New PA Security Chief: We Won't Give Up What Little We Have'

Israel's attack on the Ramallah compound, following Thursday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, "is not only unjust, but is also a mistake in terms of its declared goal of achieving security stability," the new Palestinian preventive security chief, Zuhair Manasrah, told Ha'aretz yesterday.

"I had hoped that the terror attack in Tel Aviv would cause Israelis to re-evaluate their approach, to consider the efficacy of the military option and admit that it hasn't proven itself, and only fosters more violence," Manasrah added. The Palestinian Authority preventive security chief spoke by telephone from his home, which is located about two kilometers from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's besieged Ramallah compound.

Manasrah has little to do other than to get regular updates about the situation in the compound, and brief others. His confinement to his home under Ramallah curfew conditions precedes the Tel Aviv attack. Any departure from his house for a trip from Ramallah to Jericho or Bethlehem for the purposes of reorganizing the preventive security force, in accord with Israeli and American demands, has been contingent upon coordination with Israeli authorities.

"The terror attack in Tel Aviv shows that technical-security means are not enough. Military reinforcements, security walls, closures and curfews cannot stop young people who have decided to carry out suicide [attacks]," Manasrah said.

The PA preventive security chief said that he is amazed that Israel continues to blame the PA for activities which originate in areas under total Israeli occupation. "We, in the Palestinian Authority, have also made clear that we denounce attacks against civilians - Israelis and Palestinians - and we have declared that violence against civilians goes against Palestinian interests," Manasrah said.

It is wrong, Manasrah explained, to expect that Palestinians accept full security responsibility in areas in which their authority has been stripped from them. "Show us a place in which the PA has full authority," he challenged. "There is a four-kilometer area in Bethlehem, and another four kilometers in Jericho. And throughout the past six weeks not a single shot has been fired in Bethlehem."

Events of the past two years, Manasrah claims, do not represent an "intifada." Instead, they have been "responses to provocation carried out by individuals, and groups." This has not been an organized, planned rebellion, he says.

Manasrah says that in a prior stint as governor of Jenin, he tried to speak to young people and persuade them not to take the armed violence route. These efforts led nowhere. Fifty-two young people from the Jenin area were killed by Israeli fire during the first seven months of the intifada before anyone departed from Jenin to carry out a suicide strike in Israel. These fatalities included policemen whose assignment was to guard at roadblocks, he says.

"Even had I gone to these young people" and asked that they refrain from using weapons, "they never would have listened to me. I would have lost the final shred of trust that remained between myself and these people," Manasrah says.

His account is corroborated by residents of the Jenin refugee camp, who say: "We never listened to anyone affiliated with the PA."

Manasrah is convinced that violent Palestinian opposition to Israel's occupation has been exploited by people who "were against the peace accord, and also against Israel and the Palestinian Authority." In this connection, he is particularly concerned about what he describes as the "radical right-wing opposition." These are Islamic groups whose social platforms can be defined as a "right-reactionary viewpoint," he says.

Last week's terror attack in Tel Aviv, Manasrah said yesterday, was carried out by groups that openly declare their opposition to the PA and its policies. But Israel's army hasn't made an effort to operate against these groups. "I'm not saying Israel should attack these groups," he quickly clarifies, "because such an attack wouldn't help anything.

"But Israel's response proves how absurd the situation has become, and it reflects Sharon's real policy intention, one which he doesn't try to hide: [Sharon wants to] negate the Palestinians' prospect of attaining independence in Palestine, alongside the state of Israel," he said.

Since this is Sharon's intention, those who are inside the besieged office building in Ramallah have no intention of backing down, Manasrah stated. Nor will they do what some Palestinian forces have proposed, namely, to dismantle all PA institutions and let Israel accept all responsibility. "Sharon wants to dismantle the PA. But the PA, which was created out of an international agreement, symbolizes world recognition of our rights. This is the only thing we have attained - world recognition - and so we are not going to relinquish this recognition now. I know that it's only symbolic [recognition], and that the PA institutions barely function. But we're not going to give up what little we have."