JERUSALEM (Aug. 5)
Radical Palestinian nationalists in the administered territories are waging a campaign of intimidation and terror aimed at sabotaging the Middle East peace conference that the United States is trying to arrange.
The campaign is reminiscent of the events of the Great Arab Revolt that began in 1936 and continued through 1939.
Death threats made against Palestinian leaders who have been meeting with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker echo warnings that were issued to Palestinian moderates a half-century ago and, in some cases, carried out.
In 1936, under the leadership of religious leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Supreme Arab Committee — the senior Arab authority at the time — declared an uprising, both against the Jewish community and the British Mandatory authorities.
Then, as now, the revolt against the Jews and British was characterized more by internecine strife, with hundreds of Palestinians brutally murdered by fellow Arabs. During the present intifada, now entering its 45th month, hundreds of Arabs have been executed on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli authorities.
Paradoxically, the main target of the current threats is a member of the same Husseini family that guided the extremists of the 1930s.
East Jerusalem leader Faisal Husseini received death threats after his meeting last Friday with Baker, a marathon session that outlasted all previous talks between the two parties.
SECURITY OFFICIALS CONCERNED
And just as 55 years ago, the threats came from radical Moslem circles. The fanatic Islamic Jihad group, operating in the Gaza Strip, distributed a leaflet declaring it had issued death sentences against Husseini and his colleagues, Professor Hanan Ashrawi of Bir Zeit University and Dr. Zakariya al-Agha.
The leaflet included statements such as “Palestine will not be sold that cheaply, and the day will come when it will be freed from the sea to the River Jordan.”
Moreover, various Islamic organizations in the territories issued a joint statement Sunday saying, “It is about time to declare that the Palestinian group of Al Fatah, which bargains on our rights, does not represent the Palestinian public, not inside the territories and not outside.”
Fatah is the largest and least radical wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. For Islamic fundamentalists, it apparently has become too moderate, while for Israel it remains beyond the pale of acceptability as a negotiating partner.
Israeli security agencies are taking the death threats seriously. Senior police officers reportedly have met with Husseini and warned him to take special precautions. Jerusalem police increased security patrols near his residence on the Mount of Olives.
The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, projects further escalation of hostilities and terrorist activities the closer the Middle East gets to a peace conference.
Sheik Akram Sabri, religious leader at Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, last Friday called the planned peace conference “a surrender conference, whose purpose is to bend the Arab regimes to the American will.”
His words intriguingly echoed that of Israeli hard-liner Ariel Sharon, the outspoken Likud minister of housing, who bitterly warned that a conference would lead to war and accused Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of conceding on all issues they had previously said they would fight over.
BETHLEHEM ELECTIONS IN DOUBT
Sheik Sabri said the Arabs and the Moslems would be the main losers of the peace process. He attacked Egypt for its proposal to drop the Arab boycott of Israel in return for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the territories. He said the proposed peace conference would neglect the Palestinians and focus on Arab recognition of Israel.
Baker, in Algiers as part of his tour of North Africa in a quest for support for the peace plans, expressed hope Monday that the threats would not “derail the peace train.”
But it was obvious the threats would have a negative effect.
Another of the extremists’ targets are elections scheduled for Wednesday for the Bethlehem Chamber of Industry.
The elections were initiated by the Israeli Civil Administration, whose policy lately has been to promote independent economic activity in the territories.
Local business leaders were enthusiastic about the elections, hoping that the new chamber would deal with the European Community, which has promised grants of nearly $80 million for development of the administered territories.
But the threats have raised doubts about whether it is safe to proceed with the elections.
Spearheading the campaign against the elections is the uprising’s Unified Command, guided by the PLO. Leaflet No. 73 demands that the 20 candidates boycott the elections.
The leaflet may have been triggered by fear that Moslem fundamentalists would capture the vote, as happened during elections in June for the Chamber of Commerce in Hebron.
Bethlehem industrialists have tried to reverse the Unified Command’s decision, but so far to no avail.
Israeli officers are concerned that if the elections are canceled, it will jeopardize efforts to stabilize the situation in the administered territories.