Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday called for escalating the “popular struggle” against the security barrier and the settlements in the West Bank.
The call came as Palestinians expressed skepticism about a pledge by the recent Arab League summit in Libya to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to boost the Arab presence in Jerusalem.
Veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee, including Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Muhammad Dahlan, Hussein al-Sheikh and Jibril Rajoub, said that the decision to escalate popular protests against the security fence and settlements was part of the faction’s political platform.
They said the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, which met last year in Bethlehem for the first time in over 20 years, had endorsed “popular resistance” as a means of confronting Israel’s measures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Aloul, a former PA governor of Nablus whose son was killed in clashes with the IDF during the second intifada, said that the coming weeks would witness an upsurge in peaceful and popular protests in the West Bank.
He predicted that Israel would also toughen its measures against the protesters to foil the “popular resistance.”
Aloul said the IDF’s arrest of Abbas Zaki, a veteran Fatah leader, during a peaceful march on Sunday near Bethlehem against the settlements and the security barrier, indicated that Israel had begun taking the protests more seriously.
Security forces dispersed about 200 Palestinians and left-wing activists on Wednesday who were demonstrating on the “Palestinian side” of the Beitunya crossing, 14 km. north of Jerusalem, and threw stones at border policemen and IDF soldiers.
Three border policemen were lightly wounded and treated on the spot. Two demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing. The Beitunya crossing was closed to traffic.
The demonstrators were protesting the arrest of 10 senior Palestinian officials during the demonstration in Bethlehem.
Protesters tried to breach the roadblock in an attempt to reach the Ofer Prison, where the Palestinian officials – including Zaki and former Palestinian tourism minister Ziad al-Bendak – were being held.
Rajoub, for his part, emphasized that Fatah’s decision to step up the “popular resistance” did not mean that the faction had abandoned other options – an implicit reference to the “armed struggle” choice.
The former PA security chief said that Fatah was now working to develop and spread the models of the villages of Bil’in, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh, where Palestinians and foreign activists have held weekly protests against the security fence.
Shaath, a former PA foreign minister, said that peaceful protests were now a popular demand to confront Israel’s policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“We need to strengthen and back this option in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies,” he said. “We can’t return to the negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.”
Shaath urged the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its policy of settlement construction, which, he claimed, jeopardized US interests in the region.
Some of the Fatah officials have decided to take an active role in the protests. Zaki was leading the demonstration near Bethlehem at which he was arrested.
The Fatah leaders expressed hope that the popular protests would erupt into a “peaceful intifada” which would eventually spark enormous international pressure on the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, during his weekly radio address to the Palestinians, voiced support for the idea of waging peaceful protests. He said that the “popular resistance” had strengthened the Palestinians’ “national program.”
Fayyad also reiterated his call for boycotting settlement products, adding that the campaign was gaining momentum and becoming increasingly effective.
“The campaign to boycott goods and products of the settlements is the weapon the Palestinians are using to emphasize the fact that the settlements are illegal and in violation of international law,” he said. “The PA institutions are continuing to fulfill the instructions of our government to ban settlement products from entering the Palestinian market.”
Hamas condemned Fatah’s call for a popular intifada, saying the decision implied that Abbas’s faction had renounced the option of an armed struggle against Israel.
“This decision turns Fatah into one of many Palestinian civic institutions because it has abandoned the armed struggle option,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Omar Abdel Razek, a Hamas legislator in the West Bank, also accused Fatah of double standards, claiming that the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank were actually doing their utmost to prevent demonstrations against Israel.
“Abbas’s security forces are taking repressive measures against anyone who demonstrates in protest against Israel,” he charged. “Just this week we saw and heard how these security forces assaulted Palestinian journalists and protesters during an anti-Israel demonstration near Bethlehem.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Islamic Jihad organization also rejected the idea of waging a peaceful intifada against Israel. The two groups said the Palestinians should not abandon the option of armed struggle “as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestine.”
Meanwhile, Palestinians said they were not pinning any hopes on a
pledge by the last Arab League summit to raise $500 million to support
the Arab residents of Jerusalem.
They pointed out that similar promises in the past by the Arab countries had never been fulfilled.
“Every year we receive more and more promises,” said Hatem Abdel Kader,
holder of the Jerusalem portfolio in Fatah. “The Arab and Islamic
countries must wake up and take immediate and urgent steps to stop
Israel from Judaizing Jerusalem.”
Hamas leader Ahmed Bahr said most Palestinians were “deeply
disappointed” with the outcome of the Arab summit in Libya “because it
did not carry anything new for them.”
Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council, expressed
hope that the Arab summit’s decision to support the Arabs of Jerusalem
“would not remain ink on paper.”