Arafat's credibility is another casualty of massacre

March 04, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JABALIYA REFUGEE CAMP, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip -- The white Peugeot 405 careened around the corner, skidding in the dirt road. A Palestinian leaned from the window, trying to steady his gun. He emptied five quick shots toward the Israeli soldiers before speeding away.

"They were Fatah," said a battle-wise 15-year-old as he watched, referring to the main branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

"They wanted to tell the soldiers they will continue the struggle."

Moments later, Israeli jeeps poured from the soldiers' post, giving chase to the gunmen.

As the army vehicles emerged, young boys launched a fusillade of fist-sized rocks that bounced off the thick metal screens of the jeeps.

The intifada, or uprising, putatively over when Israel and the PLO signed their accord in September, is back on again.

Even many members of Fatah, Yasser Arafat's own faction, have abandoned the cease-fire declared with the Sept. 13 accord, after last Friday's massacre of Muslims in a mosque in Hebron.

This shooting yesterday -- more symbolic than accurate from a distance of 100 yards -- was a sign both of resumed resistance and independence from Mr. Arafat's control.

"We have to be honest. Arafat's popularity has dropped. Fatah has lost supporters," said Sufian Abu-Zaideh, a top Fatah official in the Gaza Strip.

Support for the peace talks and Mr. Arafat is another casualty of the massacre of Muslim worshipers by a Jewish settler in Hebron.

Palestinians have taken to the streets in anger at Israelis. But they are also angry that Mr. Arafat's negotiations have given them no relief from the occupation, nor escape from the rule of Israeli guns.

"The Palestinian leadership will not bring any justice for the Palestinian people," said Essam Badawi, 28, a driver in Gaza.

Throughout the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, Palestinians complained in the last week that the massacre shows the flaws in Mr. Arafat's negotiating strategy.

The PLO negotiators have fought strenuously for such things as Palestinian border guards while sidestepping issues, such as Jewish settlements, that are more important to those here, the Palestinians complain.

"It was a big mistake" not to insist on immediate removal of the settlements, acknowledged Mr. Abu-Zaideh. "The Palestinian people would like to see the peace process go on and have some results, but with a new beginning including settlements."

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wary of the new strategy, has already rejected any change of the terms of the Oslo agreement regarding settlements.

"We have to stick to the agreement signed in Washington," he said Wednesday. "When we take a commitment one to another, we have to keep it."

Mr. Arafat's emissaries secretly negotiated the agreement in Oslo that called for Israeli withdrawal from Jericho and the Gaza Strip by April 13, and from populated areas in the rest of the West Bank this summer.

Await 'final' arrangement

But Jewish settlements -- about 120 fenced and guarded compounds scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- are to remain in place during the next five years of talks for a "final" arrangement.

Detailed talks over the first steps in the agreement had bogged down when the Hebron massacre occurred, and the Palestinians suspended their participation in the talks after the killings.

"Arafat should stop the peace process, and they should not go back to the talks until they take into consideration the daily killing of our people," said Kamal Muhammed, 28, a merchant in Gaza.

Mr. Arafat now is said to have heard the message from inside the occupied territories. He is demanding that the Oslo agreement be reopened for negotiations on Jewish settlements and protection of Palestinians.

"The peace process will continue with this massacre or without it. But maybe it will help the Palestinians put some pressure on Israel," said Essan al-Bori, a pharmacist in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, one of eight squalid neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip holding refugees from Arab-Israeli wars.

But Mr. al-Bori said he would rather have a new negotiator. "I believe in the PLO leadership, but not Arafat. He's more loyal to Israel than Rabin," said the pharmacist.

Mr. Rabin's insistence on honoring the agreement does not reconcile with his previous declaration that the deadlines set in the agreement are "not sacred" and with his already having bypassed the first deadline for starting withdrawal of Israeli troops.

Renewed bitterness

But Palestinians in the territories are too embittered to bother with legalisms.

"I supported the peace talks, but the massacre changed my mind," said Ahmed Ghradi, selling sweets for the Ramadan Muslim holy month in Gaza.

"They are talking peace while they are killing us."

Outside the Army post in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, 17-year-old Amad Taha examines a 9-millimeter shell left behind by the Palestinian gunmen, who got away.

Young Taha's own ammunition is a collection of hefty stones near at hand.

"This is our only choice," he said of the low-scale warfare against the soldiers.

"We don't have peace when they commit a massacre."

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