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Losing the Al-Aqsa Intifada

Losing the Al-Aqsa Intifada

The Palestinian factions have not always paid sufficient attention to the lessons of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Could strategic failings be to blame, asks Saleh Al-Naami

 

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Hassan Al-Rabie, 32, manoeuvred his wheelchair from his home in the Al-Zeitoun district of Gaza City last Thursday to the headquarters of a local charity in order to collect monthly benefits for his family.

 

Al-Rabie, permanently paralysed after being shot by an Israeli soldier in 2005, as the Al-Aqsa Intifada was drawing to a close, goes to the charity at the beginning of every month to collect aid paid to the charity by a Palestinian expatriate.

 

According to medical records and data from human rights organisations operating in the Palestinian territories, the Al-Aqsa Intifada left some 1,000 people handicapped, 4,000 dead and around 10,000 injured, while the Israeli occupation forces also arrested thousands of others.

 

On the 10th anniversary of the uprising many are now asking whether, after such immense sacrifices, the Palestinians have made political progress, or whether they are as far away as ever from achieving their goals.

 

The Palestinian factions and their leaders have not taken this question sufficiently seriously, and for the last decade, some say, they have regurgitated populist speeches without worrying too much about matters of fact or reason.

 

The Intifada was also associated with many deaths among Israeli settlers, and it eroded the sense of personal security of settlers at the time. Israel's economy also suffered as a result of the Intifada, and Jewish immigration to Palestine dropped.

 

However, such developments failed to empower the Palestinians. The Intifada was suppressed, and Israel reoccupied the cities of the West Bank. Even more seriously, through its confrontation of the uprising Israel was able to restructure the Palestinian regime to serve its interests, harming the resistance movement.

 

Acting in coordination with the US administration, Israel was able to dictate to late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat in 2003 the creation of the office of Palestinian prime minister, tailored for Mahmoud Abbas, at the time secretary- general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and not having held any office in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

 

Abbas had made his opposition to the resistance known, and his appointment as Palestinian prime minister was pivotal in paving the way for him to become sole candidate for president of the PA.

 

Israel and the Bush administration drew up "requirements" that any candidate must fulfill before he could reach the top of the PA leadership, the most important of which was a clear rejection of the resistance.

 

Through the force used in suppressing the Al-Aqsa Intifada Israel was able to restructure PA institutions in ways that served its strategic and security interests.

 

Salam Fayyad, for example, Palestinian minister of finance and later prime minister, formed a PA security apparatus with the goal of fighting the resistance in coordination with the occupation forces and under the auspices of the US, all in the name of "transparency and fighting corruption".

 

The PLO factions simply accepted US-Israeli requirements in choosing the PA leadership. In return, they maintained their membership of the PLO's Executive Committee, and some became partners in Fayyad's government in charge of security coordination.

 

Hamas also misread Israel's implementation of its "disengagement" plan from the Gaza Strip in July 2005, which included the dismantling of settlements and the redeployment of Israeli troops to the borders of Gaza.

 

Hamas saw this as a victory for the resistance, and its policies were based upon it, including its controversial decision to participate in parliamentary elections, eventually trapping it in control of the Gaza Strip.

 

While Israel realised that continuing to occupy Gaza did not serve its interests, at the same time it was keen on making the "disengagement" process a way of managing the crisis, attempting to reap whatever benefits it could from it.

 

Dismantling settlements and redeploying the occupying forces allowed Israel a large margin in which to work against the resistance. The international community accepted Israel's argument that it could respond to resistance operations launched from the Gaza Strip, allowing it to use immense and disproportionate force against Gaza that reached a peak in the 2008 war.

 

The Palestinians made mistakes during the Al-Aqsa uprising which seriously damaged their national cause and caused them to lose much of what had been staked on the uprising in the first place.

 

The uprising was launched without a specific goal, for example, Fatah wanting the Intifada to improve the PA's hand in negotiations with Israel after the failure of the 1999 Camp David conference, and other Palestinian factions hoping that the resistance operations would pull the rug out from underneath the negotiators once and for all with no other more realistic aims.

 

Moreover, the Palestinian factions did not think through the timing and location of the resistance attacks. The events of 9/11 should have caused them to change their modus operandi, because there was now a world consensus against suicide attacks.

 

Osama bin Laden became synonymous with Ahmed Yassin, who became synonymous with Yasser Arafat. The 9/11 events made international opinion more sympathetic towards Israel, effectively licensing Operation Protective Shield, which extinguished the resistance in the West Bank.

 

The resistance did not realise that continued suicide attacks in Israeli cities would galvanise domestic Israeli opinion behind suffocating the Palestinian resistance. Had the attacks been confined to settlements and soldiers in the West Bank, Israeli society would have been divided.

 

Thirdly, unlike during the 1936 Revolution and the first Intifada in 1987, the Palestinian factions did not take the level of the Palestinian people's resolve into account during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, nor did they correctly estimate the social and economic conditions of the Palestinian people when carrying out operations.

 

Mostly Palestinian civilians were targeted during Israeli military reprisals, making the uprising into a nightmare for many Palestinians, who just wanted it to end, even if this had the effect of strengthening those who have historically opposed resistance activities.

 

Relying mainly on armed operations also made the Al-Aqsa Intifada an exclusive affair of members of the Palestinian factions, with the effect that too little effort was made to tap into grassroots resistance. This would have curtailed Israel's ability to manoeuvre against the Palestinians, and it would have limited support for Israel on the world stage.

 

Fifthly, appearing to cope with the occupation, rather than confronting it directly, was another weakness in the Palestinian strategy. Instead of challenging Israeli roadblocks that obstruct mobility on the West Bank, the Palestinians sought ways to circumvent them. Something similar took place during the siege of Gaza: instead of defying the blockade in a mass mobilisation, the resistance activists dug tunnels.

 

The period before, after and during the Intifada also made it crystal clear that government and resistance cannot be espoused at the same time, whether under direct occupation, as is the case in the West Bank, or indirect occupation, as in Gaza. The resistance has been the biggest loser as a result of such a strategy, as can be seen in Gaza where Hamas tragically misread the situation.

 

Lastly, the Palestinian leaders were remiss in not realising the dangers of ignoring world opinion, paying too little heed to it and then being placed under siege. The freezing of funds for resistance activities would not have succeeded had it not been for world opinion, which supported actions to contain and frustrate the resistance.

 

Organisations that supported the families of Palestinian martyrs and low-income families were targeted, and these were economically stifled by Israel's oppression.

 

The Palestinians will not be able to learn the lessons of the struggle or end the occupation without analysing what went wrong during the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

 

Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak, an expert in fighting the Palestinians, expressed his failure to crush the will of the Palestinian people in 1995. "The Palestinians are like a pillow," Barak said. "The more you punch it, the more it goes back to shape."

 

Undoubtedly this is true. But history has nonetheless demonstrated that the Palestinians have not been as successful as they might have been in designing tactics most likely to lead to the desired outcome.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1018/re2.htm.

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