The familiar mood of despair
If we examine what Abu Mazen, Mohammed Dahlan, Saeb Erekat and others in the top Palestinian leadership have been saying and doing, it is definitely possible to discern a clear line of frustration and bitterness.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who this past weekend returned from the Arab summit conference in Algiers, received the reports of what is happening in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and about the Israeli plans to build thousands of residential units in Ma'aleh Adumim, and hastened to declare: "The Jewish settlements are not legal, and we will continue the struggle against them in peaceful ways until they come to an end."
Ostensibly, this is a routine declaration and not inflammatory. However, if we examine what Abu Mazen, Mohammed Dahlan, Saeb Erekat and others in the top Palestinian leadership have been saying and doing, it is definitely possible to discern a clear line of frustration and bitterness. This is a line that is liable to lead in the near future to a renewal of the violence.
The Palestinian expectations from the Israeli government after Abu Mazen's election and the understandings that were achieved at Sharm el-Sheikh were high. They waited for the release of a large number of veteran prisoners; for the swift handover of the West Bank cities to their control; for a freeze on the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for the evacuation of the outposts.
It is true that there was one grave terror attack last month on the Tel Aviv beach promenade, but the Palestinian organizations are abiding by the truce agreements and there has been no firing of mortar shells and rockets from the Gaza Strip. And what are they getting in return? From their point of view - zero.
The Israeli mindset of the continuation of the occupation and the expansion of the Jewish settlements is not changing. Representatives of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service are wrangling endlessly with them about the fate of one roadblock in Jericho and about the control of a village and a half in the Tul Karm district. Most of the roadblocks have remained in place. In the villages in Samaria, there have been increasingly violent confrontations over the separation fence that is taking away their lands and livelihood, and in Jerusalem the authorities are completing the wall and preparing new restrictions on movement.
Dr. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University, who believes that we are again heading for harsh conflict, has examined quotations from statements made by Abu Mazen following his election and from what he is saying nowadays, and has found clear differences. On the issue of the refugees, for example: In his inauguration speech before the Palestinian Legislative Council more than two months ago, he said "We will strive to arrive at a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem on the basis of the legitimacy of the international resolutions."
In the diplomatic lexicon of the conflict, great importance can be ascribed to the fact that an Arab or Palestinian speaker talks about "an agreed-upon solution" and does not mention "the right of return" in the context of the refugees. However, on the backdrop of this, there were reports in Israel that at the meeting of the Palestinian factions in Cairo (more than two weeks ago), Abu Mazen was about to persuade the other factions to make some concession in the matter of the refugees and return.
What happened was the opposite. Abu Mazen moved toward the Hamas position and in the Palestinian summation statement in Cairo, this is what was said about the refugee issue: "The participants are sticking to the promise of the right of return and the return of the refugees to their homes and their property." Again, according to the familiar diplomatic lexicon, this is perhaps the sharpest formulation on this issue, as it explicitly mentions "the right of return to homes and property."
The Palestinian summation statement in Cairo also spoke about a clear conditioning of the "calm" (section 3): "The participants stress that the continuation of the settlements, the construction of the fence and the judaization of East Jerusalem are a time bomb." In other words, if these continue, there will be an explosion - and according to the reports, both Palestinian and Israeli, they are indeed continuing very energetically.
To the project of the thousands of dwelling units in Ma'aleh Adumim and to the incidents involving the separation fence and the walls in Jerusalem has been added in recent days the tempest surrounding the deal by the Greek Orthodox Church, which has sold "hotels and shops that are Arab assets to extremist Jewish settlers" (in a Palestinian formulation).
For them, of course, this is another step in Israel's moves to crush the Arab presence in Jerusalem and to judaize the city, to which are added reports of Jewish threats to the Al-Aqsa mosque. All of these are bringing back to the Palestinian street and leadership the old familiar mood of despair and bitterness that presages a new wave of bloody conflict.