by N Janardhan
(IPS) DUBAI --
twenty-nine months after the 'intifada' or uprising against the Israeli occupation began, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is re-evaluating the effectiveness of armed resistance and is considering reverting to negotiations to realize its dream of independence.
The first concrete step at "demilitarization" of the freedom struggle came on Saturday, when the Palestinian leadership insisted that all factions that wish to take part in inter-Palestinian talks in Cairo scheduled for this week must sign a proposed moratorium on attacks against Israel before the meeting.
"The Cairo talks must be based on an agreement and not on dialogue and negotiation," Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) deputy chief Mahmud Abbas told Palestinian radio.
"Contacts are currently underway between the Palestinian factions to reach an agreement and announce a year-long truce before we go to Cairo," said Abbas, better known by his nom de guerre of Abu Mazen.
Though he stopped short of clearly calling for an end to the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation, the wording implied an end to attacks not only against civilians inside Israel, but also Jewish settlers and soldiers, going further than past calls by the Palestinian leadership.
An outspoken opponent of the militarisation of the 'intifada', Abu Mazen -- a likely candidate for the new post of prime minister -- said the leadership had taken an unequivocal, strategic decision in favor of a truce.
The reason for the shift in strategy, apart from U.S. pressure, lies in the "fatigue factor" among the people, not to mention political and economic difficulties.
Starting Sept. 28, 2000, about 3,000 people -- mostly Palestinians -- have died. Much of the territories administered by the PNA have been reoccupied by Israel, and unemployment and poverty are taking their toll.
But Abu Mazen's call was swiftly rejected by hard-line Palestinian factions. Some of the main resistance groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed offshoot of Arafat's own Fatah faction -- have refused to fall in line.
They rejected the truce proposal at a previous round of talks in Cairo last month, and now claim that the only way Israeli "civilians can be spared from the fighting is if the Zionist enemy undertakes to stop killing Palestinian civilians".
In turn, despite the talk of ceasefire and Palestinian efforts to evolve a consensus, Israel has stepped up its crackdown and its troops have killed nearly 50 Palestinians in the last nine days.
The reason for Israeli intransigence lies in the United States' preoccupation with Iraq. Senior State Department official William Burns told Palestinian leaders in London last week that there is no prospect of the peace process moving forward until after the crisis with Iraq is resolved.
That statement appeared enough for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has successfully formed a government after last month's elections, to adopt an even more belligerent stand. On Friday, he ruled out the division of Jerusalem or the return of Palestinian refugees from negotiations, two key Palestinian and Arab demands for peace.
Sharon's public objection came hours after it was revealed that Israel is demanding more than 100 changes to the U.S. "road map" toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, boosting the fears of many that Sharon is not serious about peace.
Critics meantime say that Palestinians are continuously being driven by the demands of the United States, largely influenced by Israel and the Jewish lobby in the U.S.
In trying to meet the demands for political reforms in the PNA, President Yasser Arafat said on Friday that he would appoint a prime minister, a condition that Washington set for negotiations to resume in an attempt to limit Arafat's influence.
Islamic Jihad has charged that the Palestinian leadership was allowing itself to be "manipulated by Sharon" in expending so much energy on a document that was "contrary to the higher interests" of the Palestinian people.
"There is no agreement nor an official invitation for the resumption of talks," Hamas official Osama Hamdan said on Al Jazeera television channel on Sunday.
"A truce under the current political circumstances and developments on the ground amounts to an acknowledgement of defeat," Hamdan said. "Resistance must continue, Palestinian political aims will be achieved by resistance, not a truce."
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, however, lent some hope that their stand may change when he told the Cairo-based 'Al-Ahram Weekly' last month that the present focus is to "establish Palestinian unity and put an end to internal chaos and disagreements which only serve the interests of the Zionists".
"We want to develop a political vision on how to manage the resistance and the 'intifada' to make it more effective," he added.
Another factor that may force Hamas to change its stand is the Israeli army announcement that it is ready to wage an all-out war against the group if it failed to sign up to the proposed moratorium, according to a report in Tel Aviv's 'Haaretz' last week.
But in a situation of shifting sands, Israeli political developments have the potential to make the Palestinian groups more defiant.
Sharon's Likud Party and the right-wing National Religious Party (NRP) signed an agreement under which the NRP would join a coalition government. NRP leader Effi Eitam is opposed to any future Palestinian state and told army radio that Likud had agreed to let Jewish settlements grow.
On Monday, the right-right secular Shinui party also joined Sharon's Likud party in a coalition government.
February 25, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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