JERUSALEM Thousands of Palestinians rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday against a Middle East summit under way in Egypt in what PLO activists said was a message to Yasser Arafat that he had no backing for a cease-fire.
Protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers at several confrontation points, snapping a two-day lull in the fighting and casting a long shadow over U.S.-mediated efforts to halt the violence in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheik. One Palestinian was killed and several dozen were wounded in the day’s fighting.
The latest protests raised new questions about Mr. Arafat’s control over the uprising, which began in Jerusalem 19 days ago and quickly spread to other cities in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.
“We know how to read the political map. We met and made our own decision to protest today,” said Hussam Khader, one of the leaders of Tanzim in the West Bank, the group that has powered the riots since late last month and asserted a remarkable degree of political independence.
Mr. Khader, a 38-year-old resident of the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank, said Mr. Arafat had no mandate from his Fatah group, a faction inside the PLO, to reach a truce with Israel.
“All the Palestinian people today said no to this summit and no to Yasser Arafat. I think today Chairman Arafat is representing himself in Sharm el Sheik, not the Palestinian people,” Mr. Khader told The Washington Times.
His remarks, coming not from a Hamas, the Islamic group that forms an opposition to Mr. Arafat, but from within Arafat’s party, are among the most challenging statements to be directed at Mr. Arafat since he set up his self-rule administration in 1994.
Israel insists Mr. Arafat has orchestrated the riots in a bid to score political leverage in negotiations with the Jewish state. But on some days, Mr. Arafat, a symbol of the Palestinian struggle for statehood for more than 25 years, has appeared at most to be responding to the events, rather than leading them.
“Arafat hoped to use the protests to address the political imbalance since the talks at Camp David,” said Palestinian political analyst Khalil Shikaki. “But the violence and the confrontations have taken on a life of their own.”
Mr. Shikaki and other analysts said Mr. Arafat would need to get political concessions from Israel in order to persuade his people to stop the violence, in which more than 100 people have been killed, most of them Arabs.
“Arafat is still very popular and still has a lot of influence over Tanzim, but if he tells them tomorrow that he has achieved a cease-fire and nothing else, they will laugh in his face,” Mr. Shikaki said.
Tanzim is a political group inside Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction. It was formed in 1982 as the arm of Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza at a time when most PLO leaders lived in exile, first in Lebanon and later in Tunis.
The group, which has its own cache of arms mostly M-16s and AK-47s that were increasingly visible at rallies in the past weeks directed a six-year Palestinian uprising against Israel that started in 1987.
Mr. Khader, who says he was among the instigators of the uprising 13 years ago, was jailed and later deported by Israel, returning to his home in Balata in 1994 after six years in exile.
He said there was some tension between Palestinian activists who grew up in the West Bank and Gaza and PLO leaders who arrived from Tunis after a 1993 peace deal with Israel and assumed leadership positions.
“Many of these people from exile reached the top of the political pyramid and are now trying to change the goals of our struggle from statehood to economic or commercial well-being. We won’t let that happen,” Mr. Khader said.
The latest wave of violence began Sept. 28, after a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a shrine holy to Muslims and Jews.
Palestinians have confronted Israeli troops at flash points in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with rocks, gasoline bombs and occasionally guns. In a gun battle with Israeli soldiers near the Egyptian border yesterday, a Palestinian policeman was fatally shot. About 30 others were wounded in clashes elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza.
The summit in Sharm el Sheik, which began yesterday, marked the second time Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak have tried to halt the violence and revive peace talks, which collapsed over the fate of Jerusalem and other core issues.
“Not even Yasser Arafat could put down this uprising because all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have lost hope in the peace process,” Mr. Khader said.