December 28, 1998
Details of the Palestinian plan — prevent attacks, downplay the intention to
declare a Palestinian state, and recruit Israeli Arabs for one political party that
will run its own candidate for prime minister — all designed to remove
Netanyahu from power.
The decision to dissolve the Knesset and call an election was received in
Arafat’s office with a mixture of satisfaction and concern. “Inshallah, the main
thing is that a new prime minister must be elected,” they responded. “Barak,
Shahak, Meridor — just not Netanyahu.”
For Arafat, the main objective has been, and remains, to establish a Palestinian
state inside the 1967 borders — with its capital in eastern Jerusalem. If
possible, he would prefer to do this in full coordination with Israel, but he
believes that Netanyahu will never agree. And, if Netanyahu should win another
election, he would return to office far more powerful, and even more
determined to freeze the political process.
This is why Arafat is now holding a series of marathon meetings with his team
of advisers, with whose help he is trying to design a policy to influence the
results of the election and do everything possible in order to replace Netanyahu
and his government, whom the Palestinians view as the greatest obstacle to
achieving their national goals.
Officially, the Palestinians are declaring that the elections are an internal Israeli
affair, but in reality, they are both very interested and significantly confident in
their ability to influence their outcome. Nobody there has forgotten the Molotov
cocktails thrown in Jericho on the eve of the 1988 elections, when the deaths
of Rachel Weiss and her three children, according to many, returned the Likud
They have also not forgotten the massive terrorist attacks of 1996
which assisted Netanyahu’s election bid — and neither have Israeli Arabs, who
then refrained from casting their ballots in protest over the shelling of Kafr Kana
in Lebanon and, according to the Palestinians, thereby enabled Netanyahu to
ascend to power.
“This time, we will not repeat past mistakes,”
say senior Palestinian Authority officials, who are currently engaged in devising
plans of action in advance of the election. “We want to remove
Netanyahu from power.”
And indeed, a not coincidental silence now prevails over the Palestinian
Authority. From conversations with members of its leadership, it arises that a
preliminary program and action plans for the Israeli elections have already been
formulated. The program is influenced by Palestinian desires for an Israeli
government that will not only implement the Wye accord, but will also be
capable of coordinating activities en route to the Palestinian Authority’s primary
objective — the creation of a Palestinian state.
In the first stage, the Palestinians intend to follow through on all their Wye
commitments, despite the fact that Israel has frozen its implementation of the
agreement — in the belief that the Palestinian Authority will thus assume a
positive image of responsibility in the eyes of the world, appearing as a body
which continues to honor agreements, even as the Israelis violate them.
In fact, the Palestinian Authority does not intend to concede the option of
declaring independence on 4 May 1999, but it will downplay statements on the
issue in order not to anger the Israeli public or provide ammunition for the Israeli
right. If Labor wins, the Palestinians will try to achieve this goal through
agreement and coordination. If the Likud wins, they will declare independence
On the security front, the Palestinians intend to block all attempts at
perpetrating terrorist attacks. “We have already reached the conclusion that
Hamas will not be permitted to perpetrate attacks as on the eve of the 1996
elections,” say sources in Gaza. “Attacks will strengthen Netanyahu and return
him to office.”
In order to fulfil these missions, the Palestinian Authority plans to unite
Palestinian ranks, improve its relations with the opposition (especially Hamas),
and arrive at 4 May as a unified entity. A decision to this effect was already
made last weekend by the Palestinian Cabinet, which also decided to initiate a
conciliatory dialogue with all opposition groups. Lifting the terms of Sheikh
Yassin’s house arrest was a first step in this direction. An additional step is
Arafat’s expected meeting with DFLP leader Nayef Hawatmeh.
The decisions speak of providing a solid foundation for Palestinian society, as
well as its economy and institutions, by winning over Palestinian hearts and
minds via the media (radio and television) and the Fatah tanzim apparatus.
The Palestinians are also planning to take certain measures on the international
stage — including, first and foremost, moves to improve relations with the
United States, their new strategic asset. The Palestinians will call on the US to
continue playing an important mediator role in the implementation of the Wye
agreements, and to press Israel for compliance with its conditions.
If Israel continues to be intransigent, it will be portrayed abroad as being
anti-peace — while the Palestinian Authority is positively depicted as a
state-in-the-making that champions a peaceful solution. This policy will be set in
motion by demonstrating responsibility and statesmanship, even toward the
currently non-existent political process.
The Palestinian Authority is even interested in harnessing Israeli Arabs in the
effort to topple Netanyahu, as well as in support of Palestinian interests. To this
end, the PA intends to call for the unification of all Arab lists and political
parties; preliminary contacts on this issue have already begun.
No less important is the decision to encourage massive Israeli Arab
participation in the elections in order to help bring Netanyahu down. It must be
recalled that the Arabs, especially the political leadership, maintain close links
with Arafat, and that most of them view the Palestinian Authority as a cause
which commands assistance and solidarity.
Another question currently being considered by Israeli Arabs is the idea of
submitting an Israeli Arab candidate for prime minister — in order to force
run-off ballot, when it will be possible to defeat Netanyahu.
Nevertheless, three or four months still remain until the elections and, for the
Palestinians, that is a lot of time.
Many things can change in the interim. After all, Palestinian prisoners
have yet to be released, the Israelis continue to expropriate land for the sake of
constructing by-pass roads, and no withdrawal has taken place. Settlement
activity and friction with the settlers persists, and not only in Hebron. And an
attack by the extreme Jewish right-wing could occur at any time.
These factors are liable to rekindle the Palestinian street, as occurred not long
ago during the tanzim-led ‘prisoner intifada’.
The question is: How long will Arafat manage to restrain his public? —
since, after all has been said and done, he has little to offer them but hope.