A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
December 9, 2004 Volume 35/Number 4

Page One Stories

Iz al-Din Qassam Militia Fighters

Iz al-Din Qassam Militia Fighters (above) and a gun turrret along the new Israeli wall in the West Bank (below).

At a Crossroads: Palestine in Transition

In the wake of Yasser Arafat’s death, how will Palestinians organize themselves? Loren Lybarger, Religious Studies—with an emphasis in Islam—addressed the question of Palestinian political identity at the Anthropology Forum on Nov. 18.

To put the situation in context, Lybarger presented a short history of key events, from the Palestinian point of view, from the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 to the present. The war dispossessed thousands of Palestinians of their land and made more than a quarter million refugees. Each key event left its mark in a changed identity and a reformed and evolved strategy of resistance, Lybarger said.

Arafat, with other university students, founded Fatah, in 1959. “Fatah” means “victory” in Arabic.

The aftermath of the War of 1967 saw the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem). Palestinians responded by reorganizing their national resistance. Fatah took control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1968–1969 and began launching cross-border raids against Israel. Israel retaliated, launching in 1982 the unilateral invasion of Lebanon to remove PLO bases there. The Israelis succeeded in this goal, but close to 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, were killed in the process.

Gun turret of new Israeli wallThe First Intifada (or “shaking off”), from 1987 until 1993, was a Palestinian popular uprising against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza areas. At first a spontaneous outburst sparked by the killing of four Palestinians by an Israeli truck driver in the Gaza Strip, the Intifada quickly developed into a well-organized rebellion led by PLO-associated resistance movements. Once the violence started, each incident provoked a counter reaction, creating an interlocking spiral. Accumulated frustrations of the Palestinians, largely the result of Israel’s occupation policies and the failures of the PLO to achieve statehood for its people, were vented against the Israelis, Lybarger explained. Israeli repression ultimately succeeded in fragmenting the Intifada. The rise of the Islamic resistance movement, initially encouraged by the Israeli intelligence agencies as an opposition movement to the PLO, was an important result of the first uprising.

The Oslo Peace Process lasted from 1993 until 2000. The “Declar-ation of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” was signed on Sept. 13, 1993 by representatives of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended the ceremony with an uneasy handshake.

The Oslo Accords committed both parties to a range of obligations, but violations began almost immediately. The interim agreements were intended to build trust between the parties as preparation for negotiations on a final settlement. Instead, it was a time in which Israel doubled the number of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem and continually delayed or refused to meet agreed-upon deadlines for the transfer of territory to the newly established Palestinian National Authority, Lybarger explained.

As Palestinian frustrations grew, radical groups engaged in terroristic violence. The Oslo process came to a “crashing end,” said Lybarger, after the ill-fated Camp David negotiations and the pro-vocative visit by current Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif Temple Mount on Sept. 28, 2000.

Lybarger stressed that there are major social and political divisions among Palestinians, including refugees versus village and town elites, the old guard versus the new guard, secular-nationalists versus Islamists, hardliners versus pragmatists, Muslims versus Chris-tians. Lybarger offered various scenarios of possible outcomes depending on internal PLO dynamics, the role Hamas plays, and the PLO’s willingness to adopt Hamas’s rejection of Oslo. Marwan Barghouthi, imprisoned by the Israelis since April 2002, represents the new guard and has just announced, according to the New York Times (12/02/04), that he will enter the elections for a new Palestinian Nation Authority President.

—Kathleen McPartland with Loren Lybarger



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