Uri Avnery: Skin of the Bear:
- Sunday, July 25 2004 @ 07:54 AM EDT
"Paradoxically, the Palestinian factions, of all people, seem to
believe Sharon's announcement about his intention to leave Gaza .."
By Uri Avnery
The Palestine Chronicle
I am writing this with an aching heart. I have postponed writing it as
long as I could.
In Jewish tradition, there is a searing phrase: "The Temple was not
destroyed but for gratuitous hatred." It sums up the events in
beleaguered Jerusalem, in the year 70 AD, when the town was surrounded
by the Roman legions. While Titus' soldiers were maintaining the siege
and the population was beginning to starve, inside the town ferocious
battles took place between various factions of zealots, who killed
each other and burnt each other's last stores of wheat.
Something like this is now taking place in the Palestinian
territories. While the occupation forces are tightening the siege and
carrying out "targeted killings", battles between the Palestinians
themselves have broken out, with militants shooting at each other,
targeting leaders and burning headquarters.
Occupation generals, politicians and commentators in Israel follow the
events with glee or click their tongues sanctimoniously: "Didn't we
tell you? The Palestinians can't rule themselves, there is no one to
talk with, we have no partner for peace. When they are left to
themselves, anarchy reigns." On many Israeli tongues the Greek word
"chaos" (pronounced with an American accent) was rolling.
Since the Sharon government is responsible for the present situation
in Gaza in the first place, it resembles the son who kills both his
parents and pleads in court: "Have mercy! I am an orphan!"
Paradoxically, the Palestinian factions, of all people, seem to
believe Sharon's announcement about his intention to leave Gaza. What
is happening there is, first of all, a fight about the skin of the
bear that has not yet been caught.
Everybody talks about "reforms", a word dear to the Americans, but the
battle is about power and control.
Muhammad Dahlan's faction hopes to take possession of the Gaza Strip
before Sharon's promised withdrawal. Sharon's people are open about
their preference for this group. The Americans support them in order
to suit Sharon, and the Egyptians support them to please the Americans.
The rival faction supports Mussa Arafat who was sent by his relative,
Yasser Arafat, to control the security apparatus. He may not be the
most popular appointee, but the leader in far-away Ramallah appointed
his most trusted lieutenant in order to fend off the danger he fears
most: that the Gaza Strip will cut itself off from the West Bank and
become a kind of autonomous Bantustan under Israeli-American-Egyptian
This is what is happening on the surface. But the events also have
deeper roots in the present Palestinian situation, which consists of
an existential contradiction.
On the one side, the Palestinian war of liberation is far from over.
It is at its height. It can well be said that never has the very
existence of the Palestinians both as a nation and as individuals
been in greater danger than now.
On the other hand, on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip there has
come into being a kind of mini-state that requires a state-like
administration: security, economy, education, justice, welfare and so on.
The surreal situation in Gaza reflects this contradiction: while Mussa
Arafat, Muhammad Dahlan and the other Fatah leaders fight each other
for control of the Palestinian Authority and its security organs, a
brutal war is going on between the occupation forces and the Tanzim,
Hamas and Jihad militants.
The leader of the Palestinian war of liberation is Yasser Arafat.
Among the Palestinians, no one contests that. He is the only person
able to safeguard the unity of the Palestinian people. He is the only
leader with a wide strategic grasp of all the geographic and
functional aspects of the dispersed Palestinian people. He has the
attributes necessary for a leader in such a situation: an uncontested
personal authority, physical courage, the ability to make decisions
and a talent for manoeuver. Palestinians call him the `Father of the
Nation" and compare him with George Washington, David Ben-Gurion and
The criticism of Arafat, prevalent mostly among the intellectual and
political elite - concerns his functioning as the chief of the
"mini-state". Unlike the Prime Minister of Israel, Arafat is not
suspected of personal corruption. He is being blamed for the fact that
the Palestinian Authority is too much like the other Arab regimes,
suffering from concentration of power, proliferation of security
apparatuses, corruption, cronyism and the undue influence of big families.
As a Palestinian member of parliament told me recently: "Arafat leads
the national struggle, and all of us support him. But he neglects the
domestic order, and against that we protest."
However, Sharon is not fighting against Arafat to encourage him to
delegate power or because he has seven different security formations
(the United States has 15 intelligence agencies, four military
services and an untold number of police organizations.) He is fighting
against Arafat because his elimination will cause the disintegration
of the Palestinian nation into splinters and thus clear the way for
ethnic cleansing. Arafat is very much aware of this danger and, in
comparison, all the diseases of the Palestinian Authority seem to him
The strategy of Sharon and his generals is simple and brutal: to
destroy the Palestinian Authority, turn life in the occupied
territories into hell, disintegrate Palestinian society and drive the
survivors from the country, not in one dramatic sweep (as in 1948) but
in a slow, continuous, creeping process.
Up to now, this has not succeeded. In spite of inhuman conditions, the
Palestinian society has held on in a manner that arouses wonderment.
The events of the last few weeks look to Sharon and the army chiefs
like signs of collapse. I believe they are wrong and that the
Palestinian society will draw back from the abyss.
It is reasonable to expect that the prisoner in the Mukata'ah, who has
already led his people out from so many existential crises, will do so
again. I sincerely hope so, because Arafat is the only person who can
make peace with us. We will know no peace, as long as our neighbors do
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