Fatah faithful turn against their leader: Arafat's most loyal backers are now questioning his authority, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

'I WANT to kill him,' said the teenage strone-thrower in Shofat refugee camp yesterday when asked what he thought of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The youth said he was still a supporter of Fatah - Mr Arafat's faction in the PLO - but, as for Mr Arafat himself: 'He is finished.'

Up on the Mount of Olives, in East Jerusalem, in Shofat Refugee Camp, in Hebron, and throughout the West Bank and Gaza yesterday the air was again thick with tear-gas, and the were roads blocked by smouldering barricades.

The emotional backlash following the Hebron massacre continues to surge in waves of violence throughout the West Bank and Gaza. While the protests and stones are directed at Israeli soldiers, back in force to reassert control, much of the anger is directed at Mr Arafat. 'Fatah must go on, but without Abu Amar (Mr Arafat's nom de guerre). If he comes here he will die. He is not our leader any more,' said Khaled, 18, manning a barricade on the normally tranquil Mount of Olives, as Israeli soldiers took aim from the roofs.

Not only are the youths on the street in open rebellion against the PLO leader. While Israel pleads with the PLO to return to the peace talks, many delegates from the occupied territories were yesterday under curfew - unable to leave their homes, never mind travel to Washington to negotiate. With the streets outside as volatile as they have been since the height of the intifada, even these delegates - Mr Arafat's most loyal supporters - are beginning to ask how long his credibility can last.

Before the Hebron massacre, confidence in Mr Arafat's peace deal was already plummeting, as the promised gains of September failed to materialise. Since Hebron, however, Mr Arafat stands accused of being a party to a deal which may have contributed to the disaster. Under the Oslo accords, the PLO agreed with Israel that Jewish settlements should stay in the first phase of peace, and that settlers like Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the massacre, should be able to roam freely with arms among the Palestinians.

If Mr Arafat returns to the negotiations now, without major new concessions from Israel, his dream of walking back to reclaim the West Bank and Gaza will be scotched once and for all. 'He cannot set one foot on the land of Palestine. Nobody wants him here. He knows that,' said Mohammed, a Mount of Olives shopkeeper. Sensing acutely the anger on the streets, the local PLO leadership have stated categorically that they will not return to the talks unless their new terms are agreed by Israel.

These terms include the disarming of settlers, immediate talks on the future of settlements, and international protection for the Palestinians. So far, Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister, has failed to come anywhere near to meeting the terms. Israel's release yesterday of 500 prisoners - due out imminently anyway - was dismissed as meaningless.

Mr Rabin has suggested he may consider a new international presence in the occupied territories - but not a 'force'. And he proposed disarming only a tiny minority of Jewish settlers, while refusing any possibility of discussing the future of settlements. Within the senior Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, there is a nervousness now about what the future holds.

There is also a great awareness that they - like Mr Arafat - now have very little credibility left. In his office in East Jerusalem, a short distance from the scene of continuing clashes, Faisal Husseini, the senior PLO figure in the West Bank, said yesterday that without these concessions from Israel, returning to the talks would be 'impossible'. 'The people on the street are angry. Arafat is finished - all the PLO leadership is finished - if we do not acknowledge the reality that we can only return to the talks on these conditions,' he said.

Inevitably the massacre of Muslims in a mosque has strengthened the hand of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and other groups that opposed Mr Arafat's peace deal from the start. Many Fatah supporters are reported to be joining the opposition.

More worrying for Mr Arafat is the evidence of a split within Fatah at the grass roots. For the first time, Fatah members speak about staying loyal to the organisation - but removing its leader. 'Fatah is about ideas, not about people. Fatah does not need one man to survive,' said a Fatah official in the West Bank.

Emotionally, it is hard for them. For years they have paid homage to Abu Amar, the unifier of the Palestinian people and the symbol of liberation. But these Fatah loyalists are beginning to cut loose from Mr Arafat's bonds and to look for other symbols. Already, according to Fatah officials, sections of the organisation are moving 'underground' again.

So fragile and so slight are the foundations of the new 'Palestinian entity' begun in September that it will not take much to knock them down. A few bare offices here, a few unpaid officials there, are all that will disappear, along with tattered Palestinian flags and dog-eared posters of Mr Arafat.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Jewish settler and wounded his wife by mistake in the occupied West Bank yesterday, Reuter reports.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable