News Analysis: Palestinians Still Backing Hussein, but Recognize Need for a ‘new Order’ but Recogniz
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News Analysis: Palestinians Still Backing Hussein, but Recognize Need for a ‘new Order’ but Recogniz

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Influential Arab leaders in the administered territories are beginning to recognize the need for a “new Palestinian order” in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, within the context of the larger “new order” that is likely to emerge in the Middle East.

Some are quietly suggesting that the Palestinians scale back their aspirations for an independent state and be prepared to settle for some measure of autonomy over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Already there are signs of distancing between the local Palestinian leadership in the territories and the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, which resides overseas.

While the Palestinians in the territories may continue to accept Yasir Arafat as a symbolic “president of Palestine,” his authority is increasingly being challenged.

But Saddam Hussein of Iraq will continue to be a factor. The Palestinian masses who hailed him as their savior will not easily admit they backed the wrong “hero.”

He was the first Arab leader to “shake them out of their defeatism,” explained Zakaria al-Qaq, an instructor at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

Palestinians do not readily admit mistakes. They simply rationalize that there was “no alternative.”

That was their excuse for failing to accept the 1947 U.N. partition plan, rejecting the 1978 Camp David accords and now casting support for Saddam Hussein.

However humiliating the defeat that awaits Hussein at the hands of the allied military coalition, he will be revered by the Palestinians.

“The Western mind will say that Saddam committed suicide. But the Arab mind will say he died a martyr,” Dr. Mehdi Abdul-Hadi, head of the Palestine Academic Center for International

Affairs in East Jerusalem, told the Jerusalem Post this week.

There is some rational dissent from that viewpoint, notably from Elias Freij, the veteran mayor of Bethlehem, who spoke out against Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait from the start.


But voices of reason are a rare commodity in Palestinian political discourse — at least in terms of Israeli thinking. Freij’s influence does not extend much beyond his office in Manger Square.

Because they backed Hussein, the Palestinians have lost the support of world opinion. They have also lost an estimated $1.4 billion a year in jobs and financial support from the Gulf states. And they may have lost whatever political gains were achieved in the intifada.

Yet Palestinian youths continued this week to demonstrate for Saddam Hussein in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinians are loathe to explain their motivations to Westerners. Perhaps it is unseemly to admit they are driven by pure hatred of Israel, of the West and of whomever else they perceive to be responsible for their continued plight.

Ghareb Hashashibi, an Arab mayor of Jerusalem under the British Mandate, once said apologetically: “I know I am taking the wrong step, but this is what the street dictates.”

Not much seems to have changed in over four decades.

The street continues to dictate the political behavior of the Palestinian leadership.

The young street leaders in the territories, born since 1967, know nothing but life under Israeli administration. Unlike their elders, they lack a perspective from which to regret their mistakes.

In the name of Palestinian nationalism, radical street elements have spoken out against influential Palestinian leaders such as Faisal Husseini of East Jerusalem, who preaches nonviolent resistance and has advocated a two -state solution.


The Palestinian “new order” will not emerge without a power struggle pitting the PLO abroad against the radical street elements in the territories.

Ali Yaish, editor of the East Jerusalem daily A-Sha’ab, predicted the PLO would have to adopt some Islamic fundamentalist slogans to regain popularity.

Jonathan Kuttab, an East Jerusalem lawyer, thinks the Gulf war will produce a chain reaction of “progressive” Islamic-inspired social revolutions led, not by fanatical mullahs, but by Moslem leaders who have come to terms with the modern world.

An East Jerusalem Arab political scientist, speaking off the record, said this week that the Palestinians would have to adopt a new peace formula after the war.

He believes it will have to be a compromise between the independent Palestinian state that Israel opposes and the Israeli version of Palestinian autonomy, which the Palestinians reject.

The political scientist said the Palestinians should accept the principle of local elections, which is part of the Camp David autonomy formula, but should make sure the elections are absolutely free of Israeli control.

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