With Arafat’s death, there has been an unprecedented amount of optimism in the West regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state and the possibility of peace. Yet amongst Palestinian officials there is little talk of such a peace, the continuation of Yasser Arafat’s “jihad” against the Jewish state instead being endorsed. (To watch examples of these statements, visit www.memritv.org.)
Some members of the Palestinian establishment close to Arafat are now stating in public that he never really wanted peace, and instead considered the Oslo Accords a strategy to destroy Israel in phases. It was reported on November 21 that Abd Al-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, discussed a meeting he held with Arafat shortly before the latter’s return to Gaza from Tunis. When Atwan criticized the Oslo Accords, Arafat reassured him: “The day will come when you will see thousands of Jews fleeing Palestine. I will not live to see this, but you will definitely see it in your lifetime. The Oslo Accords will help bring this about.”
The Palestinian ambassador in Iran, Salah Al-Zawawi, explained in an interview on Iranian Al-Alam TV on November 12: “[Arafat] knew that this path is the path of martyrdom and Jihad. He knew that this great cause requires martyrs, not leaders…. He fought the Jihad and we saw him in many battles…if you ask me what will surely be the end of this Zionist entity, I will say to you that this entity will disappear one of these days…It’s a matter of time…. Our phased plan, which I already mentioned, is to establish an independent sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital….”
Similiarly, Palestinian analyst Yunis Udeh told London’s ANB TV November 11: “When we told him [Arafat] that the road to Oslo would mean the termination of the Palestinian cause, he said, ‘I am hammering the first nail in the Zionist coffin.’… I asked him how. He said: ‘I will go to Gaza, I will return to Palestine….”
Fatah Supreme Council Member Abu Ali Shahin also hinted in an interview on November 13 on Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV that Yasser Arafat considered the Oslo Accords a strategic move to destroy Israel: “Yasser Arafat led a revolution, a revolution of a barrel of gunpowder alongside a barrel of petrol…. But when Yasser Arafat saw that the USSR…collapsed without a single shot being fired…. Arafat understood this great international game. He made a 180-degree turn…. He accepted…Madrid, and after it Oslo….”
Countless Palestinian officials have also spoken about continuing the violent campaign against Israel. Fatah leader Hussein Al-Sheikh told Al-Arabiyya TV on November 11: “The gun Yasser Arafat raised…will be raised by…the Palestinian people, so they continue to believe that the gun is the way to get rid of this occupation, the shortest way to get rid of this occupation. This is Abu Ammar’s promise and this is his will, and we will continue to be true to them.”
Also on November 11, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader Raid Al-Aidi said on Al-Arabiyya TV, “We call from here to all the heroes…[to] strike this occupier anywhere, with no holds barred. We…will direct our painful blows against this monstrous entity. The Palestinian state will be achieved only by strengthening the resistance…. This occupier understands only the language of gunfire and gunpowder and we will teach this occupier, Allah willing, a lesson as we have taught it in the past, in Tel Aviv, Hadera, and everywhere. We will escalate our blows against this occupier….”
In the same program, Fatah Central Committee member Hani Al-Hassan explained that, “In Fatah we have a rule: the armed struggle sows and the political struggle reaps…. Therefore, when Oslo didn’t bring results, the sowing came in the form of the Intifada…. We will see now whether the political situation allows us to reach political results and to bring about a change in our favor. Otherwise, we will go back to sowing.”
Quoting former Egyptian president Abd-Al Nasser–”what was taken by force will be restored only by force”–is how the new leader of Fatah, Faruq Al-Qaddumi, described the Palestinian strategy against Israel on Al-Arabiyya TV on November 14. Al-Qaddumi has considerable popularity among the Palestinian street for never accepting Oslo. With his naming as leader of Fatah, Al-Qaddumi is openly challenging Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmad Qureia to be Arafat’s successor. As he stated in the interview, “Anyone who thinks that I have abdicated my authority is mistaken.”
He explained Fatah’s position about Hamas: “The Hamas movement is our friend. It is a…movement of heroes. It is part of the national Palestinian movement. No…Fatah member could possibly harm Hamas.” Al-Qaddumi is also close to Hezbollah, and during a meeting with Sheikh Nasrallah on September 4, 2003, they discussed “cohesion between the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance.”
At a memorial for Arafat on November 23, Al-Qaddumi explained, “We can not achieve these goals except through continued resistance by all methods and means.” He has also called for attacking U.S. interests throughout the world.
The Palestinian leadership is not alone in stating in public that terrorist attacks against Israel must continue. The Arabic and Iranian press have been particularly vocal. In response to an interviewer’s question as to whether the Intifada will continue and grow stronger, Lebanese MP Zaher Al-Khatib said on November 13: “It will escalate and develop technologically. The martyrdom operations are no longer the only kind of operations in Palestine. The martyrdom operations have become a strategy. A strategy doesn’t mean that we carry out these operations whenever possible; it means [real] military operations…. There is an infrastructure of resistance that wages battles, enters Ashdod, crosses borders, penetrates military zones, conducts operations as in Ashdod, and so on.”
American officials intimately involved in the Oslo Accords now publicly state that more attention should have been paid to the issue of Palestinian incitement, and what the Arabs were saying amongst themselves about peace in Arabic. With Yasser Arafat gone, the U.S. should be paying close attention to his heirs to understand their true intentions.
–Steven Stalinsky is executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).