'Rage Over Slain Policemen Led Palestinians to Defy Arafat'

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A Palestinian youth flashes a V-sign on the 53rd anniversary of "Al Nakbah"

Was the intensity of Tuesday's "Al Nakbah" day demonstrations, during which four Palestinians and one Israeli were killed, a sign of continued Palestinian militancy despite what they've endured over eight months of the intifada?

Jamil Hamad: The outburst we saw yesterday was not about "Al Nakbah," (the day Palestinians commemorate the founding of the State of Israel and the expulsion of Palestinian refugees as "The Catastrophe"). It was a direct response to the killing of five Palestinian policemen by Israeli forces on Monday. Yasser Arafat's orders for Nakbah day were simple: Let's observe the day peacefully with marches and speeches. He expressly said Palestinians should avoid confronting the Israelis along the Green Line that separates the West Bank from Israel.

But the killing of the five policemen flared up the situation, and made it very difficult to control the emotions of ordinary people. The policemen were killed while they were sleeping, and the Israeli army has since admitted that it may have been a mistake. And that made the whole Palestinian community extremely angry, and that provoked fierce confrontations. Even if it wasn't Nakbah day, the anger and wildness would be the same.

Why did Arafat want to avoid confrontation? Is it because the Palestinian Authority now appears to be making a diplomatic push for implementation of the recommendations of Senator George Mitchell's investigation, some of which are unacceptable to the Israelis?

In Arafat's speech, which was taped because he'd gone off to Egypt on this day when he is supposed to be with his people, he kept the door open to negotiations despite all the emotion. But the fighting that's going on now is not simply over settlements; it's over the conditions for peace. But with both sides referring to each other as the enemy, what peace are we talking about? Both sides are fighting a losing battle, because neither is able to get peace on their terms.

Arafat in his speech yesterday called for Israel to withdraw to its pre-June 1967 borders, and to allow the return of Palestinian refugees. But this is wishful thinking, because he's asking for these things but in reality he can't even move a single Israeli tank back five meters. Both sides need to stop their wishful thinking — the Israelis had dreamed of Palestine without one Palestinian, and the Palestinians have dreamed of Palestine without a single Jew. But the Jews are there, like it or not, and the Palestinians are there, like it or not.

But there is a lack of new ideas and initiatives on both sides to get out of the situation, right now. They're stuck calling each other names.

What have the events of the past eight months done for Arafat's political standing and authority among Palestinians?

His political authority has suffered a lot during the intifada. Palestinians are suffering economically and psychologically, and from severe restriction of movement. The Israeli army has made their lives hell. And Palestinians are not only blaming Israel, they're also blaming the Palestinian Authority for not handling the situation properly, for having no plan to deal with the difficulties created by the intifada. And the intifada has hardened the resolve of the Palestinian militants who believe that the armed struggle is the only way to get the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza, which is a problem for Arafat. Right now, though, the more immediate problem is that there's an atmosphere of war in Gaza.