By Karin Laub, December 7, 2002
RAMALLAH, West Bank — After more than two years of silence, a slowly swelling chorus of
Palestinian leaders and opinion-makers says taking up arms against Israel was a mistake and
The latest voice is that of Jibril Rajoub, once the most powerful security chief in the West Bank,
who says he warned Yasser Arafat 10 days after the start of the uprising that allowing armed
gangs to take over would lead to disaster.
Rajoub’s forecast has proven chillingly accurate: 26 months later, nearly 2,000 Palestinians and
nearly 700 Israelis are dead, the Palestinian economy is crushed, Israel has reoccupied the West
Bank and Israeli travel bans have turned many Palestinian towns into virtual prison camps.
The criticism comes as possible war with Iraq looms and as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
fights for re-election against a dovish political newcomer, Amram Mitzna. But its main spur may
be signs the Palestinian public is tiring of the price for suicide bombings in Israel.
Washington has openly criticized Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, blaming it in a document this
week for failing to take steps to stop violence by Palestinian militants.
Palestinian debate about the uprising had been stifled for many reasons — Arafat’s autocratic
rule, fear of seeming disloyal and a belief the evils of the Israeli occupation dwarf any Palestinian
wrongdoing. Even critics say the initial mass protests in the fall of 2000 were a justifiable
expression of Palestinian anger over fruitless negotiations.
The debate remains hesitant and Arafat’s aides say he is not about to take on the militant
groups most likely to resist a letup in hostilities.
Arafat himself has paid dearly for the uprising. Repeated Israeli strikes have reduced his
Ramallah compound to mounds of debris and barbed wire, and Arafat to a virtual prisoner, afraid
to leave lest the Israelis bar his return.
Rajoub’s own Preventive Security Service headquarters was shelled in April, and Arafat fired him
in July after a falling out.
“Some of our people made terrible mistakes, and for this reason we paid a lot”, Rajoub said.
Arafat deputy Mahmoud Abbas had also spoken out against violence, but only in closed
That changed last month when Abbas’ office gave the Associated Press and the
London-based Al Hayat newspaper a transcript of a tough talk he had with Fatah activists in the
A November poll shows Palestinian opinion shifting. Although 90 percent of Palestinians support
attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, 56 percent now support
arresting militants to stop attacks inside Israel. As recently as May, 86 percent opposed a
crackdown on militias.
Israel is watching closely for any sign of a leadership change.
“We are seeing the buds of Palestinian recognition that the price they are paying and
have paid for their acts of foolishness will become intolerable,” said Ephraim Halevy, former
chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency.