Arafat on the brink

Rating: NNNNNTortured Arafat staked his career on balancing a volatile mix of fury and fanaticism. Can he control suicide bombers?.


Rating: NNNNN

Tortured Arafat staked his career on balancing a volatile mix of fury and fanaticism. Can he control suicide bombers? Ask if he can control what’s going on in his own organization

WHAT ARAFAT’S UP AGAINST

Palestinians injured during the intifada: 18,000

Palestinians killed: more than 1,000

Number killed who were under 18: 195

Innocent bystanders killed in Israeli assassination attempts: dozens, including at least 9 children

Number of Jewish settlements in Occupied Territories: 145

Number of homes built for Jewish settlers in Occupied Territories since 1993: 40,000

Percentage by which the population of settlers has increased since 93: 70

Palestinians held in Israeli prisons: more than 3,000

Homes demolished: 500

Land razed: at least 15,300 acres

Level of unemployment in Occupied Territories: 40 per cent

Level of poverty: 50 per cent live under the poverty line

THE CRITICS WITHIN THE PLO

FATAH (Palestinian National Liberation Movement)

Arafat’s main base of power remains divided, with at least two identifiable dissident groups — the “outsider” radicals living in exile, and the Fatah militants. Both groups oppose the Oslo Accords. Pluses: Fatah has some of the most articulate and charismatic leaders in the Occupied Territories, including Marwan al-Barghouthi, who has made political hay by pointing to Arafat’s abuses of power, corruption and arrests of opponents.

Minuses: Recently, Fatah has been forging more radical links, including with Lebanon-based group Hezbollah, and has been accused of setting up the Al-Aqsa brigades, which have taken responsibility for recent suicide attacks.

THE MAIN OPPOSITION

Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement)

Opposes the peace process. Has proclaimed holy war against Israel. Responsible for the bulk of suicide attacks. Most influential group after Fatah. Pluses: Boasts thousands of sympathizers. Gained credibility and popularity through its charitable efforts, including educational and health services in the Occupied Territories. Seen as a necessary evil by Arafat, who uses the group’s terrorism to pressure Israel.

Minuses: Faces major strategic problems. Arrest of its leaders, disarming of its units and closure of newspapers have kept Hamas from controlling mosques. It’s part of the rejectionist faction that’s been linked to efforts by Israeli intelligence to undermine peace. Some Palestinians blame Islamists for the loss of international support.

Wild card: Opposes peace process — violently so — but does not want to be held responsible for sabotaging the creation of a Palestinian state or causing civil war.

THE LEFT

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Opposes Oslo Accords. Sees the struggle for Palestine as part of a larger effort to turn Arab society into a Marxist-Leninist utopia. Tends toward violence, including hijackings.Pluses: Includes many vocal and visible intellectuals, teachers and professionals.

Minuses: Remains small. Syrian connection. On U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.

Wild card: Divisions on the left limit its appeal.Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)

Extreme-left Marxist-Maoist group. Draws most of its support from intelligentsia, mainly students abroad.Pluses: Moved toward accepting peace process. Counts Abd al-Shafi, a popular Gaza politician, among its ranks.

Minuses: Failed in several attempts to forge a broader alliance. On U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.

Wild card: Marginalized since the signing of Declaration of Principles and semi-reconciliation with Arafat in 99.

THE RADICAL FRINGE

Palestinian Peoples Party:Plays an important role locally.

Palestinian Popular Struggle Front: Extremist anti-Arafat faction that split from Fatah in 69 its members are mostly in Syria and Lebanon.

Palestinian Liberation Front: Militant PLO faction with Iraqi connection, responsible for hijacking of Achille Lauro in 85.

Islamic Jihad Movement: Militant Islamic organization formed by refugees from Gaza that advocates armed struggle.

Arab Liberation Front: Iraqi-sponsored military faction based in Baghdad and under Iraqi army control.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command:Guerrilla outfit connected to Syrian military intelligence and involved in numerous attacks.

WHAT PALESTINIAN PUBLIC OPINION POLLS SAY

Arafat’s personal popularity, which hovers around 40 per cent, is almost three times as high as his closest leadership rivals.

45 per cent of respondents feel the Palestinian Authority is doing a very good job.

60 per cent of Palestinians support ceasefire declared by Arafat.

71 per cent support an immediate return to negotiations.

66 per cent support joint Palestinian-Israeli institutions.

80 per cent support continuation of the intifada.

64 per cent of Palestinians support suicide attacks.

FORGOTTEN VOICES

Democracy and human rights groups

Moderates, professionals, intellectuals and NGOs pushing for peace in the region receive massive support from Western foundations and groups. They’re largely disparate and have very little influence over the Palestinian political scene.

Sources: U.S. State Department, Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, Middle East Review of International Affairs

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