Palestinians protest talks 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Before noon on Wednesday, hundreds of Palestinians crowded around a main square in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show their opposition to the direct Israeli Palestinian peace talks being launched this week at the White House.
“We want Kalashnikovs (assault rifles),” they shouted. “We want RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). We don’t want security cooperation nor the CIA.”
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Mustafa Barghouti, a chief opponent to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, rallied the crowd with warnings that the Palestinian leader was on his own and any deal he made with the Israelis would not be binding. The crowd cheered and the Palestinian police stayed back.
It was an event repeated across the major cities of the West Bank and, on the surface, resembled a healthy freedom of speech in a democratic nation in the making.
Yet as outlines of a Palestinian state emerge, there remains the fear
that it is ephemeral and teetering on the verge of collapse. Ironically,
the attempts to build a Palestinian state all hinge on the success of
what many have already agreed are peace talks doomed to failure.
Analysts, however, see a difference between the potential ramifications
of these talks failing and the last major failure in peace talks in
2000, which led to a bitter and bloody Palestinian uprising that saw
Israel crushingly retake all areas of the Palestinian Authority.
Today, Palestinian security and police forces are well established and
backed by five US-trained battalions loyal to President Abbas. There is
growing prosperity and economic stability in the West Bank, the
stronghold of Fatah rule, and coordination between Israeli and
Palestinian security forces is quiet but strong.
This was already evident in the fact that Palestinian police in Hebron
had rounded up over 250 alleged Hamas activists following the deadly
ambush of four Israeli civilians there late Tuesday night. Hamas’s
military wing Izzadin al-Qassam claimed responsibility for the attack.
“In 2000, Yassir Arafat was against any kind of nation building and the
only infrastructure he built was a casino in Jericho,” Col. (res.) Moshe
Elad, a former Israeli chief liaison officer with the Palestinians and
today a researcher at the Samuel Neaman Institute, told The Media Line.
“Now we see that in the last couple of years a decision by the
Palestinian leadership to build a nation.”
“They are aware of the fact that they have to be sustainable and not for
show,” Elad said. “I’m not sure they are going to gamble on all these
projects. This is a good sign that they are serious.”
With much more to lose, the Palestinians would be less inclined to open
harsh confrontation with Israel, even if the peace talks bog down or
“If you have the impression that these talks will fail, then there is a
need to prepare for this result,” Former PA minister and Fatah leader
Qadura Fares told The Media Line, arguing that the most substantive
result of talks is likely to be a legitimacy test for the Palestinian
leadership. “It’s not as if we have only two options, either conflict or
non-stop negotiations. There is another element. The PLO (Palestine
Liberation Organization) will face a real test of credibility and will
have to convince the Palestinian people that it truly is a national
If the PLO can’t deliver, the Palestinians may increasingly opt to
support Islamic fundamentalism, i.e. Hamas.
The London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that during the
negotiations Fatah planned to escalate popular resistance against the
Israeli separation barrier and Jewish communities in the territories
captured by Israel in the 1967 War. The Fatah move could be seen as a
way to draw support away from Hamas, which opposes peace talks with the
Fares was skeptical, saying Fatah has been calling for non-violent
opposition to the Israeli occupation for years, but no one took the call
Elad, the former Israeli liason, said that the split between the West
Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was fueling the opposition to
the peace talks.
“In the past year, despite Gaza, the Palestinians have been moving ahead
with nation building steps,” he said. “But don’t forget that Hamas is
not so weak in the West Bank. And once Hamas-Gaza-Damascus will instruct
its people to act (attack Israelis) I am not so sure all those training
of troops will be enough to stop the Hamas in the West Bank.”
“The people in the West Bank see the blooming prosperity,” he continued.
“But I would say in case Hamas-Gaza will start instructing their people
to sabotage and to jeopardize so-called peace events it will be very
close to a civil war.”
“Even in the West Bank Hamas will have the advantage of fighting against
regular troops like the Palestinian National Security Forces,” Elad
concluded. “They will get the major support of the people. This is how
things work in Palestinian society. The underdog always gets a lot of
support. I am afraid that Israel will have to stay for a longer period