BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Peace drowning in blood
Palestinian woman grieves in front of a pool of blood at the Al-Aqsa mosque
Violence was sparked by clashes at Muslim holy site
By Middle East Analyst Roger Hardy

The efforts of US President Bill Clinton to use his last few months in office to bring about a diplomatic triumph in the Middle East have been dogged by failure.

In July he won points for patience and determination when he shut himself away in his Camp David retreat with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The summit broke new ground, but ended in failure.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, US President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
The Camp David talks ended in failure
Once the momentum had been lost, Israelis and Palestinians reverted to their usual habit of blaming one another for the impasse.

At the end of September it was considered a modest success when Mr Barak invited the Palestinian leader to his home for dinner.

Hitherto the two men had viewed one another with mistrust. Now it looked as if the ice was beginning to melt, and the two sides set themselves the goal of achieving a comprehensive agreement by the middle of October.

But only a few days later violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians erupted in the West Bank and Gaza, quickly spreading to Arab areas of Israel itself.

Amid graphic images of stone-throwing, tyre-burning and, above all, the killing of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah, it looked as if the peace process was drowning in blood.

Arab involvement

The violence, the worst in at least four years, carries with it obvious echoes of the Intifada - the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s.Then and now, television images of well-armed Israeli soldiers firing at young Palestinian demonstrators damaged Israel in the eyes of world opinion.

Some of the violence does seem spontaneous rather than orchestrated

But one important difference this time is that many of the clashes have involved members of Yasser Arafat's security forces. Another difference is that the violence has spread to Israel's Arab minority.

In the past the so-called Israeli Arabs have been relatively quiescent. Now they have taken to the streets to show their solidarity with their brethren in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli troops enter hotel in Ramallah
Bad publicity: Heavily armed Israeli troops in Ramallah
This is deeply troubling to the Israelis, who now fear that the Arabs in their midst - about 20% of Israel's population - are becoming dangerously "Palestinianised".

World leaders such as President Jacques Chirac of France have been quick to accuse Israel of using excessive force. Stung by the charge, Israeli officials retort that Yasser Arafat has given a green light to the violence, even while pretending to calm the situation down.

But the evidence is far from clear-cut. Such is the anger and frustration among ordinary Palestinians, who have derived little or no benefit from the peace process, that some of the violence does seem spontaneous rather than orchestrated. It is unlikely that Mr Arafat is fully in control of the situation.

But at the same time he is a beneficiary of the bloodshed, regardless of whether he is or is not manipulating the situation.


After the unsuccessful Camp David summit, international opinion was not particularly supportive of him, despite his tireless efforts to drum up support even in the most unlikely capitals. Now the tide has turned in his favour. Israel is once again seen as a brutal occupying power. The Arab world is temporarily united in castigating Israeli behaviour.

Palestinian with slingshot attacks Israeli forces
Shades of the Intifada in 2000
It is a victory of sorts. But it may not last. Mr Arafat faces at least two dilemmas from which he may find it hard to escape.

The first is that the violence plays into the hands of his principal domestic opponent, the militant Islamic group Hamas. Hamas has always maintained that armed struggle is the only way to deal with Israel, and that negotiation leads nowhere.

The Palestinian leader's other dilemma is that, in his heart of hearts, he knows that his dream of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, can only be achieved at the negotiating table - not on the streets of Jerusalem or Jaffa or Ramallah.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

03 Oct 00 | Middle East
'Ceasefire' calms West Bank
01 Oct 00 | Middle East
Arab world condemns Israel
02 Oct 00 | Media reports
Israel apportions blame
01 Oct 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Battle for Jerusalem
02 Oct 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Fifth day of clashes
02 Oct 00 | Middle East
Mubarak backs calls for Arab summit
28 Sep 00 | Middle East
Shots fired at Jerusalem holy site
28 Sep 00 | Middle East
Barak agrees to twin Jerusalem capitals
13 Sep 00 | Middle East
Holy Jerusalem: The key to peace
02 Oct 00 | Middle East
Boy becomes Palestinian martyr
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories