The killing of Hamas activist Mohammad (Ahmad) Selmi during clashes with Palestinian security forces and the attempted house arrest of Hamas’ spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin have brought the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories to the edge of an abyss.
In the past 24-hours, independent Palestinian sources have confirmed CNN and BBC reports that there has been sporadic resistance to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s decree that Yassin be put under house arrest. This is not the first time that Arafat’s security forces have met resistance, but the recent wave of popular support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the face of resounding corruption charges against Arafat’s administration may indicate that his control is waning.
In dispatching Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to Israel for a hastily arranged meeting with the Israelis, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is signalling that the situation has become untenable. So untenable, in fact, that Mubarak has reneged on a policy of not sending his seasoned diplomats to negotiate with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. Less than three months ago, Mubarak said he did not believe that Sharon had the chutzpah to sue for peace. The situation on the ground, however, may have forced both leaders’ hands. The BBC reported Wednesday that Sharon had sent his envoys to Egypt on a “secret mission”.
Secret missions aside, it is no secret that the occupied people of Palestine are under extreme pressure. According to an Israeli official quoted anonymously in the Jerusalem Post (Peres tells Arafat: Your fate is in your hands, Dec. 6, 2001) “if Arafat has not begun arresting those on the list of 36, then we will attack all those we feel are perpetuating terror, including the security groups close to Arafat”. The number 36 refers to a list of militants whom Israel would like to see arrested or liquidated. “All those we feel are pepetuating terror,” seems to indicate the Palestinians as a whole.
However, this fell far short of Israel’s demands. Another unnamed Israeli official told Agence France Presse that Arafat’s efforts to date were not impressive and proved only a five percent effort to deal with Palestinian radicals.
Across the Atlantic, the House of Representatives urged President George W. Bush to suspend relations with Arafat if he does not immediately destroy “his terrorist infrastructure”. This has left many Middle east experts baffled at the mind-boggling muddling of the Israeli-Palestinian crises in the past 14 months and the U.S. indecision towards a hands-off policy in the region.
However, Palestinian sources have acknowledged that recent statements made by EU delgates that Europe supports the Palestinian leader’s peace efforts and does not consider him a supporter of terrorism encouraged Arafat.
Words, like Monopoly money, don’t account for much on the ground. Any moribound student of physics knows that you can only turn the pressure and heat on so much before the pressure cooker explodes in the lab and takes half the building with it. Nothing can describe the Middle East situation better.
In a considerable slap in the face of Egyptian diplomacy, Israeli F-16s bombed Arafat’s main police station hours after Maher left Israel and a short time before U.S.-sponsored security talks were scheduled to resume between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Not surprising. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told reporters Friday that “During my telephone conversation the other day with Prime Minister Sharon, it became very clear that Israel was inclined toward war”.
This would please many columnists state-side. William Buckley defends Israeli attacks by stating that “the three assaults on Israel by Hamas resulted in 25 deaths. Gen. Sharon did the quick arithmetic and told the world that in U.S. terms, this was the equivalent of 2,000 deaths.” Buckley should also do the math for the Palestinian casualties in the past 14 months. More than 780 Palestinian deaths would translate in 62,400 by the same logic.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.