Al-Aqsa Intifada Reportedly Planned in July
A Palestinian cabinet minister said earlier this month that the uprising against Israel, which began after Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa mosque in late September, was planned by Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat after the failure of the Camp David Summit in July. "It had been planned since Chairman Arafat's return from Camp David, when he turned the tables in the face of the former U.S. president and rejected the American conditions," said Communications Minister Imad Falouji on March 2 during a rally at the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Sidon, Lebanon. His remarks, reported by the Associated Press, contradict claims by PA officials that the uprising was spontaneous.
Sharon's Iraq Connection
According to a March 1 article in Foreign Report (London), Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has opened a secret back-channel contact with Iraq. Last month, an Israeli Druze advisor of Sharon's met with an Iraqi representative in Amman. According to the report, Iraq is willing to open negotiations with Israel on the condition that the talks be secret and that "parallel talks between Israel and the Palestinians be en route for a solution."
Benyamin Ben Eliezer, the new Israeli defense minister who is of Iraqi origin, reportedly conducted back-channel talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on behalf of the Rabin administration in 1994, but the talks were halted at the insistence of the US. There were also reports of Israeli-Iraqi contacts in November-December 1999 [see "Israel Reportedly Opens Secret Negotiations with Iraq," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, December 1999].
The most common interpretation of Israel's periodic attempts to explore negotiations with Iraq is that a diplomatic breakthrough with Baghdad would result in a more conciliatory Syrian negotiating position (and, some say, discounted petroleum imports). The Iraqis are said to be motivated by a desire to bring about relaxation of UN sanctions.
Poll Shows Palestinian Disenchantment with PA
A poll conducted early last month by Birzeit University's Development Studies Program suggests that the Al-Aqsa Intifada has generated a great deal of collective antipathy toward Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA). Of the 1,200 Palestinians surveyed, 36% believe that the PA is "not effectively serving the public." Although 47% give Arafat a "positive" rating for his leadership, only 28% would vote for him if presidential elections were held. The poll also indicated that 53% of Palestinians support attacks against Israeli civilians.