By Avi Issacharoff *
“When you see Zakariya, maybe you’ll be surprised, but he looks like just any other Palestinian man now. Without armed men, without a weapon, just an ordinary guy,” related an acquaintance of Zakariya Zubeidi, until not long ago the commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Jenin.
Though Zubeidi is no longer hiding from the Israel Defense Forces, for a number of hours the people at the theater where he works tried to find him. Zubeidi didn’t answer his mobile phone even when the commander of the Palestinian security forces in Jenin, Suleiman Umran, called him. In the end, a woman who works at the theater explained that he usually sleeps late and maybe that’s what he was doing.
In the past, Zubeidi used to show up briefly at his house, in the Jenin refugee camp, together with his wanted colleagues, before disappearing for fear that Israelis would ambush him. The only reminder of those days are the framed pictures of the “martyrs” killed recently in the camp, and the huge poster of Saddam Hussein posted in one of the alleys leading to Zubeidi’s home. The door is opened by his son Mohammed, who immediately summons his father. He comes down in sandals and a black T-shirt, and promises that in a few minutes he will come to the theater offices. Zubeidi arrives in his officer’s “battle” jacket and mountaineering shoes, but without a weapon and without his erstwhile colleagues from the brigades.
What are you doing these days?
Zubeidi – “Nothing special. We’ve shut down the Al-Aqsa brigades and I haven’t yet received a full pardon from Israel. I’m at home a bit, at the theater a bit.”
Why haven’t you received a pardon?
Zubeidi – “They lied to us, Israel and the PA – Palestinian Authority. The PA promised us that after we spent three months in PA facilities and if we didn’t get involved in actions, we would receive a pardon. The three months ended and nothing happened. We still need to sleep at the headquarters of the security organizations. They promised us jobs and they haven’t materialized either. Some of us are getting a salary of NIS 1,050 a month. What can you do with that? Buy Bamba for your children? They lied to everyone, they made a distinction between those who were really in the Al-Aqsa Brigades, whom they screwed, and groups that called themselves by that name, but in fact were working on behalf of the PA.”
So why have you stopped?
Zubeidi – “In part because of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. Look, it’s perfectly clear to me that we won’t be able to defeat Israel. My aim was for us, by means of the ‘resistance’ (code for terror attacks), to get a message out to the world. Back in Abu Amar’s day (the nom de guerre of Yasser Arafat), we had a plan, there was a strategy, and we would carry his orders.”
In effect, are you saying what Amos Gilad and intelligence always said, that Arafat planned everything?
Zubeidi – “Right. Everything that was done in the intifada was done according to Arafat’s instructions, but he didn’t need to tell us the things explicitly. We understood his message.”
And today there is no leadership?
Zubeidi – “Today I can say explicitly: We failed entirely in the intifada. We haven’t seen any benefit or positive result from it. We achieved nothing. It’s a crushing failure. We failed at the political level – we didn’t succeed in translating the military actions into political achievements. The current leadership does not want armed actions, and since the death of Abu Amar, there’s no one who is capable of using our actions to bring about such achievements. When Abu Amar died, the armed intifada died with him.”
What happened? Why did it die?
Zubeidi – “Why? Because our politicians are whores. Our leadership is garbage. Look at Ruhi Fatouh, who was president of the PA for 60 days, as Yasser Arafat’s replacement. He smuggled mobile phones. Do you understand? We have been defeated. The political splits and schisms have destroyed us not only politically – they have destroyed our national identity. Today there is no Palestinian identity. Go up to anyone in the street and ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He’ll answer you, ‘I’m a Fatah activist,’ ‘I’m a Hamas activist,’ or an activist of some other organization, but he won’t say to you, ‘I am a Palestinian.’ Every organization flies its own flag, but no one is raising the flag of Palestine.”
Are you, who used to be a symbol of the intifada, saying, “We have been defeated, we have failed, the intifada is dead?”
Zubeidi – “Even Gamal Abdel Nasser admitted his defeat, so why not me? Come on, I’ll tell you something. On Saturday there was a ceremony to mark the killing of one of our martyrs. They asked me to say a few words. What could I say? I can no longer promise that we will follow in the martyr’s footsteps, as is customary, because I would be lying. So then one of the heads of Fatah came over to me and said, ‘We are following in the footsteps of the martyrs, we are continuing the resistance.’ And I told him that he is a liar.
“I feel that they have abandoned us, the Al-Aqsa activists. They have left us behind and forgotten us. We are marching in the direction of nowhere, toward total ruin. The Palestinian people is finished. Done for. Hamas comes on the air on its television station and says ‘Fatah is a traitor.’ That is to say, 40 percent of the nation are traitors. And then Fatah does the same thing and you already have 80 percent traitors.”
Is that why you are at home?
Zubeidi – “I got tired. When you lose, what can you do? We, the activists, paid the heavy price. We’ve had family members killed, friends. They demolished our homes and we have no way of earning a living. And what is the result? Zero. Simply zero. And when that’s the result, you don’t want to be a part of it any more. Lots of other people, as a result of the frustration, and because Fatah doesn’t have a military wing any more, have joined the Islamic Jihad. Those activists are still willing to pay the price.”
“And look at what the PA does to those who are keeping at it. If a PA person is killed in a battle with the Israelis, the stipend paid to his family will amount to NIS 250 a month, even though he had been earning about NIS 2,000. Why? So that he won’t even think about carrying out terror attacks. This is the only plan that the PA has these days: Israeli security. The security of the occupation before the security of [Palestinian] citizens.
“When an israeli jeep comes into a refugee camp, the PA doesn’t do anything, and if someone shoots at the jeep, they’ll go and arrest him immediately. Today the president of the Palestinian people is General Dayton – Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator. They’re all working for him, he is the boss. A PA no longer exists more and the Hamas when continuing attacking deliberately civil Israelis the world against us is placing.”
Zubeidi relates that for him, the theater is a refuge from the bleak political reality that the Palestinians are facing. “Here there’s no politics, no religion. I still feel free here.” From time to time he talks with Tali Fahima (Israeli woman who spent time in prison for her contacts with Zubeidi), and Jewish friends come to visit him at the theater. As to the future of the region, Zubeidi’s forecast is very grim.
“Abu Mazen’s mistake,” he says, referring to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, “is that he is gambling everything on the negotiations. And what happens if the talks fail? What is his plan then? I’m telling you that if by the end of 2008 a Palestinian state isn’t established, there is going to be a war here. Not against Israel, or between Hamas and Fatah, but against the PA. The citizens are going to throw the PA out of here. Today the PA is doing what Dayton and Israel are telling it to do, but at the end of the year, when Israel doesn’t give the Palestinians a state, the PA is going to be thrown out. There’s going to be an all-out war here, for control of the West Bank.”
Zubeidi is not the only one who’s feeling pessimistic about the future of the PA. Similar remarks can be heard everywhere in the West Bank these days. Senior American and Israeli officials who have spoken recently with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are saying that his despair is obvious. Some of Fayyad’s bitterness derives from Israel’s scornful attitude toward the PA. However, it appears that Fayyad is frustrated to the same extent by the endless conflict with Fatah people, who urge him to appoint cabinet ministers from their movement and at the same time are lying in wait for him to fail.
Some of the criticism of Fayyad’s government, which has no Fatah people, is justified. The Palestinian prime minister, his many successes notwithstanding, is by no means a miracle worker, nor can he by himself change the face of the reality. The group of cabinet ministers he has appointed are considered technocrats, for better or worse, and they are not succeeding in implementing a substantial change in the government sector.
The heads of the Tanzim, the senior Fatah people who were supposed to have become the organization’s leaders of the future, are also making little effort to conceal their despair. They watch as their movement marches toward annihilation: without real reforms, without substantive change, but with endless talk about elections in Fatah and a war on corruption. Even the heads of some of the security organizations are critical of the stuttering actions of the PA against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank. And while Hamas indirectly conducts indirect negotiations with Israel on a cease-fire, the PA, as Zubeidi says, has “zero achievements” to show: limping negotiations, Israeli unwillingness to help, corruption and the absence of reforms.
In the view of some Tanzim people, the PA is on a sure path to disintegration. Not in a swift and sharp way, but rather in a prolonged process, at the end of which it will disappear from the West Bank and will be replaced by the Israeli occupation and Hamas. Nearly the only scenario that could change the face of things is, of course, a political agreement or a framework agreement between the PA and Israel. But who can trust the Israelis?
* Avi Issacharoff, journalist, Haaretz correspondent, author of “The Seventh War – A History of Intifada” and “34 Days – Israel, Hezbollah and the War in Lebonon“, with Amos Harel.