Suicide bombers leave no winners

Islamic militants are harming and helping the PLO, writes Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem

Since suicide bombers killed seven Israeli soldiers and an American last Sunday, Palestinians have debated if they are on the brink of a civil war in Gaza.

There is no doubt that the 17,500-strong force loyal to Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority is doing more than ever to pursue militants of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They have arrested 300 people, given two members of Islamic Jihad long prison sentences and announced that illegal firearms must be handed in within a month.

Much of this is designed to impress Israeli television viewers.

Not one of the arrested Hamas supporters belonged to its military wing, the Izzedin al Qassem brigades. And in the 24 hours after it was announced that guns were to be given up, not one firearm was surrendered.

But if the likelihood of civil war is overstated, there is a real debate among Palestinians about their options. At one meeting in Gaza, Nabil Shaath, the Planning Minister, until recently Mr Arafat's chief negotiator, said: "It is impossible to make peace and war at the same time. The armed struggle must be frozen, and the [Oslo] agreement must be put to the test."

Mahmoud al-Zihar, a Hamas leader, disagreed: "All peoples who won liberation through peace agreements conducted a parallel war. This was the case in both Algeria and Vietnam. Without war, there will only be agreement about [Palestinian] concessions." Mr Shaath said bombings gave Israel an excuse not to implement Oslo. Mr Zihar said military action was the only reason for Israel to give up anything.

By the end of the week, as Israel sealed off the occupied territories for Passover, Hamas and Mr Arafat's forces seemed close to a truce. A PLO official said: "If there is to be an agreement between all factions, Hamas would have to agree not to carry out attacks from self-rule areas."

Mr Arafat said that he was unhappy with this agreement. But, officially or unofficially, this is likely to be the result of the confrontation between the Palestinian Authority and militants. Mr Arafat's position is in no real danger,as he has force on his side.

Also, according to an opinion poll in late March, 56 per cent of Palestinians would vote for him, although 20 per cent supported Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Attacks on the Islamic forces would not deliver what Israel wants: an end to the suicide bombing. The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, told the Knesset that, for a long time, the Israeli army "has not succeeded in locating a terrorist cell in Hebron, although we're sitting in Hebron and controlling it."

For the Palestinians, suicide bombing is a powerful but double-edged weapon. By demanding that Mr Arafat prevent attacks, Israel is forced to concede him the security apparatus of an independent state. Regardless of an Israeli withdrawal, his grip on the West Bank is growing stronger each day. Israeli undercover squads, active last year in Gaza, are very restrained, and former collaborators with Israel are being hunted down.

The price of the bombing is that many Israelis want peace talks with the PLO ended. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, who opposes the Oslo accord, is tipped to win next year's general election.

But in the Knesset, when Mr Netanyahu said he would unleash the Israeli army against the bombers and even send them into Gaza, the Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, mocked him.

He pictured soldiers going door to door, saying: "Hello, we're from the Likud. Is `the Engineer' [Yehya Ayyash, chief bomb-maker of Islamic Jihad] at your place?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor