Al-Malki. Apart from speechifying, the role of the PFLP leaders and

such forces as they manage to command seems nowadays to be strictly

limited to defending their own interests. For instance, after Fatah

inmates of Ketzi'ot prison camp [Ansar 3] had supposedly cooperated

with the Israeli guards in overpowering and tying up their fellow

PFLP and PFDP inmates (Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post of December

30), PFLP published a protest. (I am not yet sure what really

happened in Ketzi'ot.) However, Al-Malki didn't even publish anything

in condemnation of the incident related above that he himself

witnessed and described earlier in this Report, possibly because the

victim was not a PFLP member.


The military arm of the PFLP, known under the name of "Red Eagle"

guerillas are relatively strong in the Gaza Strip (even if not as

strong by far as Fatah or Hamas military units). However, they refuse

to follow their leadership's line. Danny Rubinstein reports (Haaretz,

December 20) on "the street brawls between the Fatah and the PFLP

militants which take place in a number of towns. In Rafah and Gaza

City both sides used weapons and at least 15 persons were wounded,

one of them severely. In both towns, the brawls were over some land

whose ownership was disputed. In the Gaza Strip and in particular in

Gaza City, the cases of takeover of absentee-owned land have been

frequent in recent years. Now, as economic expectations rose

following the Oslo agreement, the prices of urban land also rose by

several hundred per cent. The effect was that absentee owners

approached Fatah to help them regain their plots. Hence the brawls.

For when Fatah tries to reclaim some plot of land, those who took it

over turn to some other Palestinian organization to help them keep

it. This may well lead to a real war between Fatah and the PFLP".

A report by Elie Buhadna (Maariv, December 20) also deserves to be

quoted, "Even though the Israeli army has not yet withdrawn from the

Gaza Strip and even though its troops have been reinforced, there are

already signs of a virtual war between rival Palestinian

organizations. Two organizations fighting each other in recent days

are Fatah and the PFLP. In two cases, one over an Arab woman's honor

and the other over disputed land in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in

Gaza City, the fighting was particularly violent.


"The first skirmish took place in Rafah after a masked PFLP

militant saw, on the morning of December 17, a Palestinian woman who

dared wipe off a slogan he just spraypainted on the wall of her

house. The militant slapped her in the face. Her family complained to

the local Fatah Committee which, in no time at all, dispatched its

militants to avenge the woman's honor. They captured the PFLP man,

escorted him to a square and began to beat him in public. The man's

fellow PFLP militants soon came to his rescue and the ranks of Fatah

militants were likewise reinforced. The confrontation escalated,

involving several hundred Palestinians. At least 30 of them were

wounded badly enough to need medical treatment.


"The Sheikh Radwan incident occurred after some Fatah militants

arrived with a tractor in order to demolish a soccer playground and a

kiosk which had been put up by PFLP on a plot which Fatah claimed was

owned by someone else. For some time the two sides were standing

apart, each shooting into the air but there were also instances of

direct contact and fighting". The figures for the wounded can be

disbelieved because the PFLP injured were afraid of being

hospitalized and Fatah seeks to minimize its casualties.

In the West Bank, altercations between rival organizations do not

involve the use of firearms. In the Gaza Strip, the militants of both

organizations now openly walk with arms, frequently firing into the

air (which Hamas militants don't do). Shooting into the air may

contribute to the escalation of violence. The clashes between

different groups of armed militants usually begin with both sides

shooting into the air or above the heads of their rivals. This can

last for hours. Sometimes there is no more to it but at other times

such posturing may escalate into real violence. Sometimes an exchange

of stone throwing may last for hours with rival groups keeping a safe

distance from each other.


As Amira Hass (Haaretz, December 29) reports, Fatah militants may

in such cases be quite powerless to bring the engagement to an end.

In the Rafah incident, the clash was violent enough to thwart

attempts to bring about a cease-fire. Eventually, "after two days,

Hamas issued to both sides an ultimatum threatening that unless they

sign a cease-fire at once, Hamas would dispatch its armed "Az a-Din

el-Qassam" guerilla units to Rafah streets in order to enforce order

instantly. Whereupon Fatah and PFLP did indeed sign a cease-fire"

(Davar, December 20).


As the last case shows, Hamas is considered by everybody, the

Israeli authorities included, to be militarily the strongest of all

Palestinian orgaizations. Its influence is growing due at least to

four different factors.


First, it derives enormous prestige an from its increasingly

successful guerilla operations, especially those aimed at the Israeli

army. After an ambush in which Hamas guerillas killed Colonel Mintz,

the supervisor of "special activities" in the Gaza Strip, and wounded

a major and two soldiers without incurring any losses of their own,

my Palestinian informants told me that Fatah was believed to have

never been capable of anything remotely resembling this kind of

ambush at any time in the 28 years of its existence.


Second, Hamas guerillas do not get involved in brawls with other

organizations and their assaults on civilians are rather rare, except

in retribution for religious and drug offenses. Such retributions are

excused by an overwhelming majority within Palestinian society.

Third, which in my personal view is the most important, Hamas leaders

have a well-deserved reputation for honesty in financial affairs,

unlike Fatah and other organizations, known for their propensity for

wheeling and dealing. Its leaders live modestly, often in poverty,

unlike all the top Fatah leaders of the Gaza Strip who have taken

residence in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Owing to this, Hamas

leaders can keep close touch with ordinary people.


Lastly, Hamas guerillas do not engage in vain displays and

posturing. They don't walk around armed without purpose and don't

keep shooting into the air in order - as the "Fatah Hawks" explain it

- "to show their presence". When they take retribution against

Palestinian civilians, which can be barbarous, they don't do it in a

public square and don't invite photographers. Although the posturing

of Fatah impresses the children mightily (even if apparently

decreasingly so), the modesty of Hamas impresses the adults.

No wonder, therefore, that Aharon Klein (Al Hamishmar, December 17)

reports that the Israeli Security System is scared of Hamas,

especially of its power in the Gaza Strip. But Klein also says that,

all blustering about omniscience of Israeli secret services

notwithstanding (in reality they are a bunch of incompetents good

only at penetrating Arafat's clique), they now admit that they know

next to nothing about Hamas. "After the [Israeli] Security System

finally decided to talk to Hamas, it turned out that it did not know

whom to approach and with whom to parley". Klein says that "the

Security System is gathering tidbits of information about Hamas with

the same desperation as that of a sinking man holding on to pieces of

straw with the hope of saving himself".


Hoping to find a solution, the chief Israeli negotiator with the

PLO, General Amnon Shahak, "let himself be interviewed on Israeli

Arabic TV, on which he courteously invited Hamas to join the peace

talks, adding that if Hamas chooses to form a party for the sake of a

democratic struggle for its goals, Israel will be favorably

disposed". This dramatic appeal was made about a week before the

killing of Colonel Mintz in an ambush. Other high Israeli officers,

General Mattan Vilnay and some colonels, were instructed to invite

anybody they might consider to be a Hamas leader in order to try to

talk with him. At the same time, however, Rabin, Peres, and other

generals have reiterated Israeli resolve to smash Hamas to pieces, or

let Arafat to do the job in their stead. At this stage it seems that

the latter approach will ultimately prevail.


The growing disillusionment of the Fatah rank-and-file with Arafat,

his cronies and his policies, confronts the Israeli authorities with

an intricate problem. After all, Fatah militants and their "Hawks" do

represent a power within Palestinian society, notwithstanding all the

corruption and all the atrocities which they perpetrate and condone.

However, I believe pro-Fatah forces are already a minority in

Palestinian society.


The Military Intelligence Commander, General Saguy, described Fatah

(December 28) as only "the largest political camp within Palestinian

population". A similar assessment was provided on December 28

(Haaretz) by the "Security factors" [Shabak] in their briefing of the

Knesset Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense, which had just

recently toured Gaza. The "factors" had to admit that "40% of the

Gaza Strip residents support Hamas, except that we hope that this

percentage will decrease considerably once the Agreement is

implemented". (They didn't specify by what means "this percentage can

decrease".) One needs to understand that the favoritism of Fatah

militants is based on clan affiliation, thus binding entire clans to

the organization. Furthermore, the past deeds of Fatah militants

during the Intifada and the years they spent in Israeli prisons still

confer them prestige. This is why the "Fatah Committees" command more

than the power of bare fists. They do enjoy considerable popularity.

As the result Fatah leaders, with the acclaim of their supporters,

can genuinely believe that they are destined to wield power.

However, the "Fatah Committees" are increasingly fearful of being

discarded by Arafat in favor of carefully selected and personally

loyal servants. Rubinstein (ibid.) reports that "some [Palestinian]

personalities from East Jerusalem asked the media to bring to public

attention the absence of a single representative from the Territories

in the current secret negotiations which are now being held in Oslo

between Israel and the PLO. The first round of negotiations, which

concluded in the Agreement on Principles between Israel and the PLO,

was also not attended by a single delegate from the West Bank or Gaza

Strip. When the Oslo Agreement was announced four months ago, the

delegates to the Washington talks from the Territories felt they were

made fools of when they realized that their negotiations in

Washington had been nothing more than a cover-up for Oslo. But now

their feeling of being deceived is aggravated as they see that they

are being openly ignored."


A crisis burst wide open when, by the end of December, the "Fatah

Committees" realized what Israeli observers had realized much

earlier, namely that Arafat intended to concentrate all real power in

the hands of individuals completely dissociated from the Palestinian

mainstream in the occupied territories. The leading members of the

Gaza Strip "Fatah Committee" submitted their resignations, and so did

some in the West Bank. Yossi Torfstein (Haaretz, December 28) says

that "these resignations were caused by numerous new appointments

which Arafat had recently announced". Other popular Fatah figures

followed in the committee members' footsteps.


Also on December 28, Amira Hass interviewed (for Haaretz) Zakariya

Talmas, the secretary of the Gaza Strip branch of the Arab

Journalists Association in the Conquered Territories, who also had

resigned in protest. Talmas told Hass that the resignations were due

to the fact that "after coming out from prisons, our leaders won't

tolerate individuals who live in luxurious villas as their rulers".

David Regev (Yediot Ahronot, December 28) says more scathingly that

the resignations amount to "an anti-Arafat revolt of leaders who

graduated during the Intifada". He quotes another resignee, Ihab

El-Ashkar, as saying: "We demand democratic elections in the Gaza

Strip. We demand that each man be first elected by primaries held in

his organization, contrary to the PLO's insistence that everything be

decided by faxes we receive from Tunis".


On December 29 Yossi Torfstein reported in Haaretz that nothing has

enraged Tunis as much as an initiative of some local Fatah leaders in

the city of Gaza to hold democratic elections to neighborhood

committees. The PLO argued that "such elections must be postponed

until the Tunis-based officials arrive in the Gaza Strip". Attempts

of Tunis leaders to dissuade the resignees from resigning have

failed, at least for the time being, even though Fatah rank-and-file

are far from unanimous about these resignations.


The resignees were particularly enraged by the appointment of

Faisal Husseini as the supreme Fatah commander in the West Bank and

of a nonentity as the supreme Fatah commander in the Gaza Strip.

Faisal Husseini is now extremely unpopular in the Territories. He was

described by Talmas, with justice, as "a leader created by Israeli

and world media, not by us". Husseini, who must be aware of how much

is he resented, is reported (Yerushalaim, December 17) as starting to

form his own private militia in East Jerusalem, "comprised solely of

Fatah members of proven loyalty, whose task will be to act as

auxiliaries of the Palestinian police". His opponents claim, however,

that "the real task of the proposed force will be to harass

Husseini's personal enemies". They say they will oppose its formation

by all means available to them.


It is already clear that, in order to survive in power, Arafat (and

Israel) will have to confront this opposition (both recorded and

unrecorded) with manpower even larger and with repression even more

brutal than Arafat might have previously contemplated. Moral issues

apart, it can be doubted where this manpower would come from and

whether it could be successful in silencing Arafat's assorted



Under such circumstances the mood of ordinary Palestinians becomes

increasingly bitter and this bitterness is increasingly aimed

against Arafat's person. Abu-Tuama (ibid.) comments, "One cannot

avoid noticing a new phenomenon in Ramallah. The colorful posters of

Arafat, formerly so plentiful, have been replaced by photographs of

his deceased deputy, Abu-Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), eliminated [by

Israel] in Tunis in 1988. Even Fatah supporters have gotten rid of

Arafat's photos... Even at the Bir Zeit University elections, Fatah

supporters preferred to use Abu-Jihad's photos rather than Arafat's.

A Fatah student leader thus explained it to me, `Arafat has an image

problem nowadays. Many Palestinians perceive him as a defeatist and

concessionist. Some even go as far as to compare him to General

Antoine Lahad, the commander of the South Lebanese Army which acts as

a pro-Israeli militia'."


When Michal Sela (Davar, December 17) toured the Gaza Strip to talk

to local farmers, fishermen and businessmen, she heard similar

opinions. "With the lapse of time, the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip

lean more and more toward the view that nothing essential is going to

change, either in individual conditions or in their society. The Gaza

Strip will continue to depend on Israel as totally as it has depended

in the past". The strawberry growers, who, along with other farmers,

perceive themselves with justice as "the core of Gaza's economy",

complained to Sela that "until this very day, not a single

Palestinian negotiator has uttered a word to a Gazan farmer". "Our

greatest fear", says one strawberry grower, "is that Israel wants

both to withdraw from and to remain in the Gaza Strip, in the same

way as in the `Security Zone' in South Lebanon".

I cannot but share his fears.