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More Chaos in Palestinian Society

07/19/2004

UN Envoy Terje Roede Larsen's assessment that the Palestinian Authority is about to collapse and has made no progress in fighting terrorism should not have been news to anyone, since Palestinian and Israeli sources have been saying the same thing for months. Palestinian UN envoy Nasser Al-Kidwa, a nephew of Yasser Arafat, insisted that Larsen's report is incorrect. Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu-Rodeineh prompty declared Larsen personna non-grata in Palestine, and likewise denied that there were any real problems in the PNA.

UN envory Nasser Al-Kidwa later insisted that Larsen was not banned in PNA, but the ban was apparently repeated. It is safe to say that nobody knows what would happen if Larsen tried to enter Palestinian areas, but the tragicomic fiasco allows people to draw their own conclusions about the state of order in Palestine.

If anyone still had any doubts about the state of Palestinian society, the chaos erupted into violence. Gaza police chief Ghazzi al-Jabali was kidnapped and then released, with the agreement that he would resign and be tried for corruption. Later five French citizens were kidnapped and later released. Yasser Arafat responded with some questionable reforms, putting his nephew Musa Arafat (Arafat has a good supply of nephews) in charge of security in Gaza. Fateh gunmen then marched on Musa Arafat's headquarters and evicted him after a gun battle, after which a large demonstration called for real reforms. Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei resigned. Arafat rejected the resignation, but Qurei said he is resigning anyhow. Today (Monday) Arafat appeared momentarily to cave in to demands that he fire Musa Arafat, but late reports said was not quite so.

The kidnappers were members of the violent Fateh Al-Aqsa brigades, supposed to be especially loyal to Arafat, but some Israeli and Palestinian analysts claim that the trouble is probably being stirred up by Palestinian security boss Mohamed Dahlan, who is interested in reform. It is equally likely that the riots are in part a reaction to the results of local elections in Gaza, which put Dahlan sympathizers in power in many places, angering more radical facitons. Without doubt, the riots were also triggered in part by the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the near future. Arafat blamed the problems on Israel, as one might expect. In Al Hayat Al-Jadida, a more-or-less official Palestinian newspaper, Hafiz Barghouti called for a "white coup" - a coup of Arafat against Arafat, to purge the Fatah and make order.

It is hard to delineate the precise causes of this chaos, as of any chaos. Palestinian society is divided by clan loyalties, divisions between refugees and non-refugees, and secular versus Islamic ideologies. In the absence of a strong central government, it is natural that all of these problems will come to the fore, especially given the undemocratic and corrupt nature of the Palestinian Authority and the autocratic nature of Arafat's rule. The Palestinians cannot live without Arafat, who is the glue that helps keep Palestinian society together, but they cannot make any progress with Arafat in power (see the presentation by James Bennet, which is news to many people outside the Middle East, but which actually covers ground that is familiar to everyone in Israel and Palestine). It is harder to predict what this chaos will produce.

Despite the difficulties, we can understand what the troubles in the PNA are NOT about. They are not a political struggle between moderates and extremists, as some Israeli analysts seem to think. The Islamic groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are not participating in the violence or the political discussions at all. It is a struggle of personalities, clans and loyalty groups within the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority, both of which have begun to disintegrate. Palestinians like Hafiz Barghouti, who think that Arafat can correct the problem by purging the bad guys and instituting democratic reform. The bad guys and the network of corruption are the basis of Arafat's power. If they are eliminated, Arafat will fall. He is not about to purge his power base. The recent events and Larsen's UN report have underlined the nature of Arafat and his regime, and have made him much less popular in the Arab press, but it is unlikely that he will be unseated. Some have suggested that international intervention, by the US, the UN or Egypt, could "clean up" Palestinian society and make order. The results of one such attempt are all too evident in Iraq, and make it unlikely that anyone will try that again for a while.

While the chaos continues, it is not possible to know who is in charge in the Palestinian territories, who can negotiate peace, and who can guarantee order. Israeli withdrawal from Gaza may make the chaos worse, but Israel is there now, and certainly cannot impose order. As the Fatah and Palestinian Authority continue to fly apart, the Islamic extremists are the only real gainers. There are no really good choices for the Palestinians. If Arafat is unseated, an unlikely event, there may be worse chaos, or more likely, a takeover by Islamist extremists. A Jihadist takeover will lead to isolation and perhaps a really bloody confrontation with Israel that could end in only one way. On the other hand, as long as Arafat and his successors remain in power, the corruption and misrule will continue.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000281.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

the 'peace camp' here and abroad writes about two states living in peace next to each other, blah, blah, blah, totally blind to the violence and chaos which prevails in the palestinian camps. they are not ready yet to govern themselves, let alone live in peace with Israel.

Posted by mike levine @ 07/19/2004 06:17 PM CST


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