Whose Intifada?

BY TOUFIC HADDAD
11.01.2001 | POLITICS

Husam Khader is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the city of Nablus, but is better known as an outspoken and radical leader of the Fateh political party. Based in the Balata refugee camp, the largest in the West Bank (population 20,000), and exiled by the Israeli authorities in 1986, Khader was permitted to return to the Occupied Territories in 1994. He commands widespread popular respect throughout the West Bank as an independent and critical voice from within Fateh. He is also the founder and director of the Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugee Rights. In December 1999, Khader was a signatory to what is known as the "Petition of 20", which represented one of the first organized attempts by notable Palestinian community leaders throughout the '67 Occupied Territories to voice their grave concerns regarding the trajectory of the Oslo "peace process". This interview was conducted in Arabic on 5 October 2001 in the Balata refugee camp in an effort to shed light upon the status of the current Intifada one year after its launching.

Q: September 28 marked the first year anniversary of the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada. Can you evaluate its results?

A: The Intifada, generally speaking, is a blessing. It has been able to return the Palestinian issue to its natural place, emerging from a state of deep desperation regarding the political process, which Israel used as a guise to evade its commitments [within the negotitions]. The Intifada has also come as an expression of the refusal of the Palestinian street to the humiliating conditions of Oslo's 'security' clauses, and the other negative consequences that Oslo was having within the Palestinian setting, including the absence of law, order and transparency in our public institutions, as well as high levels of administrative, financial, and political corruption. In this sense, the Intifada has been able to accomplish a great deal: it has been able to return the spirit of resistance, armed struggle, and martyrdom to the Palestinian political dictionary, which were all in ways made 'illegal' in the previous phase. It has put forth the option of popular resistance and armed resistance by way of resistance groups.

Furthermore--and this is very important--the Intifada was a victory for the "nationalist stream" within the Palestinian Authority, at the expense of the "economic stream" who had tied their fate to Oslo and who for the past 7 years had negotiated with the Israelis while simultaneously pursuing individual economic interests in exchange for providing collective security for Israel. This [victory of the nationalist stream] was an extremely important accomplishment. National Unity has been able to take body in unprecedented forms. The Intifada was also able to end many of the internal tragedies witnessed in the pre-Intifada era, most important of which was the closing of the Jericho Casino and the end to the process of political arrest [of opposition groups.] These in my estimation have been the largest achievements on the local level. The casino was nothing more than a headquarters for the Shin Bet, [the Israeli security police] and a center for corruption, while the issue of political arrest was the basis for the explosion of internal struggles. We hope that the national streams continue their efforts and escalate the Intifada on the two fronts: first, confronting and resisting the occupation and its manifestations through all available means. Second to undertake the process of reorganizing and realigning the internal Palestinian front.

Q: Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo was recently quoted as saying "Israel wants the Palestinians to forfeit Oslo and all the subsequent agreements. It wants us to lose the areas we already have. So it is in our best interests to stress our commitment to all the agreements and commitments signed." [Palestine Report 5 September, Vol. 8, #13] Additionally, it seems that if negotiations are ever to start again, they will do so within the framework of the Mitchell Report--i.e., within a framework that preserves the basic tenets of the Oslo Accords. What is your feeling regarding this?

A: Before answering your question, I wish to make a comment about this man [Abed Rabbo]: the PA has no political media strategy, nor does it have genuine media institutions. This is a fault that the Intifada has made only too painstakingly clear: the incompetence and ineffectiveness of the official institutions of the Palestinian Authority in general, and their media wings in particular. You have instead an institution [the Ministry of Information] directed by a person [Yasser Abed Rabbo] to highlight his own political career.

Now then, within this lighting, the previous year has confirmed what we have been aware of previously; that Oslo has no basis and that the peace process in its entirety is an illusion. Though there are small Palestinian achievements that have been obtained by way of the negotiations, and which we are trying with all our might to protect while Israel tries hard to cancel them, Oslo, with its previous conditions, has ended and is over, whether Yasser Abed Rabbo is willing to confess to its death or not. I believe we must address the principle of what we want if we are to go back to the negotiations table or not: do we wish to return to the previous Israeli-imposed negotiation conditions? Or do we wish to return with strong nationalist convictions with the desire to continue the peace process accepting nothing less than the implementation of United Nations Resolutions 242, 338 and 194? The responsibility for the portfolio of public relations [which Abed Rabbo is responsible for] in the PA was to make sure that the world knew without any doubt that Israel violated every agreement with impunity, and as such, we as Palestinians cannot be expected to be committed to any of the conditions or requirements that the Oslo accords imposed upon us.

Q: But the problem is not just one of Abed Rabbo, but rather of the entire official PA establishment that calls for the return to the negotiations, and the implementation of the Mitchell document. What we have then is a complete division between the demands of the leadership and the demands of the street.

A: Yes, no doubt. And I presume that Abed Rabbo, and those like him within the leadership who believe in the framework of Oslo, do so because they see it as the opportunity for personal benefit and for economic exploitation of the Palestinian people. For them, the continuation of Oslo provides the opportunity to grab even more, though this process of grabbing destroys them at the same time. The greatest tragedy, failure and lost opportunity will be if the Intifada ends with the realization of part of our goals, and these 'mixed lot' remain in place.

Q: What then is the strategy in the current stage? The people are suffering and paying a very heavy price to live, let alone to resist.

A: I do not think that there is going to be a clear Palestinian strategy, at least in the present context. This traditional leadership has acted since the very first days of the onset of the Palestinian revolution, upon a reactive basis. Not once has this leadership taken a pro-active stance that is authoritative and planned out, nor is it capable of producing a strategy. There is a clear inconsistency between the official political narrative and what the people speak of and call for. One hopes that the free will of the Palestinian people will eventually direct the order of things and not those that place their wagers upon Israel, Egypt, Jordan, or the CIA.

Q: Do you believe that the PA is really serious when they talk about the return to the Mitchell proposal. Is there any degree of tactics in these calls?

A: To my great dismay, yes, they are serious--far more serious than they need be. We must realize that there is a very strong stream [within the PA leadership] that applies pressure, scares Arafat and provides him with information that is filled with lies attempting to daunt him, usually through the door of making him feel as though he must fear for his life. This stream attempts to impress upon Arafat that his life is in danger if he does not end the Intifada, and that any bullet he fires against the occupation, he will be held accountable for. In this respect, I feel as though this stream has been successful in leaving its fingerprints upon Arafat's statements and speeches.

Allow me here to declare unequivocally, that from a nationalist perspective, Arafat does represent the leader of the nationalist stream within the Palestinian Authority, even within the shadow of the previous 7 years of Oslo. He has acted as the point of balance between the nationalistic stream and the Oslo economic stream--between the nationalism of our cause and those that would surrender our rights and create a Lahad regime in the area [a reference to Anton Lahad, head of Israel's mercenary army in the former occupied zones of South Lebanon]. The Palestinian national factions, as well as the decent and honest people within the Palestinian Authority, are unable to gain access or impose their conditions and intentions upon him. [Arafat] We are living in a state of heated emotion, all the while attempts are being devised to break the Intifada. There is a tacit agreement between the Oslo economic stream and the Israeli occupation forces including their military intelligence. This agreement seeks to sweep away all honest nationalist field leaders and operatives on behalf of preparing the groundwork for what would come after the breaking of the Intifada and its cessation, such that the situation will be able to return to what it was for the previous 7 years before the Intifada broke out. This period was characterized by economic self-interest of the elite, monopolies, privileges, VIP status and cooptation, all in exchange for collective security of Israel and the forgoing of our national rights to establish a state, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees. These people--and I do not exaggerate here--have interest in the continued subordination of Palestinian economy to Israel, and the destruction of Palestinian national industry because of what it means for them as far as their monopolies, privileges and the exploitation of our society in the post-Intifada era.

Q: In the early days of the Intifada, protests had a far more mass popular character to them. This retreated after the first few months while the militarization of the Intifada pronounced itself more. What is your feeling as to this transformation?

A: The popular form of the current Intifada cannot be compared with any previous stage, due directly to the sheer geo-political situation of the Israeli occupation. In the previous Intifada, the Israeli occupation army was in the heart of our cities, villages and refugee camps, thus requiring nothing less than a direct and wide-scale popular confrontation to this form of occupation. Today, the fallout of Oslo has it as such that Palestinian lands are divided into Areas A, B and C, according to which those in Areas B and C [which compose 82% of the West Bank] are under Israeli security control. This has the effect whereby the entire countryside [rif] has been excluded from the equation of struggle [by the sheer difficulty of waging a struggle from an area in which there is no form of protection]. Collective will and popular struggle has been confined to the boundaries of the cities in Area A, and as a result, it has no affect in achieving the end of breaking the occupation. The Intifada has sought in part, the alternative of armed struggle to help in the achievement of this end.

(I hereby confirm my emphatic support--an opinion which I do not shy away from--in [armed] confrontation of the occupation--be it soldiers or settlers--within the '67 Occupied Territory boundaries. It is a natural and legitimate right. I should also say that I have strong reservations about martyrdom operations which target civilians within the boundaries of '48 occupied Palestine)

The Intifada is confronted with a geographical reality imposed by the regionalism of Areas A, B and C, that has brought about the inutility and ineffectiveness of the previous forms of demonstration seen in the first Intifada. If today you wish to go throw stones [at Israeli soldiers], you need to take a local taxi several kilometers to the borders of Area A, throw your stones at soldiers who are so far away you never touch them, while the soldiers themselves are so well-equipped and defended, they are capable of killing you at anytime. At least when Israeli soldiers were within our cities, there was a chance that they could be hit and possibly hurt. Now the Israelis are outside our cities and we need to go to them, if we desire to confront them.

This was the genius of the Israelis who designed this division of regions into A, B, and C. It also is evidence of the foolishness of the Palestinians who agreed to this scheme, and how it could not be seen that this plan was designed to empty any popular action. This only shows that the Israelis were thinking years in advance, while the Palestinians were thinking of the privileges and personal benefits such agreements would bring them. It is wrong to think that this Intifada is strictly military and not 'popular'. The popularity of this Intifada is witnessed in existing events which the people can participate in--be it days of commemoration, funerals, boycotts etc [in which often tens of thousand people from all social strata are involved].

However from the beginning of the Intifada I have been saying that as a result of the presence of the PA, and its attempts to stop the growth of a balancing or alternative body that is capable of leading the Palestinian street, we are left with a situation in which we have no 'national unity', but rather a loose collection of factional leaders and field operatives. Rather than strategy leading the Intifada, it is the continued spilling of Palestinian blood that hardens the people's resolve to continue to resist. Nonetheless, I believe in the basic principle that ultimately, it will be the Palestinian faith in our cause and our willingness to sacrifice ourselves on the path towards accomplishing our rights and justice that will redeem us. The harmony or dissonance between the official narrative of the Intifada, and the demands of the people, directly relates to the thrust of the Intifada. [The more harmony, the more thrust]. Likewise, as much as the internal front is addressed in regards to the fighting of corruption and the rooting out of traitors and collaborators, the more likely this will bring the people together and push them towards increasing resistance.

Q: Where does this place the role of the internal front in this Intifada?

A: The internal front is of utmost importance. The feeling of desperation that has resulted from a lack of harmony between Yasser Arafat, and the decrees of the field operatives, the various factions and powers, which have called for the need for genuine unity and the rectification of the political, administrative, and monetary levels, directly relates to the peoples willingness to sacrifices themselves for the cause. People are asking a very important question: who is it that will benefit from and reap the harvest of this Intifada? In the shadow of the presence of these corrupt structures and individuals represented in the Oslo economic stream, I say there is no utility in struggle. However, if this struggle is an indirect means to trample upon those individuals--to do away with them, isolate them socially and boycott them entirely, then this would be something very important to achieve.

Q: How would you evaluate the performance of the National and Islamic forces which has tried to act as a unifying leadership to the intifada?

A: There is no unified national field activist leadership. There is no centralized body that organizes and leads the daily struggle program of the Intifada. There are regional leaders that do what they want: Rafah has its own leadership that differs from Gaza, which differs from Nablus, which differs from Ramallah. Each may have one program one day, and have another agenda the next. This is a large point of weakness, that is a direct result of the new political and geographic reality we live in. I of course wish that Hamas, Jihad, the PFLP, the DFLP and the honest and decent people in Fateh gave primacy to the internal front as it deserves. Without this, the Intifada will fall into the pitfalls of the previous Intifada, and of many other previous revolutions whereby a group of crooks come by to steal its fruits and use us in the service of protecting their own projects and as slaves in their plantations.

Q: In a declarative fashion, this Intifada and its spokespersons have emphasized the goals of the Intifada to be the establishment of an independent state along the '67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. Though lip-service may be provided in certain instances, it is clear the issue of the refugees has been marginalized out of a tacit feeling that it is unrealizable as a goal of the Intifada. What are the prospects given the current nature of the Intifada to achieve these goals?

A: First let me be clear by saying that I do not believe that the Intifada in its current form and reality is capable of achieving even the goal of establishing an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. The Intifada in its current form--including its types of resistance, the internal front, the loose coalition of political parties on one side and the Palestinian Authority on the other etc.--is not capable of achieving and accomplishing the nationalist project for which it was created, and for which the people rose in resistance. As far as the PA is concerned, this Intifada is being conducted to improve the conditions and prepare the groundwork to be in the most exacting position for when the decision is made to return to the negotiations table.

However if the Intifada is to set for itself the genuine goal of national liberation as the people demand, then we must organize ourselves and engage the entire security agencies and all the groupings and factions of the people, to participate in a new and creative armed struggle, anti-colonialist and anti-occupation in nature, that involves the attacking of Israel interests and presence everywhere. It is well known that the Palestinian Authority, after an entire year of the Intifada, has yet to participate in it. We have at least 85 Palestinians from the various security services who have been killed throughout the course of the Intifada: 54 of these have been killed simply doing their jobs, sitting at checkpoints or in barracks. They were not killed in confrontations: they were killed by being shelled by Israel. If all those 85 had instead been killed in the process of armed confrontations, the reality of the Intifada would be 100 steps ahead of where it is today. If Yasser Arafat was surrounded by honest Palestinians, upon the first Israeli shelling of a Palestinian police station, or security building--we would have had three members of Palestinian National Security sent on a [military] operation to the heart of the Israeli security establishment in Tel Aviv, so that Israel would think twice about doing such a thing [to PA security institutions] again. Instead we have a situation where Israel is hunting and picking off our men in National Security and in the honest political leadership like rabbits.

The Palestinian Authority and the Oslo economic stream continues to want the young free-spirited and courageous fighters from the first Intifada, who joined the security services, to be a private army for the defense of a group of thieves and their personal interests. They do not want from these young military heroes--many of whom were brave graduates of the first Intifada and whose lives were characterized by great sacrificing for the national cause including prison sentences, political arrest, torture, suffering and injury--to take a role in the process of national liberation. These people [the Oslo economic stream] still bet upon the return of the situation before the present Intifada, endeavoring to ensure that Palestinians remain entangled in the Israeli occupation in exchange for monopolies and privileges, and so that they remain the bottleneck through which everything enters and exists.

As for the marginalization of the issue of the right of return, we must remember that the Al Aqsa Intifada, was in part launched as an affirmation of Palestinian rights to Jerusalem. In this endeavor, it has witnessed unprecedented brutal measures from Israel that attempt to bury even the discussion of Jerusalem. What then can we expect regarding the issue of refugees and the need to implement the Right of Return? In my estimation, this issue [the Right of Return], requires nothing less than the formation of a new political party, and the formation of a new Palestinian resistance movement, that engages in a more fierce and more widespread resistance. It will have to overarch the Palestinians within Palestine and those beyond its borders, particularly the residents of the refugee camps who have always represented the nucleus of any Intifada.

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