Old Guard, Young Guard: the Palestinian Authority and the Peace Process at Crossroads
Table of Contents:
Has Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) orchestrated and led the intifada since September 2000 in order to weaken and humiliate Israel and force it to accept exaggerated Palestinian demands for a political settlement? And have he and the PA, as a result, gained added legitimacy and popularity in the Palestinian street? Or was the intifada a spontaneous response, to a provocative Ariel Sharon’s visit to al Haram al Sharif, by an enraged but unorganized Palestinian street; a street that has additionally been disillusioned and disappointed by the failure of the peace process over a period of several years to produce an end to a thirty-three year old Israeli military occupation? While most Israelis, but specially members of the intelligence community, advocate the first thesis and explain every thing that happens in the intifada in light of it, the PA and most Palestinians subscribe to the second.
This article provides a third thesis. It argues that the intifada has been a clearly articulated and organized response by the Young Guard in the Palestinian national movement not only to Sharon’s visit to al Haram al Sharif and to the failure of the peace process to end Israeli occupation, but also to the failure of the PLO’s Old Guard to lead the Palestinian process of independence, state building, and governance. Through the intifada, and influenced by the Lebanese Hizbullah methods, the Young Guard sought to force Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to simultaneously weaken and eventually displace the Old Guard. In particular, the resort of the Young Guard to the use of arms, as means of national liberation, was conceived of as the means to help it achieve both objectives in a short period of time, not only in the face of a much superior Israeli army but also in the face of a much stronger PA armed forces and security services.
Fourteen months into the intifada, the Young Guard’s determination to do just that is unshakable. So far, it has managed to force Israel to seriously consider unilateral separation, and has succeeded in greatly weakening the Old Guard. Indeed, it has managed to assume a de facto control over most PA civil institutions, to penetrate PA security services, and to force Yasir Arafat to appease it and seek its blessings for fear of losing his own legitimacy or confront the specter of a Palestinian civil war. While developments in the Israeli-Palestinian relations will have serious consequences for the domestic dynamics, only a combination of a truly viable peace process and a serious PA commitment to good governance can begin to provide Israel and the PA with an exit strategy from their current predicament.
Two Intifada Dynamics
The intifada crystallized two highly significant dynamics within the Palestinian politics and society. The first relates to developments within the national movement and the other to the competition between the Islamists and the nationalists. The consequences of the first, entailing a split between an Old Guard and a Young Guard within the national movement, are immediate and far-reaching, greatly constraining the capacity of the PA leadership to manage the current crises and to engage in a viable political process with Israel. The consequence of the second dynamic, entailing a change in the domestic balance of power favoring the Islamists for the first time in seven years, takes a much longer time to be felt; but once entrenched, will be difficult to reverse since it brings with it ideological and social change. In the long run, the consequence of the second dynamic poses a serious challenge to the capacity of the national movement to continue to lead the Palestinian people. The failure of the peace process and the process of national reconstruction to meet the expectations of most or all Palestinians has already set the stage for these developments. This paper addresses the ramifications of the first dynamic for the PA and the peace process.
Failed Processes, Angry Street (1)
Upon signing the Oslo agreement in September 1993, two-thirds of the Palestinian public immediately gave it support. Palestinian expectations were very high: Oslo was supposed to usher in three processes: the end of occupation, the establishment of an open and democratic political system and national authority, and a quick improvement in economic and living conditions. The golden era of the peace process did not last long. The high point was the 1995-96 period following a disappointing year in 1994. Support for the peace process in 1996 peaked to 80% and support for violence against Israeli targets dropped to 20%. Just before the general elections of January 1996, support for Fateh, the mainstream nationalist movement, reached the unprecedented level of 55%, and Arafat’s popularity skyrocketed to 65%. The size of all opposition groups, Islamists and nationalist, receded to 20% in early 1996 compared to 40% two years earlier.
When the Palestinian political system came into existence after the elections of January 1996, it had the attributes of legitimacy. Seventy-five percent of eligible voters participated in the election despite the call by the opposition groups for a boycott. Arafat received the positive support of more than 70%, with about 22% casting blank ballots, and only 8% voting for his rival, Ms. Samiha Khalil. Fateh won an unbelievable 77% of the seats of the new Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Between 1993-01, with the sole exception of 1994, support for the Oslo agreement never dropped below 60% despite the right wing electoral victory in the Israeli elections in mid-1996. But Palestinian expectation from, and confidence in, the peace process began to erode as a result of the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister and the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Not too high to begin with, Palestinian expectation that the peace process will soon bring to an end the limited self-rule arrangement leading to a permanent settlement of statehood, dropped from 44% in 1996, when Shimon Peres led Israel, to 30%, in the same year, under Netanyahu. Four years later, with Ehud Barak leading Israel and Jewish settlement expansion continuing, expectation of a permanent settlement was still very low at 24%. Upon the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel’s Prime Minister, that expectation dropped by 55%, to a mere 11%.
The loss of confidence in the ability of the peace process to deliver a permanent agreement had a dramatic impact on the level of Palestinian public support for violence against Israelis. In July 2000, right after the Camp David Summit but just before the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada, support for violence has already reached 52%. One year later, and ten months into the intifada, it reached the unprecedented level of 86%.
A second casualty has been the popularity of Arafat and the support for Fateh. In July 2000, upon returning from Camp David, Arafat’s popularity, which has been dropping steadily since 1996, plummeted to 47%. Ten months into the second intifada, Arafat suffered his greatest loss in eight years with a popularity drop of 30% in a single year to 33%. Similarly, support for Fateh dropped to 37% in July 2000, a drop of about 33% in four years. One year later, Fateh lost an additional 22% of its support dropping to 29%. Surprisingly, the Islamists did not gain much support in the four years between 1996, when their support stood at 15%, and 2000 with a 17% support. Those who deserted the nationalists did not shift loyalty to the Islamists and instead chose to remain on the sideline. The intifada changed that: by July 2001, the Islamists have increased their support by 60%, rising 27%. The intifada brought about the first significant change in the domestic balance of power since 1995 with more and more people shifting loyalty from the natioto the Islamists. Indeed, in July 2001, and for the first time ever, support for Islamist and nationalist opposition groups, standing together at 31%, surpassed that of the mainstream Fateh and its allies, standing at 30%. (2)
The diminishing support for Arafat and Fateh has been caused by other factors in addition to a collapsing peace process and deteriorating economic and living conditions. The street has been highly disappointed and disillusioned by the perceived failure of the process of national reconstruction and good governance. Street’s evaluation of the status of democracy, PA performance, and levels of corruption have moved from bad to worse during the past six years. In 1996, 43% positively evaluated the status of Palestinian democracy and human rights. By 2000-01, that percentage dropped by more than 50% to about 21%. Similarly positive evaluation of the performance of PA institutions dropped from 64% in 1996 to 44% in 2000 and to 40% in 2001. Worse yet, while in 1996 only 49% believed that there was corruption in the institutions of the PA, that percentage increased to 76% in 2000 and to 83% in 2001
The public’s ever-multiplying disappointments have been aggravated during the intifada leading to further erosion in its confidence in the peace process and in its willingness to extend legitimacy to the PA. The unrelenting Israeli siege, closure, and collective punishment measures have succeeded in practically halting Palestinian civil, social and economic life thereby devastating the economy and creating an environment of heightened perception of threat and coercion that breeds nothing but pessimism, blind hate, and the desire to kill. The expectation, in the aftermath of the collapsed Camp David Summit, that there would be no violence and that negotiation would soon resume, gave way to much deeper pessimism ten months into the intifada, dropping from 44% to 17%. While in July 2000 only 23% saw the failure at Camp David as indicating an end to the peace process, the percentage doubled in July 2001. Correspondingly, while in July 2000 only 31% believed that violence, if resorted to, would help the Palestinians achieve goals in ways that negotiations could not, that percentage increased to 59% one year later. Indeed, in July 2001, a clear majority of 71% believed that the intifada has already achieved that.
The perceived failure of the peace process, combined with a highly negative assessment of all issues related PA governance, the continued inability of the PA to deliver services to the bulk of the population at a time of extreme economic and social hardships, and, worse yet, a prevailing perception of Arafat’s inability to project leadership in the face of an uncertain future did significant damage to PA’s legitimacy allowing other sources of legitimacy to emerge and assert themselves in the face of weakened PA. One of those new sources has been a “revolutionary legitimacy” claimed by the Young Guard. Taking advantage of the great popular anger at Sharon’s visit to al Haram al Sharif and the subsequent death of tens of Palestinian civilians in few days of popular confrontations, the Young Guard was ready to seize the moment.
Young Guard Against Old Guard
Between 1967 and 1994 the leadership of the Palestinian national leadership lived in diaspora, moving from Jordan to Lebanon, and since 1983 to Tunisia. Local leadership in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip sought to assert itself from time to time only to be decapitated by the Israelis or to be discouraged by the PLO. The defeat of the PLO during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 lessened the centrality of the PLO in Palestinian politics and weakened its hold on Palestinians in the occupied territories. Indeed, the center for gravity in Palestinian politics began to shift from the outside to the inside, i.e., to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Despite the strong role played by the outside PLO leadership during the first Palestinian intifada, it was the newly emerging leadership in the occupied territories that had initiated and sustained that intifada.
In 1994, the PLO leadership returned home to the West Bank and Gaza to establish the Palestinian Authority (PA) in implementation of the Declaration of Principles negotiated by the PLO and Israel in Oslo in 1993. Since then, the relationship between the two leaderships, the old and the established on one hand and the young and emerging on the other, has not been an easy one. Efforts to co-opt and even accommodate the young leaders of the first intifada did not always succeed due to the authoritarian nature of the PLO leadership. Nonetheless, the euphoria accompanying the partial Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory, the holding of the first general national elections in 1996, and the establishment of the first Palestinian government in modern history produced an appearance of harmony between the two groups.
The established PLO leadership is a historic one. It is composed of the founding fathers of the Palestinian national movement along with the leaders of the different guerrilla organizations and the PLO bureaucracy. It has spent most of its life in the outside. Most members of this group tend to be old, over 50 years of age. It dominates all the institutions of the PLO: the Palestinian National Council, the Central Council, and the Executive Committee. It also dominates the highest decision making body of the largest faction of the PLO, the Fateh Central Committee, as well as the PA Cabinet. One third of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) comes from this group, even though elections for this body were held in the West Bank and Gaza only. Members of this group, such as Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin) Ahmad Qurie (Abu Ala) and Nabil Sha’ath have led all negotiations with Israel. This essay calls this group the Old Guard.
The Young Guard refers to newly emerging local leaders as well as the former leaders of the first intifada. They tend to be young, below or around 40 years of age. Although some individuals from this group are members of the PA Cabinet and the PLC, and few are heads or senior members of security services, the group as a whole lacks cohesion, leadership, and de jure power. Indeed, to some Palestinians some of the leaders of the Young Guard seem more like gangsters and warlords. Warlords, such as Sami Abu Samhadaneh in Rafah and Aatif Ebiat in Bethlehem have been targeted for assassination by the Israeli army, the latter was killed in October 2001. Other leaders of the Young Guard, such as Marwan Barghouti in Ramallah and Husam Khader in Nablus have more respectability in their communities. While the Young Guard has little voice in the main PLO institutions, it has much more relative power in the different Fateh bodies, namely the Tanzim and Fateh’s High Committee and its Revolutionary Council.
The Old Guard derives legitimacy from the PLO legacy as well as the Oslo agreement and its outcome. Its power is also derived from its control over the financial resources of the PLO and the PA, the diplomatic recognition accorded it by the international community, and the control it exercises over the main bodies and institutions of the PLO and the PA, including the bureaucracy and the security services.
The Young Guard relies on a claim to pre-Oslo legitimacy. Its power is derived from its alliance with the Islamists, the overwhelming public dissatisfaction with the peace process and the process of national reconstruction, and the support the public gives to the use of arms against the Israeli occupation forces and settlers. This support for the Young Guard neutralizes the Old Guard’s tools of coercive force and, under certain conditions, renders them almost irrelevant. While the size of the armed wing of the Young Guard may not be large, it is sufficient to allow it to take control of many of the crumbling PA civil institutions and to deter any attempts by the PA security services for a quick cragainst it.
Despite the fact that many of the institutions controlled by the Old Guard are steadily losing relevance in the face of the reality on the ground, thYoung Guard has not sought to create new institutions to compete with the old ones. Instead, the Young Guard seems to hope to eventually control the existing national institutions. For this reason, while clearly opposed to some of the steps and decisions taken by these institutions, the Young Guard has refrained from opposing them or questioning their legitimacy.
The Old Guard has a clear leadership hierarchy, even if authoritarian. At the top sits Arafat; he does not need approval from the Old Guard, nor does he need to demonstrate credibility to it. Indeed, the Old Guard seeks his approval and derives its own legitimacy from him. Its survival as a group depends on Arafat’s continued presence and support. The Young Guard too recognizes Arafat’s leadership and legitimacy. It does not, however, derive its legitimacy from him; indeed, it is he who needs to demonstrate credibility to it. By allowing the Young Guard to seek an alliance with the Islamists and to engage in armed confrontations with the Israeli army, Arafat gains the acceptance and approval of the Young Guard. Indeed, after Israel began to target the regular PA police and security forces, and despite the risks involved, he allowed units from the Presidential Guard and the intelligence services to participate in occasional attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers. Arafat’s alternative option to gain the approval of the Young Guard is to open the Palestinian political system to political participation and to encourage a true transition to democracy; something he has, thus far, sought to avoid.
The Young Guard wants more from Arafat. It demands transparency, accountability, a clean-up campaign against corruption, a comprehensive political reform, and a much greater role for security services in confrontations with Israel. Statements, issued by Fateh and the Nationalist-Islamist Committee for the Intifada, have highlighted the urgent need to fight corruption. Such a fight is seen as means of encouraging more popular participation in the intifada and of unseating all those members of the Old Guard accused of corruption. The Young Guard has also called for the establishment of a national unity government that would include, not only members from among its ranks, but also senior members of Islamists and other opposition groups. The Young Guard has strongly supported local and international demands for good governance including respect for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, stronger role for the legislature, and much stronger and more efficient public institutions.
With regard to the peace process, the Young Guard shares with the Old Guard the same goals and aspirations for an independent state, to live in peace side by side with the state of Israel, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, and with a just solution to the refugee problem. In today’s highly inflamed environment, most members of the Young Guard tend to advocate hawkish position. But this is probably a reflection of the heightened threat perception generated by the daily bloodshed. Indeed, some members of the group, such as Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al Quds University and Arafat’s representative in East Jerusalem, advocate very moderate views and indeed oppose the resort by the Young Guard to arms.
For now however, the Young Guard is strongly opposed to any cease-fire agreement that would entail a crackdown on nationalist or Islamist activists. Indeed, it has expressed public opposition to both, the Mitchell Report and the Tenet Plan. In fact, it wants Arafat to “come out of the closet,” by publicly endorsing its intifada goals and methods and by ordering all PA security forces to join the armed confrontations. In its eyes, this would be the ultimate test of credibility. The Old Guard, on the other hand, is highly skeptical of the efficacy of violence. Indeed, it is greatly critical of the involvement of some of PA security forces in the confrontations. For now, many members of the Old Guard are convinced that Arafat can not seriously confront the Young Guard in the absence of a reasonable chance for a peace agreement with Israel. In fact, some accept the argument that the occasional participation of official security services in the fighting against Israel is essential for pragmatic considerations: when the time comes to put an end to the armed confrontations, only those in the security services with a credible record of fighting the Israelis will have the legitimacy and the resolve to confront and detain those who may wish to continue the fight.
Some non-PA members of the Old Guard have sought to distance themselves from the PA Old Guard and to establish a new forum for political mobilization and reform. In January 2001, the Speaker of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) called for the establishment of a “National Independence Organization,” and demanded that the PA fully addresses problems of corruption and the absence of the rule of law, put on trial those accused of corruption, respect and implement decisions of the courts, and call upon the cabinet to resign in order to form a new one and appoint a prime minister. The Young Guard was not quick to embrace the call of the PNC speaker as it suspected the motivation behind the call and sought to gain strength and assert itself, not through the open condemnation of the PA’s Old Guard, but through defeating the Israeli army through the use of arms.
The Young Guard differentiates itself from the Old Guard through the way it defines victory in its battle against occupation. The Old Guard seeks a negotiated settlement that meets the vital needs of the Palestinians. Such an outcome would not only end occupation, but would also allow the Old Guard to remain in power for years to come. The Young Guard on the other hand does not, for now, define victory in a negotiated outcome. An Israeli unilateral withdrawal or separation would fit perfectly well with the Young Guard’s definition of victory, as it can be viewed as comparable to the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon under the pressure of Hizbullah. Such an outcome would render the Old Guard’s leadership irrelevant and useless and would elevate the Young Guard to leadership position. The Young Guard cannot, however, oppose a negotiated settlement supported by the majority of the Palestinians if one becomes feasible. But it realizes that only the Old Guard can negotiate such a settlement. The Young Guard lacks the capacity to conduct serious negotiations with the Israelis: it is short of a unified national leadership and a well-articulated vision, as well as knowledge of, experience, and contacts with Israelis.
In the initial period of the intifada, the Old Guard welcomed the popular uprising hoping that it would strengthen its negotiating position in the face of Sharon’s provocation. Yet it had never been certain that once started, the Old Guard would have the capacity to bring it to a halt or even to publicly oppose it. The Young Guard on the other hand saw the intifada as the means to express opposition to the efforts of the Old Guard to bring about an end to occupation through negotiations. The failure at Camp David affirmed the Young Guard’s belief that only through popular and armed confrontation can the Palestinians bring about an end to occupation. Even though it does not publicly oppose it, the Young Guard has little or no confidence in the current diplomatic process. Instead, it hopes that by increasing the cost of occupation, it could force Israel to unilaterally withdraw its army from Palestinian areas, just as it did from South Lebanon.
In pursuing the intifada through armed confrontations, the Young Guard sought a second objective: to insure their dominance in the post-intifada/post-occupation era. In the meanwhile, by creating armed militias, the Young Guard was able to fill a power vacuum left by crumbling PA institutions. PA security services, armed but not part of the confrontation with Israel, could not challenhighly popular and armed militias engaged in confrontations with Israeli forces.
To increase the intifada’s pressure on Israel and to strengthen its doposition vis-à-vis the Old Guard, the Young Guard formed an alliance with the Islamists and other opposition forces. Despite the perceived long term Islamist threat, the Young Guard preferred to have the Islamists in its coalition and under its leadership recalling that in the first intifada, the Islamists created their own parallel leadership, institutions and strike forces.
Obviously the division along Young Guard vs. Old Guard is not the only consequential division in Palestinian politics and society. We have already referred to the nationalist-Islamist divide. There is still one more. Many influential members, in both the Young Guard and the Old Guard, continue to view the success of the Oslo peace process as a vital national interest. Young Guard members, particularly those already integrated into the PA and PLO institutions, such as Mohammad Dahlan, head of the Preventive Security service in the Gaza Strip and Jibril al Rojoub, head of the same security service in the West Bank (also others who have been influenced by the non-violent techniques of the first intifada, such as Sari Nusseibeh), are united with the majority of those in the Old Guard, in their opposition to the violent dimensions of the current one. However, under the current political stalemate and given the overwhelming support for armed confrontations in the Palestinian street, this group and the PA institutions and security services they control, remain marginal. But under certain scenarios, discussed in the following section, some of them can play a highly critical role in shaping Palestinian domestic outcomes.
Domestic Dynamics under Three Scenarios
One can view the future of Palestinian domestic dynamics in light of three possible scenarios: a continuation of the status quo, an Israeli unilateral separation, and a negotiated settlement. A continuation of the status quo assumes that violence will continue to be initiated by Israel, the Young Guard, as well the Islamists and other groups opposed to the PA, but that the PA, with or without Arafat at the helm, will remain largely reactive. It does not exclude the possibility of a serious violent escalation along the way. The continuation of the status quo serves well the interests of the Islamists. An Israeli unilateral separation, on the other hand, would benefit the Young Guard. This second scenario assumes an Israeli army withdrawal from certain parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with the possibility that such a withdrawal would be accompanied by an evacuation of several isolated and sparsely populated settlements and outposts. The scenario assumes that Arafat remains in his current position, but it does not exclude the possibility that he may no longer be present. The third scenario assumes that a negotiated settlement of some sort has been reached with Arafat. The settlement might be a transitional or a permanent one. This last scenario would clearly serve the interests of the Old Guard.
The continuation of the status quo will most likely allow existing dynamics to proceed with little obstacles. In such a case, support among Palestinians for the peace process and the compromises entailed in it will continue to decrease while support for violence will remain high. The legitimacy of the PA will continue to diminish and along with it the popularity of Arafat. Within the national movement, conflict between the Young Guard and the Old Guard will continue to weaken the movement with the Young Guard gaining greater autonomy and weight while the voice of the Old Guard gradually disappearing.
In the absence of an alternative leadership, Arafat will probably assume full leadership of the Young Guard, but his room for maneuver will be extremely constrained. His absence from the scene can hasten the demise of the Old Guard and create greater opportunity for internal infighting within the Young Guard with many vying for leadership. Young guard leaders, currently integrated into the PA, such as Dahlan and Rojoub, will most probably join forces with other Young Guard members providing them with much needed foot-soldiers, added public support, and above all political respectability. In the meanwhile, with Arafat present or absent, the overall domestic balance of power will continue to shift towards the Islamists who will probably succeed in few years to become the mainstream with a majority of the Palestinian street supporting them. Indeed, current ideological and societal shifts toward conservatism and political Islam will probably intensify.
An Israeli unilateral separation fits perfectly well with the Young Guard’s definition of victory. In the absence of a negotiated outcome, the search in Israel for an alternative to the status quo will continue. The policy of unilateral separation might seem attractive to some Israelis because it does not require a partner on the other side. As more and more Israelis reach the conclusion that the Palestinians cannot or will not accept the compromise offered by their governments, they become convinced that separation is the way out as the means to reduce Israel’s vulnerabilities. Building a wall of separation is supported by a majority of Israelis today. The extent of support depends on the size of Israeli army withdrawal from Palestinian areas and the number of settlements that would have to be evacuated. The larger the withdrawal and the evacuation are, the more lukewarm the support becomes. Nonetheless, sufficient support among most or all groups across the political spectrum provides a realistic basis for this scenario.
Forcing Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian areas will be compared by the Young Guard to the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. The PA is likely to behave in the same manner as the Lebanese government did, while the Young Guard is likely to behave like Hizbullah. In other words, the PA is not likely to assume control over the newly evacuated territory and settlements. The Young Guard and the Islamists will most likely declare these areas liberated and use them as bases from which to continue the war against the Israeli army in the zones remaining occupied. The alliance between the Young Guard and the Islamists is likely to be strengthened.
The ability of the Old Guard to use the occasion of the Israeli withdrawal as an opportunity to restart the negotiations is likely to be scuttled by the Young Guard. Indeed, the Young Guard will most likely utilize the circumstances of its “victory” as an occasion to openly defy and perhaps even displace the Old Guard, and thus consolidate its leadership of the national movement. Arafat will remain the only viable leader for the Young Guard until such a time as an alternative leadership, with national rather than local credential, emerges. His absence would hasten the search for new national leaders from among the Young Guard, but it may not necessarily engender greater infighting among the Young Guard. This would be particularly true if, as expected, senior Young Guard members, currently integrated into the PA, would join forces with the Young Guard. This “bandwagon” process may involve not only security chiefs referred to earlier, but also members of the Young Guard currently in senior bureaucratic positions. Interpreted as a clear victory for the Young Guard, Israeli unilateral withdrawal will dramatically increase public support for the national movement and thus impede efforts by the Islamists to secure hegemony.
A negotiated outcome can be arrived at only with the Old Guard. For the Old Guard, such an outcome could be a lifeline. The Young Guard cannot arrive at a negotiated settlement, even if it wanted one; it is leaderless, lack a clear overall vision, and has no previous dealings with the Israelis. In any case, it would be almost unimaginable for the Young Guard, who has been very critical of the Old Guard’s handling of negotiations with the Israel, to agree to something that the Old Guard could not accept at Camp David and later at Taba.
In thiscenario, the Old Guard reasserts its leadership reaching an agreement that finds support among the majority of the Palestinian stre. The Young Guard, in an alliance with the Islamists, will probably seek to torpedo any negotiated efforts, but public support for an agreement would most likely render futile attempts by the Young Guard to oppose it. More significantly, PA-integrated Young Guard security chiefs are likely to give their support, in this scenario, to the Old Guard thus tipping the scales against any violent dissent by the Young Guard. A negotiated deal with Israel, particularly if accompanied by a process of domestic political reform, can extend the life of the leadership of Old Guard. It can also open the way for more peaceful and perhaps fruitful efforts to reintegrate the two branches of the national movement in a way that can unify the two and thereby weaken the appeal of the Islamists.
What Negotiated Outcome?
But is a negotiated outcome possible? Three options are available: a comprehensive agreement, a stabilization package, and a mid-term transitional arrangement. None seems likely today. But with some American and European vision and leadership, certainly Arafat, but even Sharon, might be convinced to accept a stabilization package along the lines described below.
A Comprehensive Agreement
A comprehensive agreement would solve all the issues of conflict, including Jerusalem and refugees, thereby put an end to the conflict. As demonstrated by various Palestinian-Israeli rounds of negotiations since Camp David, a comprehensive agreement is feasible. If and when the two sides return to serious negotiation, it will most likely seek to complete the work started with the Clinton ideas in December 2000 and built on at Taba in January 2001.
For this option to become a reality, three conditions need to be met. None exists today. These are: a change of government in Israel that would bring about a leadership and a coalition less wedded to greater Israel ideology, a determined and devoted US leadership that is committed to make the process succeed, and a unity of purpose between the Old Guard and the Young Guard in the Palestinian community and leadership. This last condition could be met through domestic political reform that seeks to open the political system and to create a viable partnership between the two groups.
Furthermore, Israeli and Palestinian publics are highly skeptical of the ability of the two sides to reach such an agreement. Indeed, neither public is willing, under the present conditions of heightened threat perception, to support the painful compromises required for a successful process of full reconciliation. This should not lead to despair; but rather to the conclusion that only a strong leadership, one with a strong perception of legitimacy, can have the courage to take this path. Once reached, the two publics will most likely support such compromises, but not a day before.
On the Palestinian side, a comprehensive agreement can only be reached with the Old Guard leading the process but with the acquiescence of the emerging leaders of the Young Guard. Under the present conditions, in which political reform is absent, this is an unlikely outcome. On the Israeli side, such an agreement can be reached with a government that views Israeli democracy, combined with a Jewish character of the state, as preferable to a control over the land of “greater Israel” even if through continued occupation. With the current governmental coalition in Israel, such a development is highly unlikely.
A stabilization package can only serve as a stop-gap measure aiming at creating the necessary conditions for reducing mutually perceived threats, restoring public confidence in the peace process, and facilitating a return to a more promising final status negotiations. Such a package would include the following elements: a cessation of all forms of violence, a return to the pre intifada military deployment, a freeze on settlement building, an implementation of existing interim commitments most notably a credible Israeli redeployment from area “C” accompanied by PA implementation of its own interim commitments, and a return to final status negotiations. The publics on both sides are willing to support such a stabilization package as it can be rightly described and packaged as a more constructive way of implementing existing agreements.
For a successful conclusion of a stabilization package, the current Israeli government could be made a partner, as it does not require it to fully renounce its “Greater Israel” leanings. There would be a need for a more active role for the international community, including the US, something that has been made easier since 11 September 2001. On the Palestinian side, a full integration of the Young Guard into the political system and its decision-making bodies would be essential for a successful implementation of a stabilization package. In the absence of such integration, the Old Guard would be required to enforce an unpopular cease-fire against a potentially strong and violent resistance by the Young Guard in the nationalist movement and the armed wings of the Islamist and national opposition groups. In all cases, some minor violence is likely to linger threatening to poison the environment and eventually destroy the process of stabilization unless efforts to bring about a comprehensive agreement succeed first.
Stabilization requires multinational monitoring as a confidence building measure. Monitoring makes it difficult for the Young Guard to openly engage in initiated attacks against Israeli targets without openly defying and embarrassing Arafat. Therefore, the deployment of monitors increases the cost of cease-fire violation and increases the chances that the cease-fire will be self-enforced. Indeed, by placing responsibility for failure on those who ignore the terms of agreement, monitoring deters violation and insures compliance by both sides. It also helps each side verify the intentions of the other when monitors are given access to areas and information. Finally, monitoring can provide independent means of triggering the implementation of the different phases of the agreement and thereby provide an incentive for each side to fully comply with terms applying to it.
Monitoring, however, cannot solve the problem of “impasse,” as the two sides may have legitimate grievances that cannot be addressed through good intentions alone. Those grievances may lead either or both sides to freeze the implementation of their commitments or even to act in ways contrary to the explicit articles of the agreement. To provide means to partially address the issue of impasse, one may seek to upgrade the monitoring function by adding a political role to it, whereby senior officials from the countries involved in the monitoring process, may meet regularly to assess the whole process of implementation and negotiations.
On the Palestinian side, like in the first option, only the Old Guard can lead the process of negotiations toward stabilization. The Young Guard, however, would most likely seek to impede the process of stabilization if they perceive it as a means to reestablish and consolidate the control of the Old Guard. Needless to say, the Young Guard has already succeeded in imposing a de facto control over many or most of the PA civil institutions, and along with the Islamist, has greatly penetrated the PA security services.
On the Israeli side, stabilization will require steps that will most likely have an impact on the Jewish settlement enterprise. A complete freeze on settlement building will pose a serious threat to the viability of that enterprise, as it will impede settlers’ efforts to create facts on the ground and, thereby, keep alive the option of “greater Israel” and prevent the advancement toward a permanent settlement. The settlement enterprise will also suffer a serious setback when the Israeli army carries out, under this option, a third redeployment from area “C” in the West Bank. Indeed, a full and credible third redeployment would require the evacuation of many small and isolatsettlements and outposts, most built or inhabited since the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993. Such an eis likely to be opposed by the settlers and their right wing supporters in the current governmental coalition. While this may not necessarily bring down the Sharon government, it will clearly weaken the right wing support for Sharon.
A Mid-Term Transition Arrangement
The stabilization option can be upgraded to serve as a mid-term transition arrangement. Sharon may want to call this option a “long term interim agreement.” Arafat may prefer to call it a new and improved mechanism for the implementation of the existing Interim Agreement. Under an appropriate packaging, an upgraded stabilization package can be sold to both Israeli and Palestinian publics.
Under this option, four additional components would be added to those already listed above. These would include: an Israeli evacuation of the whole Gaza Strip including the removal of all settlements in the strip, an added Israeli redeployment measures in the West Bank that would insure full Palestinian territorial contiguity, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and extending the mandate of the international monitors to include the supervision of Israeli force deployment and Palestinian control over international border crossings. Israeli Foreign Minister has already advocated most of these components. Sharon has reportedly been willing to discuss the Gaza evacuation since his first visit to the US as a Prime Minister. He has repeatedly declared his willingness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state that has contiguous territory.
The dramatic events of September 11 had a significant but temporary impact on domestic Palestinian conditions. International outrage and disgust with terrorism and the determination shown by the US and other Western countries to form a world alliance to combat it created certain fears and provided opportunities for the Palestinians. Arafat was determined to avoid any association with terror against civilians and eager to show solidarity with the US. Most Palestinians, including the Young Guard, were fearful that Israel would take advantage of the human tragedy and launch a devastating attack against the PA-controlled areas. In addition, Palestinian Islamists feared association, whether organizational or in goals and methods, with the terrorist group responsible for the attacks against the US. Such an association would have made them an immediate target for US retaliation. Therefore, for them, the immediate aftermath of the attack was not the appropriate time to engage in suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. For the Young Guard, the alliance it had with the Islamists threatened to become a liability, while Arafat’s and the Old Guard’s international credentials became an asset and a cover to be sought after. For Arafat, the cost of continued appeasement of the Young Guard had just increased many folds; with international attention focused elsewhere, he feared for his own survival.
Furthermore, the need for an Arab and Islamic support for the US war against terror provided opportunities. It was only in the aftermath of similar conditions, in the Gulf war of 1990-91, that an American administration exerted sufficient pressure on the then right wing Israeli government of Yitzhak Shamir to go to the Madrid international peace conference. Arafat and the Old Guard hoped for something similar this time. They effectively employed pressure and persuasion against the Young Guard who were disposed to accept a temporary calm. Even the Islamists were willing to go along. In addition to wanting to deny Sharon the opportunity to strike at them with impunity, the two allied groups were skeptical about the chances for a political breakthrough and convinced that Sharon was not going to play along an American tune in the same way Shamir did.
So far, they have been proven right. Committed to a thesis that sees Arafat’s deliberate and calculated hand behind every violent incident, Sharon and senior members of the Israeli army and intelligence community seem to have already reached the conclusion that Arafat was no longer a partner. Indeed, they may have been engaged in a steady but piecemeal process of de-legitimation and liquidation of his authority. They have understood that the relative calm was temporary. More importantly, they have assumed that the post September 11 international diplomacy may provide him a lifeline, and they were determined to make it difficult from him to get away with it. The Israeli policy of assassination and incursions into Area A continued despite the fact that Arafat had succeeded in reducing the level of violence by more that 80% in a short period of time. In the end, the vicious cycle of violence found a way to circumvent the opportunity provided by the events of September 11. International diplomacy, unable to force Arafat to make a full commitment to the cease-fire or to check Sharon’s continued provocations, was not up to the challenge.
Arafat and the Old Guard will remain for now incapable of making a full commitment to the cease-fire. They lack the capacity to enforce one. Indeed, since the eruption of the second intifada, they have to walk a delicate tightrope: the PA no longer enjoys a monopoly over the use of force, its legitimacy is questioned by the street, the public is also very supportive of violence and highly opposed to any clampdown on the Islamists or the Young Guard, and no viable political process is looming over the horizon. If Arafat acts now against the Islamists and the Young Guard, he risks, if successful, being seen by the Palestinians as an Israeli lackey, or even a “Sa’d Haddad,” the Lebanese commander of the South Lebanon army created by Israel in the late 1970s to provide security for Northern Israel. If unsuccessful, he faces the prospects of civil war. His choices are therefore limited. Under a changed political environment, one in which Arafat obtains legitimacy and public support, he can move to enforce a cease-fire. A viable political process, initiated and led by the US and supported by the international community, can help trigger the required change. September 11th notwithstanding, the chances today for such an international effort are slim.
If the current situation is bad, imagine how it will be without Arafat. Today, his leadership is the glue that keeps together the Old Guard and the Young Guard preventing a full and immediate take-over by the former. Despite his poor communication skills, Arafat continues to give the Palestinian public a sense of stability preventing large-scale violations of law and order. His presence deters the Islamists from posing an immediate threat to the shaky dominance of the nationalists. In his absence, all hell could break lose. Arafat and the PA have an alternative to this bleak future: instead of waiting for an American-international peace plan, they can embark, now, on a process of political reform. By doing so, Arafat and the national movement can regain the support of most Palestinians and at the same time integrate the Young Guard into the PA. Indeed, for Arafat, Old Guard, and all Palestinians, the message is clear: reform or perish.
Khalil Shikaki, an associate professor of political science, currently teaching at Bir Zeit University. He is the director of The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Ramallah.
(1) Data cited in this section are based on more than 75 surveys conducted by the author between 1993 and 2001. The surveys were conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including Arab East Jerusalem. The sample size in each of the surveys ranged between 1300-2000 persons in face-to-face interviews. For details, visit the website of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research at www.pcpsr.org.
(2) For more details on the period between 1993-98, see, Khalil Shikaki, “Peace Now or Hamas Later,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 1998, pp. 29-43.
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