Ten days ago, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam published a large announcement stating "enough of the contemptible policies of murder, enough bloodshed, enough of the conquest." The most important sentence read: "We call on our people to return to the path of the popular intifada, using means of peace."
The wording of this sentence, along with the identities of those who signed the statement, indicated that the message was circulated by moderate elements in the Palestinian public, the Gaza Strip and West Bank equivalent of "Peace Now."
Palestinians who signed the statement included Yasser Abed Rabbo and Sari Nusseibeh (two men who promoted peace initiatives in past months), and also past and present Palestinian Authority cabinet members - Hanan Ashrawi, Ziad Abu-Zayyad and Azzam al-Ahmad.
The announcement was printed three days after the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin; and, on this date, the call for a peaceful intifada must be considered a rather unconventional message, in view of the mood for revenge in the Palestinian public.
The message, signed by 70 public figures, stirred a number of responses last week.
The first came from Hamas, which treated the persons who signed the document with contempt. "Those who circulated the call for a peaceful intifada do not represent the Palestinian people, which persists in resistance ... We won't respond to this advertisement, because there's nothing in it that deserves a response," Hamas declared.
A few days later Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, stated: "The problem is not the Palestinian resistance - it is Israel's conquest."
A second, more important, response came from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah's armed wing. Though this is a faction that lacks organization and order, its statements are important, particularly since its response to the peace-oriented statement in Al-Ayyam was more militant than Hamas' reply.
Among other things, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades stated: "Those who view themselves as academics and intellectuals demand that the resistance to the Zionist enemy be stopped at a time when the blood of our brothers flows like water right in front of our eyes ... there's no option other than resistance and Jihad and sacrifice designed to put an end to the conquest, and to return the refugees."
A third response, which carried more weight than the others, came from 81 figures, mostly veteran leftists, and also a few Fatah members and others. They wrote: "Those who want peace must recognize the full rights of our people so that Palestinian mothers will not weep over the deaths of their children." Here, again, those who signed included former members of the PA cabinet (e.g. Abed al-Jawad Salah) and former Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka.
The final statement in this series was published on Saturday, by the persons who circulated the original statement (this time their names were not listed). The statement sharply criticized the violent, "Sharonesque," attack on worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. The man-on-the-street at the Damascus Gate interpreted this follow-up announcement as an attempt by the signers of the first advertisement to retract, in some measure, the call for a peaceful intifada.
The conclusion to be drawn from reading these public announcements is that those who can be defined as belonging to the Palestinian peace camp are fighting a slow battle whose chances of success are slim. PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, who last week stated that citizens ought to be removed from the cycle of violence, evoked angry rebuttals from figures like Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh - Haniyeh told the PA prime minister that he is "offending the sensibilities of the Palestinian people, following the killing of Sheikh Yassin."
Militant members of Fatah who are affiliated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades state their position in language that is more strident and radical than that of Hamas. They also collaborate in terror attacks with Hamas (for instance, at the Ashdod port).
Hence, it could be that the Palestinian public is now supporting a new form of political collaboration between groups that call for a return to the "armed struggle;" such an alignment could build a new Palestinian establishment on the ruins of the disintegrating Fatah movement and the impotent PA structure in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now