Publicly, the Palestinian Authority has repeated that it has not intervened in Israel’s current election campaign. But the Palestinian media, licensed and controlled by the PA, have increasingly focused on the elections and published numerous news items and interviews of Palestinian officials who comment on developments in the Israeli campaign. The PA, through the media it owns and controls, has already chosen its favorite candidates. The PA has raised hopes that its current nemesis, Ariel Sharon, will be defeated on January 28.
The PA-controlled media have been trumpeting the line that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could lose the elections because of the current accusation that he accepted an illegal loan from a South African businessman. As a result, Sharon has lashed out at the Palestinians, hoping that he could divert public attention through an escalation of attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The rash of suicide missions in Israel, including the double bombing in Tel Aviv on January 5 in which 23 people were killed, is not mentioned.
‘Sharon Seeks to Cover Up Corruption’
The PA-owned Al Hayat Al Jadida has employed the most strident tone of all of the Palestinian dailies in reporting and interpreting the Israeli election campaign. A typical edition is that of January 13. Al Hayat contains numerous articles by various officials that accuse Sharon of ordering an escalation of attacks in fear that he will lose the election. The newspaper’s front page contains such charges by PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath. Page 2 contains virtually an identical headline in a story that reported the views of Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. The page one story, written by staffer Samir Khamto, is entitled: “Dr. Shaath: The Israeli Escalation Aims to Cover Up for Corruption in the Sharon Government.” The page 2 article, by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, is entitled “Abu Rudeineh: The Continuation of the Israeli Escalation Aims to Cover Up the Corruption of the Likud Party.”
The coverage of Israel’s elections continues on subsequent pages: On Page 3, a column by Hassan Al Kashf is headlined: “Sharon Wins a Million [dollars]” and asserts that “Sharon already gained a million… and already is losing the prime ministership.”
Arafat Said to Agree to Limited Cease-fire
The PA media have reported heavily on efforts by the Arafat regime to achieve an agreement for some sort of suspension of attacks against Israel over the next few weeks of the Israeli campaign. On January 14, The PA daily Al Ayam reported that Arafat has relayed his approval for an Egyptian plan discussed with all Palestinian factions over the last month. The plan calls for a temporary and limited ceasefire against Israel.
Palestinian sources said the plan calls for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians in Israel. The cease-fire does not include attacks on Israeli soldiers or civilians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or eastern Jerusalem.
The plan was drafted by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Suleiman has been meeting with Arafat’s ruling Fatah movement as well as such Islamic opposition groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Islamic groups have rejected the Egyptian proposal and threatened to continue suicide missions in Israel. For its part, Fatah has expressed both support and opposition to the cease-fire plan, which includes a pledge to continue the Palestinian struggle for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Al Ayam said Suleiman was to announce the cease-fire plan during a conference on Palestinian reform, which took place in London on January 14. Israel has banned Palestinian figures from attending the parley.
Abu Abbas: I Was Invited to Cairo
The Egyptian effort has drawn fire from critics in the United States. Washington has investigated reports that Palestine Liberation Front chief Mohammed Abbas, convicted of seizing a cruise ship in 1985 and ordering the killing of an elderly American, was in Cairo for the dialogue last week.
The State Department said Egypt has refused to confirm the report of Abbas’s presence in Cairo. But on January 14 the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily quoted Abbas in an interview as saying he left Egypt last week amid U.S. complaints. Abbas said he had been invited by the Egyptian government to the Palestinian reconciliation dialogue and stressed that he was not asked to leave.
“I took a decision to leave Egypt after I was told by my Egyptian brothers that my security was being targeted,” Abbas said. “I was informed of U.S. pressure and fear that my personal security was being targeted.”
The PA-owned media have been oblique in calls for a ceasefire. The media usually attributed the effort to Egypt and the European Union, which are sponsoring the Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo. Instead, PA officials have discussed the cease-fire effort in the Egyptian media. On January 13, PA Information Minister Yasser Abbed Rabbo told the official Middle East News Agency Palestinian factions must exercise self-restraint in an effort to stop Sharon from winning the Israeli elections. Abbed Rabbo said Sharon plans to win the elections at the “expense of the Palestinian blood.” He said Sharon is trying to cover up on his personal, family and partisan scandals by more killings and destruction.
PA Officials Express Support for Mitsna
Other PA officials have embraced Sharon’s challenger, Labor Party chairman Amram Mitsna. On the PA media carried a January 3 statement by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat that welcomed a pledge by Mitsna to resume negotiations with the PA without conditions. Erekat said he also was pleased by Mitsna’s pledge to deal with any elected president of the Palestinian people, a reference to Yasser Arafat. Erekat stressed that an agreement to resume negotiations from where they ended in 2001 under the previous government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak is a cornerstone of any future peace effort.
Arafat’s longtime adviser Bassam Abu Sharif has also joined the effort to influence the Israeli electorate. He has been holding conferences and publishing statements in the Palestinian media directed to the Israeli voter. Abu Sharif, who during the1990s was a critic of Arafat and the PA, issued a statement published by Palestinian newspapers on January 13 that Sharon should take seriously Arafat’s call for a limited cease-fire. He added that the cease-fire proposal is limited to what he termed Israel’s Green Line, or the 1967 borders. He said such an agreement is a step toward an end to all types of military violence and withdrawal by Israel from Palestinians towns and cities and the exploration of the issue with the Palestinian people for their democratic and legitimate rights for elections.
“I call on the Israelis to work with us for a secure and stable future,” Abu Sharif said.
Abu Sharif: We Have Right to Influence Israeli Elections
Abu Sharif said the Palestinians have the right to influence Israel’s elections. He said Israeli political parties are in competition over who “can come up with more severe methods to oppress the Palestinians and to keep the suffocating Israeli occupations grip around their necks. If that is the case and essence of the Israeli parties competition to win more votes, why should the Palestinians not consider the results of these elections as something that will drastically affect them, their livelihood, freedom and security?”
“Taking these factors in the development and events in the election programs, the Palestinians have every reason to be interested in the Israeli elections, as well as the right in influencing the outcome by addressing the Israeli voters,” Abu Sharif added. “I ask the Israeli voter: Why not give Peace a chance? Why is the future of Israel being dictated by colonialist [J Jewish settlers], which came from Brooklyn to drag Israel into war?”
But Fatah leaders have objected to efforts to deny suicide missions by the Arafat-led group. They protested orders by Arafat to deny the Fatah claim of responsibility for the double suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv on January 5. They said the effort has demoralized the movement and bolsters Islamic groups that falsely claim credit.
Fatah Leader: Arafat Should Not Have Denied Suicide Bombings
Fatah leader and Palestinian legislator Hussam Khader outlined his movement’s objection in an interview to the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat on January 11. Khader, who represents Nablus, the West Bank city where the suicide bombers came from, said PA officials have prevented Fatah flags from flying from the homes of the suicide bombers. Khader told the newspaper that while he is against suicide missions for tactical reasons Fatah cannot ignore the suicide missions.
“It is not the right of any official to deny the execution of the operation because of the results,” Khader said. “This is especially because in December, more than 73 Palestinian civilians were killed by the occupation forces in absent of any suicide missions within the Green Line.”
Khader said the Tel Aviv attack was the bloodiest by Fatah since 1978. He said the Fatah denial of the attack is unprecedented. He said many Fatah fighters are asking themselves “Why have they prevented the printing of placards for these heroes who mocked the enemy entity?”
Fatah’s Al Aqsa: Suicide Missions Will Continue
Indeed, the previous day, January 10, the Fatah-controlled Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on January 5 and promised to continue to carry out suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. “The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades bless the families of the two suicide bombers, Buraq Rifat Abdul Rahman Halfa and Samar Imad Mohammad Ibrahim Alnouri, with pride and respect,” the statement, carried by Palestinian websites, said. “We bless our Palestinian people and the Arab and Islamic faith in the double [suicide bombing] activities in Tel Aviv on January 5, 2003. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades emphasize that they adhere to the vow and commitment to martyrdom, to the prisoners, to the injured and to the Palestinian people. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades proclaims that it will continue with its Jihad activities until the removal of the occupation from our land, no matter how many victims we suffer.”
“The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades warns those who speak irresponsibly and support programs of submission,” the statement said. “Palestine is not merchandise lying on a table that the mighty can divide as they please. The false announcements denouncing the brave activities [the double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv] do not represent the views of the Palestinian public throughout Palestine and in the diaspora, as was expressed by their joy [for the fact that the suicide bombing took place].”
Arafat Ups His Demands for Ceasefire
The opposition to the cease-fire from Fatah elements and the Islamic opposition movement appears to have escalated the demands by the Arafat regime amid a meeting between Fatah and Hamas expected in Cairo around January 20. This will be the first session by Fatah and Hamas in Cairo since November.
Palestinian newspapers owned by the PA reported details of the plan on January 16. The plan calls for Israel to agree to a Palestinian state whose borders were not defined. In addition, Israel must agree that it would only negotiate with Arafat and not any other Palestinian.
The “cease-fire” being proposed would only take effect in Israel and not include Israelis living or deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, PA newspaper said. This means that Palestinian insurgents can continue attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
The Al Ayam daily also said Israel must first end all military operations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem before the Palestinians stop attacks. The newspaper said Israel would also be required to release Palestinian prisoners.
So far, Arafat has relayed to Egypt agreement with this document. Hamas, however, has not responded.
Jerusalem Appears to be Next Target
The PA media have largely been silent on the debate within Fatah. But the official media have indicated that Jerusalem would be the new target of the Arafat regime. PA television has been running clips that warn of Israeli threats to Jerusalem. The clips, which elaborate on Arafat’s pledge to prepare 1 million martyrs for Jerusalem, presented edited footage that suggested an Israeli assault on the Al Aqsa mosque.