It Would Look Better in Arabic

For two years representatives of donor states have been pressing Chairman Yasser Arafat to issue a call, in his own words, voice, and language, through the Palestinian press, in which he would explicitly condemn the attacks on Israeli civilians.

The Western person who last week leaked the draft Fatah statement calling for a halt to attacks on Israeli civilians surely meant well. Maybe he wanted to speed up the Fatah activists, whose discussions with Western advisors have been dragging and whose undeclared positions have begun to lose political relevancy.

Maybe the Westerner who leaked an English-language draft (one that was not final, some say) to Western rather than Arab media like Al Jazeera actually wanted to prove to various communities in America and Israel that "there is someone to talk to" on the Palestinian side. But running to the media proved this person is not very knowledgeable about Palestinian politics, and was relating to that less than to Israeli wishes.

For two years representatives of donor states have been pressing Chairman Yasser Arafat to issue a call, in his own words, voice, and language, through the Palestinian press, in which he would explicitly condemn the attacks on Israeli civilians. Why should his own movement not do what Arafat should do? Why assume an important declaration exists only because a Westerner leaked it in English? Why forget that its target audience should hear it first in Arabic, openly, and without a need for Western approval?

Perhaps the draft was leaked after one of the Fatah officers who took part in the drafting gave it a green light. Maybe it didn't even have a green light. But the dispute over the leak has once again brought to the surface the interpersonal frictions that characterize Fatah. These are precisely the frictions that so exasperated senior Fatah officials who were involved in the drafting of the statement.

The recent internal Fatah debates about the need for change preceded Western calls for the discussions, and preceded personal relations the Westerners developed with two or three of the Fatah officials. Western focus on one or two important or representative "names" from the upper levels of Fatah doesn't suit the current mood in Fatah, where people are fed up with stars who decide for everyone. The preference now is to work as a group in which all the rights and duties of each individual are equal.

The leak came at the climax of a process the Fatah members organized for the Palestinian Legislative Council - a vote of no-confidence in Arafat's cabinet. For the first time in years, they stuck together and worked as one body. Not coincidentally, the leaders of that parliamentary move were involved in drafting the declaration. Their negative attitude toward Arafat's cabinet and his autocratic management, and their position that harming Israeli civilians is contrary to the two-state solution they support, all come from the same source. That is - their belief and admission that in the last few years the entire Palestinian leadership, including their movement and themselves, have failed to come up with a clear strategy to present to their public. They understand they were dragged, and did not lead.

From their perspective, the proper, respectable chronology of events would have been different than the leak dictated. First should have come the success of their political move in the PLC, then a direct appeal to the Palestinian public - after first co-opting field activists from the periphery who are closer to youths still lining up to join the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - culminating in a well-organized press conference in Arabic.

One of the Fatah's chronic failures has been the confused and contradictory messages that it has been sending the public in the last two years. The senior levels were dragged along by local activists who were envious of "the freedom to commit suicide" of Hamas activists, and frustrated by their limited military skills against the IDF.

While senior Fatah officials have said on many occasions that they opposed harming civilians, they knew they could not demand that the grass roots obey, nor could they coerce them to do so. Some, at certain stages, even deceived themselves into believing that perhaps the attacks on Israeli civilians were more than understandable acts of vengeance - that perhaps they would prove to be beneficial to the Palestinian cause.

Those leaders are now obliged toward their people, even if they did not listen to earlier warnings. They are obliged to the prisoners and detainees from Fatah, to the "heavy" and "junior" wanted men who know they could be killed at any moment. Unlike Military Intelligence assessments, the Palestinians, including the Fatah leadership, are convinced that without any chance for political progress, the attacks on Israeli civilians will continue. Therefore, those senior Fatah activists must prove to their public that their positions on the matter of attacks, as on the matter of the democracy needed for the Palestinian government, is not derived from personal, selfish considerations about how the pie will be divided up. They must show they have a deep conviction that this is the proper way to end the military and political crisis.

Therefore, it would be best if they first of all appealed to their public, and not create the impression of being afraid to speak openly about their position. They should stop hiding behind "Western elements" like "natives" hiding behind the colonial advisor.