after 16 months, the palestinian intifada has little to show for itself politically. Palestinians are locked up in 220 ghettos controlled by the army; Merkava tanks and American-supplied Apache helicopters and F-16s mow down people, houses, olive groves and fields on a daily basis; schools and universities as well as businesses and civil institutions are totally disrupted.To make matters worse, the Palestinian Islamists have played into Israel's relentless propaganda mills and its ever-ready military by occasional bursts of wantonly barbaric suicide bombings.
Every demand that Sharon makes, Arafat hastens to fulfill, even as Sharon makes still another one, provokes an incident or simply says -- with U.S. backing -- that he is unsatisfied.
A closer look at the Palestinian reality tells a somewhat more encouraging story. Recent polls show that between them, Arafat and his Islamist opponents (who refer to themselves unjustly as the resistance) get somewhere between 40 and 45 per cent popular approval.
This means that a silent majority of Palestinians is neither for the Authority's misplaced trust in Oslo (or for its lawless regime of corruption and repression) nor for Islamist violence.
A new secular nationalist current is slowly emerging. It's too soon to call this a party or a bloc, but it is now a visible group with true independence and popular status. It counts Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi and Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi (not to be confused with his distant relative, Fatah militia activist Marwan Barghouti) among its members, along with professors Ziad Abu Amr, Mamdouh Al-Aker, Ahmad Harb, Ali Jarbawi, Fouad Moughrabi, legislative council members Rawiya Al-Shawa and Kamal Shirafi, writers Hassan Khadr and Mahmoud Darwish, Raja Shehadeh, Rima Tarazi, Ghassan Al-Khatib, Naseer Aruri, Elia Zureik and myself.
In mid-December we issued a collective statement that was well covered in the Arab and European media (it went unmentioned in the United States) calling for Palestinian unity and resistance and the unconditional end of Israeli military occupation, while keeping deliberately silent about returning to Oslo.
The declaration's boldest sections focus on the need to improve the internal Palestinian situation, above all to strengthen democracy, rectify the decision-making process (which is totally controlled by Arafat and his men), restore the law's sovereignty and an independent judiciary, prevent the further misuse of public funds and consolidate the functions of public institutions so as to give every citizen confidence in those that are expressly designed for public service. The final and most decisive demand is a call for new parliamentary elections.
However else this declaration may have been read, the fact that so many prominent independents -- with, for the most part, functioning health, educational, professional and labour organizations as their base -- have said these things was lost neither on other Palestinians nor on the Israeli military.
In addition, just as the Palestinian Authority jumped to obey Sharon and Bush by rounding up the usual Islamist suspects, Dr. Barghouthi launched the non-violent International Solidarity Movement, comprising about 550 European observers (several of them European Parliament members) who flew in at their own expense.
This effectively froze out the Authority and the Islamists and set the agenda for making Israel's occupation itself the focus of attention.
The first result of this was that on January 2, after Barghouthi held a press conference with about 20 Europeans in East Jerusalem, the Israelis arrested, detained and interrogated him twice, breaking his knee with rifle butts and injuring his head, on the pretext that he was disturbing the peace and had illegally entered Jerusalem (even though he was born there and has a medical permit to enter).
None of this has deterred him or his supporters from continuing the non-violent struggle, which, I think, is certain to take control of the already too militarized intifada, centre it nationally on ending occupation and settlements, and steer Palestinians toward statehood and peace. From The Nation