Contrary to the general assumption, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that the discussions between twelve Palestinian groups, failure of which was announced Thursday night, August 15, never were about a common consent to halt suicide attacks and terrorism in general.
The negotiations led by Arafat’s Fatah, Tanzim, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were the stage on which they jockeyed for position in the eyes of the Palestinian people and the Arab world, in readiness for the regional transformations augured by the coming US attack on Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources have compiled a brief guide to the participants in the discussions indicating their true bents:
Yasser Arafat – The chairman of the Palestinian Authority is not officially present. But he is involved deeply enough to try and sabotage the talks. His message to the participants is uncompromising: Don’t stop terrorist attacks inside Israel. He accuses his own Fatah officials and the Tanzim operatives who call for strikes inside the Jewish state to be suspended of being moved only by a desire to appease the United States and be included in the American project for building a new Palestinian leadership. Ending the attacks, Arafat argues, would be the death knell of the Palestinian uprising. He urges upscaling the campaign of terror in the interim before military developments come to a climax on the US-Iraqi-front and assures his following that Saddam Hussein will hold out against the US assault. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in the previous article, Arafat for that very reason is devoting most of his time to organizing mega terror attacks inside Israel.
Fatah and Tanzim – These groups represent the homegrown resistance by the Palestinians who organized the first uprising, from 1987 to 1993, and not just the group of leaders whom Arafat brought back with him from exile in Tunis after the signing of the 1993 Oslo peace framework accords. Their representatives include Jamil Zakhout, Abdul Qadr Hatam, Hanan Ashrawi and Marwan Barghouthi, whose trial on charges of murder and terrorism opened this week in the Tel Aviv District Court. Palestinian moderates, such as Abu Mazen, Abu Ala and Sari Nusseibeh, quietly support the group. Its members believe, but do not dare say openly, that Arafat’s current Al-Aqsa Intifada has been a dismal failure and pressing ahead with the uprising, especially through more suicider attacks, will lead the Palestinian people to further disaster.
This group urges taking Washington’s words seriously and believing that the Bush administration means to take military action against Palestinian terror targets as part and parcel of its war against Iraq. Such action, the group says, will spell the end of the Palestinian national dream. Even if the Americans do not turn their military might against the Palestinians, dark days lie ahead for West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians. Washington’s plans for geo-political changes will add up to the West Banks’ effective annexation to Jordan and lock Palestinian control into the Gaza Strip. This group consequently advises immediate talks on Israel’s Gaza-first troop pullback proposal, together with a halt on terrorist attacks and the establishment of a new administration within the Palestinian Authority, independent of Arafat and his cronies. Everything possible must be done, the group contends, to try to pick up the pieces left by the PA’s failures and build anew.
Hamas- Internal – The extremist Islamic Hamas officials attending the talks mostly represent the group’s Gaza center, its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and its senior spokesman Abdel-Aziz al-Rantisi. They do not speak for or maintain contact with its military wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, or Hamas headquarters in Damascus. The local Hamas men share Arafat’s opposition to the Gaza-first plan, but for a different reason. They simply do not believe that Arafat and his men or Fatah leaders, now based in Ramallah, will be back in Gaza any time soon. Like Arafat, they want the terrorist attacks to continue. This branch is funded from Saudi Arabia.
Hamas-External – The group is mainly headquartered in Damascus and gets its orders and funds from Tehran. Its advocacy of continuing terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, is ardent.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad have similar positions. They also maintain headquarters in the Syrian capital and receive instructions and money from Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian experts believe the diverse opinions and forces at work among the various Palestinian factions obviate a priori any prospect of a consensus on operational policy. If anything binds the majority it is accord on the continuation of the Palestinian terrorist campaign against Israel, including suicide bombings.