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Jewish World Review
August 2, 2004
/ 15 Menachem-Av, 5764
The coming Palestinian civil war?
After decades of struggle, the displaced Arabs of Gaza and the West Bank finally got their 'Palestinian self-rule'. Now there are regrets
RAMALLAH Now that Israel has almost beaten them into submission, Palestinians seem intent on destroying each other. Internal chaos is spreading.
In this teeming West Bank city where government leaders arrogantly flaunt their privileged status, anger is palpable everywhere. Average folks here barely make ends meet while President Yasser Arafat's cronies tool around in fancy cars, living in exquisite villas paid for, Palestinian critics charge, by graft and corruption.
The outrage and frustration is worse in Deisha near Bethlehem, a squalid refugee camp for a half-century. A humongous slum, it's a notorious haven for terrorists of every ilk, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist group that displays pictures of Che Guevara proclaiming, ''I'm a Palestinian.'' In filthy, narrow streets, surly unemployed young men glare menacingly at me and at nearby villages where politicians and bureaucrats live in luxury.
In Gaza, mobocracy reigns. Abject poverty is rampant. Last month in Khan Yunis, a rancid ghetto, the police chief warned of looming anarchy while Al Aqsa Brigades demanded free local elections (Arafat stopped the voting when his handpicked candidates were losing) and the ouster of high-ranking officials, ''thieves of public money'' who steal "national funds, property and land.''
A Palestinian journalist told me, ''I'm not justifying the occupation, but in many ways, it was better. If I had a complaint, the Israelis would resolve it. Now, our security forces 50,000 of 150,000 government employees break into homes; extort money; rape wives and daughters. A revolution has been brewing for some time. If [now-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon had not stormed onto Temple Mount (which ignited the current conflict in September 2000), there'd be a Palestinian-Palestinian intifada, not one with Israel.''
Everyone I've spoken with intensely detests three things: Israel, the United States and Arafat's ''Tunis Mafia,'' henchmen he brought here from Tunisian exile in 1993 (with Israel's acquiescence). They promptly seized the most important and lucrative positions in the newly minted Palestinian Authority, giving short shrift to citizens' needs.
''As long as the elite considers him a key factor for their future, Arafat will be there,'' predicts Israel Altman, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti oversees 79 health clinics in the West Bank. For years, he has defied the iron-fisted regime, creating the National Initiative, a coalition for democratic change to end ''prolonged suffering on both sides.'' It's ignored.
''I'm very critical of all government policy,'' Barghouti said in his Ramallah clinic. ''Criticism is growing, approval of ministers suspected of corruption is very low. A new government is needed.'' However, he believes, just like most Palestinians, that dumping Arafat isn't an option.
Hatem Abdel Khader, Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament) member, is widely respected, considered honest and sincere. ''We lack democracy and have an unhealthy system causing grave problems,'' he admits. "But our national integrity doesn't permit us to remove Arafat. Deep inside our soul, he's the symbol of our cause. After the symbol comes reform; after Arafat, there will be no more symbols.''
Having interviewed Arafat several times, I thought I might be able to speak with him. Scrutinized carefully by fierce terrorists on Israel's ''most wanted'' list who are holed up in the Mukatah, Arafat's Ramallah compound, I was escorted to his office, which is blockaded by sandbags and armed guards. Close, but no cigar.
''He's sleeping,'' his aide said apologetically. ''Maybe later.''
Right. Arafat has avoided journalists for months.
Someday, Arafat will answer for his transgressions, of which the most grievous may be: How can such callous policies be justified when they are ripping his people apart? It's a crisis that could easily lead to civil war.
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JWR contributor Ike Seamans, a columnist for the Mimi Herald, is senior correspondent for NBC 6/WTVJ News in Miami and a a former NBC News Middle East correspondent and bureau chief. He Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Ike Seamans