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Interview With Mideast Studies Professor Ahmad Shboul - 2002-01-20

Israeli-Palestinian violence continues with Israeli retaliation for a Palestinian extremist attack. Israeli soldiers have blown-up the studios of official Palestinian radio and television in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Palestinians resumed broadcasting hours later from private radio stations in the West Bank. Israel says Palestinians used the radio and television to incite violence. VOA News Now's Victor Beattie discussed the situation with Ahmad Shboul. He is a professor of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Shboul: "Well, I think it's essentially both sides are to blame. But there is obviously a kind of lack of symmetry, lack of balance if you like, in the forces available, of course, to both sides. The Israelis have their very strong military machine, as everybody knows, and Yasser Arafat is imprisoned; he is sort of under house arrest and has been for a few weeks now. He can't do very much.

The problem I think is that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been asking for, if you remember, one week of cease-fire. And I think recently he got a couple of weeks. But then it seems to me that the Israeli Government was asking for more. They kept saying to the Palestinian Authority, you must arrest this group and that group, and so on, and they have continued also what they call targeted assassination of would-be terrorists.

The other thing is that the violence against Israeli civilians has been conducted by people who do not belong to the Palestinian Authority. Essentially it's Hamas or the Jihad or, I think at some stage, there were some suspicions of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Meanwhile, all the retaliations, or most of the retaliations, by the Israelis have been directed at the Palestinian Authority infrastructure. As you know, the Security Building, the Airport, and now of course the latest thing is the building of the Palestinian Broadcasting Service, which apparently has been completely blown up. It's very strange, I think, that the retaliation should be directed in this way and, at the same time, the Israelis are asking Yasser Arafat to clamp down even more on people who are using violence against Israelis."

Beattie: "Let me ask you, Professor, are you implying then that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has no control over these militants, some of whom say they're linked to the Fatah movement?"

Shboul: "Certainly the latest event in Hadera is not connected with the Fatah movement. I would say more than 95 percent of the incidents of violence or terrorism are not linked with the Palestinian Authority as such. And Yasser Arafat is becoming very unpopular with his own people because he has been arresting quite a number of activists, and even some welfare societies which provide health and education services have been closed down because they are associated with Hamas or other groups."

Obviously Yasser Arafat, from his position, is very weak and he is getting weaker every day because of what he does in arresting his own people. And also, because of the destruction of his own infrastructure, by increment, there will come a day when they will pull everything from under his feet and there will be nothing in terms of the Palestinian Authority. And I think that seems to me the bottom line for Sharon's policy. It's not as simple as it is always made out, I think, in the media."