TEL AVIV (Nov. 24)
Palestinians by the thousands attended rival demonstrations in the West Bank on Saturday, some ready to embrace peace, other still clamoring for violence. No clashes were reported between opposing groups.
Advocates of armed struggle clearly outnumbered those who turned out to support peace talks with Israel.
The largest pro-peace rally drew about 500 Palestinians and Israelis bearing olive branches to the Friends School in Ramallah. Held under the banner, “Two Peoples Speak Peace,” the rally, inspired by Peace Now, described itself as the largest joint peace demonstration ever held by Arabs and Jews.
But it was dwarfed by a rally of several thousand Palestinians in Nablus protesting the Madrid peace conference under the slogan, “The Land is our identity; liberate it with the gun and the Koran.”
That gathering, and several others of the anti-peace camp, were organized by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which had agreed in advance not to interfere with the rally in Ramallah.
At a demonstration of about 500 Palestinians in Arraba near Jenin, the featured speaker was Ali Abu Hilal of the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a breakaway faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
He urged the PLO to withdraw its support from the U.S.-sponsored peace talks before it is forced to make more concessions.
Hilal, a recently returned deportee, had been proposed for membership on the official Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace conference. Israel allowed him to return to the West Bank in exchange for the body of Samir Assad, the Israeli Druse who died of unknown causes while held in Lebanon by the Democratic Front.
But Hilal, who had been deported to Jordan five years ago for terrorist activities, did not take part in the talks, partly because of his own opposition to the peace process and partly because Israel would probably have refused to accept him.
The Democratic Front has, in fact, split over the peace process. Opposing the talks is a group led by the former head of the whole DFLP, Nayef Hawatmeh. That is the group to which Abu Hilal belongs, according to Ha’aretz Washington correspondent Ori Nir.
Meanwhile, a group of about 70 Arab and Jewish peace advocates was forced to move its rally from the Israeli town of Givat Haviva to a site on the 1967 “Green Line,” the unofficial boundary between Israel proper and the West Bank.
Peace Now said the site had to be changed because the Israel Defense Force refused to allow West Bank Arabs to enter Israel.