The Guardian May 24, 2000


Palestinian anger erupts

Palestinian anger at decades of occupation with still no end in sight 
came to the boil on May 15  Palestine Day  when peaceful demonstrations 
ended in bloody clashes with Israeli troops and police. Sporadic fighting 
is continuing despite calls for calm.

Four Palestinian Arabs were killed and hundreds more wounded when the 
Israeli forces opened fired on crowds marking the 52nd anniversary of the 
start of the first Palestine War.

Tension was already in the air as rumours spread that the Palestinians were 
going to be forced to make more concessions at the secret talks between the 
Israelis, the US and Palestinian negotiators in Sweden.

That morning chief Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo resigned in 
protest at the Stockholm talks, which he said were undermining Palestinian 
unity in facing the Israelis.

The Israeli Government hoped to defuse the situation by symbolically 
handing over three villages near Arab Jerusalem to the "autonomous" 
Palestinian Authority. But this was largely meaningless as the villages are 
already under Palestinian civil control and in any case the withdrawal was 
suspended when violence broke out.

And it soon did when the Israelis opened up with rubber tipped bullets and 
live ammunition. The Arabs responded with stones and in some towns the 
Palestinian police returned fire to protect the people. Fifteen Israeli 
troops were wounded but none killed.

In Bethlehem protesters took over the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel to 
stone the Israeli troops below.

In Gaza Israeli troops held back protesters trying to march on the Israeli 
settlement of Netzarim and in Ramallah and Jenin the Palestinian police 
returned fire on the Israelis to protect the demonstrators.

Now the Palestinian police are busy trying to dampen things down on orders 
from the Arafat leadership which wants to make at least some progress at 
the Stockholm talks. And, of course, so does Israeli Premier Ehud Barak, 
who knows the peace movement at home is an important part of his Labour 
constituency.

Barak and US President Clinton are keen on a show-piece Middle East peace 
summit with Arafat in the summer. Clinton wants another jamboree to help 
the Democrats win the presidential race in November, Barak wants some 
movement to appease his doves and most of all so does Arafat.

Barak will probably order the transfer of the three Arab villages near 
occupied Jerusalem within the next few days as a sweetener  one after all 
is openly tipped to be the site of the new Palestinian parliament.

But there's still no sign that the Americans or the Israelis are ready to 
make realistic decisions to reach a just peace in the region. A village 
here, a prisoner release there, goes nowhere to meeting basic Palestinian 
demands.

Over the decades the US and Israelis have believed that if they do nothing 
but keep the spoils of war the Arabs will eventually knuckle down and 
accept whatever is on the table  no matter how small it is. Palestine 
Day's events once again prove how terribly wrong they are.

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