After Arafat's death: Will the Palestinian Authority take the carrot?

Following the announcement regarding the selection of the new leader of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, the government of Israel signalled a possible shift in policy toward the Authority. The new PA leadership seems keen to collaborate with Sharon. The only thing this proves is that those who in the past promised to liberate Palestine through the tactics of guerrilla war, which turned into terrorism, are ready to sell out.

Following the announcement regarding the selection of the new leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Abu Mazen, the government of Israel signalled a possible shift in policy toward the PA. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday that if the new Palestinian leadership fights against terrorism, Israel would agree to conduct negotiations over a coordinated implementation of the disengagement plan. At the same time Shalom warned the new leadership of the PA that promises to shoot the Palestinians who oppose the Israeli occupation, whom he called terrorists, are not good enough. He demanded that they spill a lot of blood on the ground. He actually said that Israel would be strict in judging whether the PA had taken actual steps against terrorism. He emphasized that, “the possibility of change on the Palestinian side is not enough. We need to see a change on the ground.”

According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to head talks leading to the formation of new guidelines for Israeli diplomacy, after several security bodies ordered to provide recommendations on matters relating to the Palestinians have completed their work.

Israel’s National Security Council, for instance, is preparing a program to turn the pullout plan into a process that would be coordinated with the newly emerging Palestinian leadership.

The United States is also talking to Israel about steps that would make it easier for the Palestinians to hold elections, officials said. To give it all an air of respectability the Bush administration has announced that they are preparing to help the Palestinian Authority organize January elections and improve its security forces to crack down on terrorism.

Not by chance they are speaking about a date for the elections of a new puppet government that is the same date for the elections in Iraq. We can expect now a new kind of a war against Fallujah in the West Bank and Gaza.

Diplomatic sources claim that contact has already been made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding Sharon’s plans. Abbas (Abu Mazen) has indicated that he is ready to play the role that Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is playing in Iraq, although it is not clear that at the end of the day he is going to be the man for this job. He made a statement last night where he said in regard to the early announcement of his election to the job: “I made no announcement and the matter is still being discussed.”

At the same time Palestinian sources said Sunday that Fatah had not yet selected its candidate. The Israeli government is debating whether to support another candidate, Marwan Barguti, who was convicted in an Israeli court and sentenced to five life terms in prison for his alleged involvement in deadly attacks by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

We should note that the Israeli government has proposed gestures including allowing PA security officers in the West Bank to carry weapons, a withdrawal of Israeli Defence Forces from city centers, an abstention from offensive military operations and releasing Palestinian prisoners. Not only this but Interior Minister Avraham Poraz came under fire yesterday for suggesting the release of Marwan Barghouti for the elections in the Palestinian Authority.

Poraz said at the cabinet meeting that it would be possible to consider releasing the senior Fatah leader “under certain circumstances.” He added that it would be impossible to prevent Barghouti from standing in the elections for the leadership of the PA.

In the meantime the resistance to the policy of collaboration is taking place inside Fatah. Abu Mazen and Dahlan came under real fire. Yesterday some unknown gunmen directed their fire toward PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas and former minister of security Mohammed Dahlan, who met in a tent in Gaza.

Abbas and Dahlan arrived at the mourning tent for Yasser Arafat at about 6 P.M. Sunday near the helicopter pad at Arafat’s home on the beach in Gaza City. A short time later, after the two had begun to receive public officials as well as ordinary mourners who had come from across the Gaza Strip to express their condolences, a group of gunmen appeared.

According to eyewitnesses, guards on the outer perimeter began to fight with the group, most of which was armed, as it approached the tent. Seconds later, the guards and the gunmen exchanged fire and two bodyguards were killed by gunshot wounds to the neck. The guards closest to Abbas and Dahlan immediately closed in around them and hurried them out of the tent.

The group then published a leaflet claiming responsibility for an “assassination attempt” on the two. “We warn the pretenders to the legacy of Yasser Arafat, no matter how senior they are, not to think of stopping the intifada and betraying Yasser Arafat’s legacy.”

Abbas, and Dahlan of course, denied that the incident was an assassination attempt. “What happened had no political or personal character. What happened was that we came in and began to receive the mourners. Because of the powerful emotions surrounding Arafat’s death, it became very crowded and unintentional firing into the air started. We were then advised to leave the premises and we did so. Dahlan claimed the incident was “the result of a certain confusion in the guarding of the compound, but it was not an assassination attempt.”

These denials do not hold water. Since Arafat’s death, a number of groups in Fatah have named themselves after Arafat and have begun to attack the supporters of Dahlan and Abbas. The activities of the groups, supported by senior figures in the Palestinian Authority, are designed to undermine Abbas’ authority and the collaboration with Sharon he is coordinating with Dahlan.

Al Jazeera TV, whose cameramen were in the tent when the incident took place, was the first to report the gunshots. Regular broadcasting was interrupted and large captions describing the incident as an assassination attempt were transmitted. Based on the Al Jazeera report, other Arab stations, especially in Lebanon, began reporting that an assassination attempt had taken place.

This assassination attempt that failed this time shows the real value of the words of PA Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya, who declared on Sunday that “positive and constructive talks” were being held with the leaders of 13 Palestinian factions and organizations, including the powerful opposition resistance group, Hamas.

When we explained in the spring that Hamas wanted to join those who are ready to collaborate with Sharon on the condition that power is shared, many people thought that we were exaggerating. Now it is common knowledge.

According to Al Jazeera, a Hamas representative from Hebron said that while Hamas wants to be part of the emerging new leadership, this was not to say that Hamas and other opposition groups were willing to give the post-Arafat Palestinian leadership a “blank cheque”.

“We are willing to give them a grace period for a few months to prevent the occurrence of lawlessness and chaos... But after that they will have to pay attention to the masses,” said a veteran Hamas leader.

Asked what he exactly meant by this statement, he explained that Arafat’s autocratic style, which was tolerated for psychological and objective reasons, would not be accepted or tolerated from the new Palestinian leadership.

“They will have to be answerable to the people, and this could only be put into effect through free, fair and genuine elections.”

Clearly, while careful to display national responsibility, the Hamas leadership is nonetheless worried that the “new leadership” might slip into a showdown with Hamas, since “fighting terror” – which means cracking down on the opposition – would be the essential condition for any conceivable revival of an Oslo-style peace process, including the American-backed “Road Map to Peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. However, with Arafat no longer around, the evolving Palestinian leadership would be less able to confront Hamas head-on.

PA Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya has said that, “violence is not the solution. Taking up arms is not the solution. Any domestic problem must be solved by national dialogue. This is the only way,” he said.

The only thing he proves is that those who in the past promised to liberate Palestine through the tactics of guerrilla war, which turned into ugly terrorism, are ready to sell out and are required by the US and Israeli leaders to use violence against their own people. Like in Iraq, what they will reap is only further and wider armed resistance.

Terror is not a method of winning the struggle as we have explained many times, but neither is collaboration with the imperialists.

We can expect the left in Israel to once again support the emerging new leadership and hail them as peacemakers. However, they will simply show once again that they are misleading not only the Palestinian masses but also the Israeli masses. The only way forward in the struggle for the liberation of the Palestinian masses and getting the Israeli masses out of this deadly death trap is not the support for the rotting imperialist order but the road of the class struggle that must unite Arab workers with Israeli workers in the struggle for a common socialist future in the form of a socialist federation of the Middle East.