Palestinians Divided

Courtesy Reuters


Has Yasir Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), orchestrated and led the second Palestinian intifada in order to gain popularity and legitimacy while weakening Israel and forcing it to accept extreme Palestinian demands? Or has the uprising been a spontaneous response by an enraged but disorganized Palestinian "street" to Likud Party leader (and later Israeli Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon's September 2000 visit to the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al Haram al Sharif, and the failure of the Oslo peace process to produce an end to Israeli military occupation? Most Israelis take the first position, whereas most Palestinians take the second. Both are mistaken.

The truth is that the intifada that began in late September 2000 has been a response by a "young guard" in the Palestinian nationalist movement not only to Sharon's visit and the stalled peace process, but also to the failure of the "old guard" in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to deliver Palestinian independence and good governance. The young guard has turned to violence to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip unilaterally (as it withdrew from South Lebanon in May 2000) and simultaneously to weaken the Palestinian old guard and eventually displace it.

More than a year into the intifada, the young guard's commitment to both goals is unshakable, and with some reason. The Israelis have begun seriously to consider unilateral withdrawal, and the young guard has assumed de facto control over most PA civil institutions, penetrated PA security services, and forced Arafat to appease the newcomers for fear of losing his own legitimacy or bringing on a Palestinian civil war. In fact, at this point only the prospect of a truly viable peace process and a serious PA commitment to good governance can provide Israel and the old guard with an exit strategy for their current predicaments.


The intifada has crystallized two important trends within

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