Palestinians wary of Israeli ratification of Wye

The Palestinian Authority has expressed displeasure with the ratification by the Cabinet of the Wye Plantation agreement. This, despite a meeting by Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho with PA chairman Yasser Arafat in which the Israeli explained the Cabinet ratification. PA officials said the Cabinet’s conditions for the implementation of the agreement plants the seeds of another Israeli effort to violate observing the accord. PA minister and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat pointed out that the Israeli Cabinet decision was “too weeks late.” “We refuse [these conditions] absolutely,” Erekat said. “We hope that the ratification will not be without implementation, because the implementation is the key.”

Erekat criticized the news conference by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Nov. 11 and the threats that Israel might not honor the agreement if the PA does not fulfill its pledges. “Actually, this is killing the peace process, and the current efforts to return it on its natural track,” he said. “The Wye Memorandum is clear. We will implement it accurately, and we hope that Israel will do the same. We are not interested in these conditions, but by the agreement, which we will not allow its renegotiation.”

PA Secretary-General Tayeb Abdul Rahim agreed. “We hope that the Israeli Government will ratify the accord, especially that PA had done its commitments,” he said.

Hassan Asfour, PA minister of state, made it clear that the PA will stick to the letter of Wye. “Netanyahu feels that Wye River Memorandum does not satisfy the extremists, terrorists, and the settlers in Israel” he said. “Netanyahu is not looking for the implementation of the accord, but to make a continual troubles with PA, to escape from the implementation of the peace accords between the two sides.”

One Israeli plan that the PA will oppose is the construction of new bypass roads. Palestinian Legislative Council member Salah Taamari said the “PA agreed to the redeployment but it hasn’t seen the maps yet, and didn’t agree to the bypass roads.”

Taamari said Israeli construction of new roads will spark a crisis between the PA and the Israeli government “especially those roads that pass through the Palestinian cities and towns.”

For his part, PA Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said the PA refuses to extradite the 30 Palestinians sought by Israel. He said the PA would not mourn the halt of the peace process should Netanyahu continue what the minister termed unilateral measures.

PLC member Hatem Abdul Qader said “Palestinian dignity does not allow the arrest of the 30 wanted Palestinians. “We at the Palestinian Legislative Council have asked PA to stop the arrests and to release the prisoners until the Israeli side start it’s implementation for the accord,” he said.

Arafat, PA sources say, is counting on the visit of U.S. President Bill Clinton on Dec. 14 to reap some immediate gains. He expects to capitalize on the Wye agreement to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars from donor nations immediately. He plans on visiting several European countries, including France, Italy and Sweden.

The PA chairman has to move quickly. Thirty foreign ministers representing donor nations will meet in early December to consider the future of aid to the Palestinian Authority. The PA has been working hard to prepare for that meeting and plans to present an investment program. So far, donor nations representatives have been disappointed. They said that donations during the first three years of the five-year program that began in 1994 have produced poor results. As a result, the donor nations have not fulfilled their pledges. In all, PA officials said, the donors have given $1.6 billion of $3.4 billion pledged.

The result has been a crisis in PA services. About 12,000 state-supported teachers in the West Bank and Gaza launched a one day warning strike in protest of their low wages. The strike left more than 500,000 students at home. The strike has alarmed PA officials and Deputy Education Minister Naim Abu al-Humus has pledged that the teachers’s demands will be presented to Arafat.

U.S. Stops Funding to PA Radio, PA TV

The teachers are not the only ones affected. Already, the United States has acted to stop funding for the Palestinian Broadcast Corporation. The halt in funding came after the U.S. Congress determined that Palestinian television and radio was used for incitement against Israel and Jews.

PA officials were upset by the decision. PBC head Radwan Abu Ayyash said Washington reacted to tapes and recordings from radio and television sent by Israelis who wanted to stop U.S. funding. He said that U.S. support for the PBC was not significant. It included funding for television cameras, worth about $100,000.

What bothered Abu Ayyash was that the PBC was not consulted about the funding cutoff.

“It is very strange while the Israeli right builds radio stations, such as Arutz-7, which operates without censorship, caused the killing of Yitzhak Rabin, and the soul of peace. This, while the Voice of Palestine, which have not reach the Israeli newspapers in its level of criticism for the government, is accused of incitement.”

“When the Israeli right-wing parties stop carrying out their activities which defame their image, we will stop reporting this,” Abu Ayyah said. “We are professional.”

Abu Ayyah said the PBC has not been informed by the U.S. government. But Washington has signed an agreement with the PA which is “conditioned on a ban of transferring financial support for the PBC.”

The PBC head said the U.S. decision will not affect PA radio and television. “It will not affect us materially or morally because there was no tangible support,” he said.

Other Western donor nations have not stopped their funding to the PA. A United Nations report states that in 1998 donor nations have improved their contributions. The report said that in the first half of 1997 the donor contributed $120 million while during the same period the donors contributed $216 million.

The UN report expressed concern over some falling indicators. It pointed out that per capita gross domestic product has fallen 3.4 percent in 1998 to $1,380 while the PA’s GDP increased by 2.1 percent. The report says business activity has grown modestly. Trade with Israel is stagnating. The area of land officially registered for residential construction projects declined by 8.5 percent.

Palestinian unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell to 22.4 percent in the first half of 1998, the United Nations says. UN figures presented to donor nations and PA and Israeli representatives asserted that 86,750, or 15.6 percent of the workforce, are seeking employment. The overall number of unemployed people fell by 13.8 percent to 155,450.

A Stock Exchange Dominated by One Firm

Analysts pointed to the penchant of the PA to stress nationalistic symbols over sound economic policy. One example was brought by Munther Nijem, lecturer at the business administration college at Bir Zeit University, who said on Nov. 9 that the Palestinian stock exchange was premature and that it is dominated by one company. He told a forum at Tel Aviv University that Paltel, the Palestinian telecommunications company, and its subsidiary, comprise as much as 65 percent of the total value of the exchange. The index gained 30 percent in the last year but most of the companies on the exchange lost value. He said total market capitalization in the 12 months to June 30 amounted to $660 million and companies on the exchange were valued at more than $700 million.

Nijem said the Palestinian stock exchange reflects the lack of a legal system in the Palestinian Authority. He said rules that mandate disclosure and ban insider trading must be instituted. He said the exchange must become an alternative investment to savings banks. He said the Palestinian economy is operating at only 50 percent of its capacity.

Palestinian unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell to 22.4 percent in the first half of 1998, the United Nations says. UN figures presented to donor nations and PA and Israeli representatives asserted that 86,750, or 15.6 percent of the workforce, are seeking employment. The overall number of unemployed people fell by 13.8 percent to 155,450.

Still, poverty appears to be increasing. A report by the PA Planning Ministry asserted that 25 percent of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza earn less than 1,390 shekels and 1,140 shekels, respectively. These two figures are the benchmark for poverty in the PA areas. The report lists the refugee camps as the poorest areas in the territories. Jenin was listed as the poorest city in the West Bank.

The PA acknowledges that services have deteriorated rapidly under its rule. At a recent medical conference, PA officials said the mortality rate at birth is between 30-40 per 100,000 briths and that 50 babies per 1,000 die at birth for those mothers who deliver in Gaza hospitals. About 26 percent of all births in Gaza are performed at home.

The mortality rate is a sharp drop from 1993, the last year when Israel was still in Gaza. At that time, Israeli Civil Administration statistics reported 18.8 deaths per 1,000 births. The rate of mothers dying during birth was 29 per 100,000 births. Again, the statistics are taken only from hospital records and do not reflect deliveries conducted at home.

In 1996, the PA Statistics Department reported that in Gaza 32 babies per 1,000 died during birth and in the West Bank the figure was 25 per 1,000. The non-governmental Palestinian Association for Medical Services reported in 1996 that 50-70 babies per 1,000 died during birth. Between 30-60 mothers died during birth.

PA Now Wants Airport in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority plans to construct an airport in the West Bank. At a news conference in Ramallah on Nov. 8, Brig. Gen. Fayez Zeidan, director of the PA Civilian Aviation Authority, said the PA brought up the matter with Israel but the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses to discuss this. “The Israeli side refused to discuss this matter before the opening of a Gaza airport,” he said. Zeidan vowed that the PA would observe international law and refuse to allow the airport to be used by planes hijacked by terrorists. He confirmed that Iranian, Iraqi and Libyan planes would not be allowed landing rights. He said such a move would violate the Oslo accords with Israel. Zeidan said Israel tried to use the Nov. 6 suicide bombing attack to delay implementing the Wye accords. “We still do not know when it will open because the Israeli side is using the last attack as a reason to delay the opening of the airport,” he said. “It is important to implement the agreement without delay.” On Nov. 12, PA and Israeli representatives participated in an exercise to operate the Gaza airport at Dahaniya.

The PA has also received its own international telephone code. It is 970 and was issued by the International Communications Union. PA Communications Minister Imad Falouji said on Nov. 5 that the code is an important element in the preparation for the PA to declare an independent state.

Blaming Israel for Bombings

The Palestinian Authority is blaming Israel from the suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market on Nov. 6. The PA newspaper Al Hayat al-Jedida said on Nov. 8 that Palestinian sources believe Israeli intelligence is behind the bombing. They said Israel also was responsible for the grenade attack in Beersheba in October. “It became known that the perpetrator had been drafted by Israeli intelligence. A number of reports and indications are that an outside party was behind the latest action and the chain of actions that recently took place, all of which had a political objective, were to embarrass the PA and prevent the implementation of the agreements.”

But a senior official, PA Secretary-General Tayeb Abdul Rahim said Iran was probably responsible for the attack. “The hardline in the Iranian leadership is interested in turning the Palestinian territories into Afghanistan,” he said. Abdul Rahim blamed whom he referred to as “foreigners” for sponsoring the suicide bombing. Iran denied the assertion.

It turns out that the PA newspaper was directed from on high. At a meeting with Labor Knesset member Yossi Beilin on Nov. 9, Arafat said he suspects that elements within Israeli intelligence were behind the Mahane Yehuda bombings. Echoing charges that he leveled against Israel in 1995 and 1996, Arafat said that he believes some in the Israeli security forces want to block the implementation of the Israeli army withdrawal in the West Bank. “Avishai Raviv was also an agent of the Israeli General Security Service and he may even have been involved in the murder of the late Prime Minister Rabin,” Arafat said.

PA and Israeli intelligence sources said on Nov. 8 that the two suicide bombers were sent by the local Islamic Jihad in Jenin. The city is controlled by the PA although the terrorists lived in the village of Silat Hartiya in Area B, under Israeli security control. One of the terrorists was imprisoned by the PA but was released on Nov. 1, six days before his suicide bombing. PA security officials said Suleiman Tahayna was arrested in a wave of detentions before Yasser Arafat arrived in the United States last month. At first, the PA arrested 60 Jihad activists. But by Nov. 8, the PA halted the campaign. The arrests were reported in the Jenin area and in Bethlehem. The PA also arrested several members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine after they held a rally against the Wye accords in Gaza.

The PA also closed an Islamic women’s organization on Nov. 6. The Hamas-based organization said it would probably appeal to the Palestinian courts.

Israeli and Palestinian sources agree that the PA appears to have adopted the following method to dealing with counterterrorism: provide Israel with some information that will enable the PA to take credit for foiling terrorist attacks. And, should the terrorists succeed, blame Israel. PA sources, confirmed by Israel, assert that the PA has relayed information on several suspected terrorists believed to have planned car bombings in Israel. In one case, the PA sources say, Israeli authorities arrested one Hamas activist.

Israeli officials and PA security sources prevent differing assessments of Hamas power. Take the indictment of four Hamas terrorists for the killing of Jerusalem man David Ktorza. A four-man terrorist cell, identified as ringleader Ibrahim Abasi, 38, Shuabba Abu Snini, 32 both of Silwan, Rajab Dahan, 31, of Ras al-Amud and Mahmoud Idris, 27 of A-Ram. According to the indictment the four joined Hamas in 1995 and moved to its military wing in 1996 and 1997. Police said the gang had scouted locations around the city for lone Jewish pedestrians. As they drove for a victim, they spotted Ktorza on his way to synagogue, about 100 meters from his home. The Hamas suspects jumped out of their car stabbed him in the chest and escaped.

Israeli security forces, led by the General Security Services, have captured several Hamas terrorist cells in recent weeks in the Jerusalem area. Some of the cells were in the advanced stages of preparing terrorist attacks. At least two of the Hamas members have been placed in administrative detention.

The information of plans to plant bombs in Jerusalem led Israeli authorities to step up security around Jerusalem. At a roadblock outside Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood, north of the city, Palestinian young men attacked on Nov. 8 two Israeli border policemen who wanted to check a busload of Palestinians. Several Palestinians were arrested.

Israeli officials are convinced that the PA has not abandoned the terrorist option despite its pledges at Wye Plantation. Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon said Yasser Arafat has not done enough to combat terrorist organizations and their infrastructure. He said Arafat has hardly fought the Islamic Jihad. He told a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 8 “Israel still does not proof that the PA is taking a real stand against terror.” He said this is the reason the Jihad has not been eliminated as a terrorist group.

Israeli security sources say the response to the suicide bombing in Jerusalem appeared to be orchestrated. At first, Hamas took credit. Then, Islamic Jihad leader Abdullah Shalah took credit for the bombing and a Jihad leaflet echoed that claim. But Jihad leaders in Gaza denied that their organization was responsible although they said the two terrorists were members.

The belief by Israeli security sources is that Hamas and Jihad arranged for Jihad to take credit for the bombing despite the suspicion that Hamas helped provide the explosives and the detonators. This would then ease PA pressure on Hamas while sending the message that the Islamic organization is capable of daring attacks. Indeed, the suspicion rests on Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif, the number one fugitive who has escaped capture by both Israel and the PA. Deif is a close personal friend of PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan.

In an interview with Radio Monte Carlo, Dahlan said “All our battles at the Wye Plantation focused on the Hamas Movement.

We upheld the idea of defending Hamas because it is part of Palestinian society.

However, it seems that Hamas did not respect the battle that the PA fought with the Israel.

Our main differences with the Israelis focused on handing over to Israel Hamas members. But we stuck to our position and managed to achieve all that we sought in this respect. The Israeli Government went back on handing over Hamas members, which was considered an Israeli red line.”

Dahlan’s knowledge of Hamas is intimate. He said he was confident that Hamas was not trying to harm Arafat, saying the basis for such reports is false and probably stem from Israel. “The goal was clearly an Israel one,” he said. “Such acts suggest to the PA that the Israelis seek to use such actions in the areas under the PA control to give Netanyahu justification not to go ahead with implementing the agreement or comply with the agreement reached in Washington.”

Asked whether the suicide bomber belongs to Hamas or Fatah, Dahlan is vague. But he does not dismiss what Israeli and Palestinian sources have been saying for the last three years: that Fatah members have participated in terrorist operations against Israel under the guise of being in the Islamic opposition.

“Fatah is a Palestinian organization that advocated the confrontation with Israel for 30 years,” he said. “Now Fatah is to some extent the PA’s party, as some call it. However, Fatah has a margin of maneuver and political criticism. We consider this to be a positive phenomenon, but Fatah has to date no military action that might embarrass the PA.”

PA Shows Patience with Hamas

PA sources acknowledge that they have taken an increasingly mild hand to Hamas. At first, the PA rounded up 400 Islamic activists. Then, the PA offered to hold a dialogue with Hamas. PA Communications Minister Imad Falouji, a longtime Hamas member, said he met with Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin who agreed to a dialogue with the PA.

“I carried this desire for Chairman Arafat and made connections with other Hamas leaders,” Falouji said. “Hamas, and the other Palestinian Organizations should understand the sensitivity of the current phase. We still at the beginning of the road, and I hope that we will soon reach tangible results. “We are doing the best of our efforts to start a dialogue between Hamas and PA for the interest of the Palestinian people, especially when we are in a sensitive phase after the signature of Wye Plantation accord, and standing on the door of the final status negotiations.”

Falouji said the Hamas last military attack in Gush Katif on Oct. 29 harmed the supreme interests of the Palestinian people “and I think the brothers in Hamas perceive that well. Hamas should specify if it the responsible of the attack or not, and this need for a clear leaflet from the movement.”

Abdul Khalik Natshe, Hamas spokesman in Hebron, said he was delighted the initiative of open a dialogue between his group and PA. “We are supporting such dialogue, which preserves Palestinian blood, and the PA should not close the door of the dialogue, and it should hear other opinions.”

The PA has responded to a request from Hamas that any serious dialogue must be preceded by a prisoner release. In the response, the PA has begun releasing prisoners. Natshe said this principle is ironclad. “It is out of the question to open a dialogue, while the arrests of Hamas leaders continues,” he said. “We are with the redeployment, and the release of all the prisoners, but without condition, because that’s our natural right.”

The PA attitude toward Hamas differs sharply with the new policy of Jordan. The result is that Hamas is planning to move its political bureau from Amman to Damascus. The Jerusalem-based Al Quds daily reported on Nov. 8 that the organization’s decision stemmed from the restrictions placed on Hamas leaders in Jordan. Jordanian authorities have prevented Hamas leaders from holding rallies or news conferences that oppose the Wye accords. Jordanian security officials, the newspaper said, threatened to expel Hamas from the kingdom if the organization disobeyed. Already, several prominent leaders in Jordan have been placed under surveillance. These include Mohammed Nazal, Ibrahim Ghosha, Mussa Abu Marzouk and Khaled Mashal.

Some Palestinians want an all-out battle with Hamas to demonstrate that there is only one law in the PA territories. They say the attack in Gaza was a breach of an understanding between the PA and Hamas not to launch attacks on PA territory. A major advocate of this is PA minister Faisal Husseini, responsible for Jerusalem affairs, who says Hamas has set the agenda for the PA and will succeed in halting the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Husseini believes this is the goal of the Hamas — to force Israel to stop a Palestinian state under Arafat.

But Husseini is opposed by others who fear that any real crackdown on Hamas will lead to a civil war. They say this is a bigger danger than lack of progress with Israel. These Palestinians say that Arafat will be hard pressed to make the choice between a real crackdown on Hamas and more territory for his authority. Arafat, they say, hopes the U.S. will convince Israel that pressing Hamas to the wall will torpedo the entire process.