GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The ousted Palestinian security chief said Monday that his people were better off before they launched their armed uprising. But a jailed leader of the revolt told an Israeli court he has no regrets.
Despite such conflicting views, there was little public debate among Palestinians as the "intefadeh (search)" — which has killed thousands, brought economic ruin and all but snuffed out peace hopes — entered its fourth year. In Gaza, several thousand rallied Monday to support the struggle.
Also Monday, Yasser Arafat, suffering from flu, summoned his personal physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi from Jordan, who arrived at the Palestinian leader's office with a team of medical specialists.
Arafat suffers from tremors in his lower lip which doctors have called a nervous tic but some speculate may come from Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disease.
Arafat and al-Kurdi emerged from the compound and Arafat said, "the illness is over, thank God." Al-Kurdi said he was "astonished to find him in good health despite his living in unhealthy conditions."
The Palestinian leader has been holed up in his battered Ramallah headquarters for most of the past two years — afraid to leave for fear Israel might block his return or storm the offices to seize wanted men it believes to be inside.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made sidelining Arafat a cornerstone of his policy and has convinced the United States that Arafat is supporting terrorism and impeding efforts to end the three years of violence.
Arafat has most recently been accused of blocking efforts by outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his security chief Mohammed Dahlan (search) to implement the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan by disarming militant groups.
Abbas resigned three weeks ago, and Dahlan has been left out of the emerging Cabinet of premier-designate and longtime Arafat ally Ahmed Qureia.
On Sunday, the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star quoted Dahlan as saying that taking up arms against Israel was a mistake.
In an AP interview in his Gaza City office, Dahlan said Monday that the Palestinians misread the implications of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
"Nine-eleven was the turning point of everything," he said. "We did not understand 9-11 in a correct and substantial way, in order to ... bring back the international legitimacy for our (Palestinian) Authority and for our president (Arafat)."
Other critics of the uprising — including Abbas — have said suicide bombings and shootings weakened the Palestinians' international standing at a time when the West was becoming increasingly sensitive to the threat of terrorism.
Dahlan said the Palestinians' first uprising, from 1987-1993, in which demonstrators faced soldiers with rocks and bottles, was much more effective than the current revolt. It "brought us back to our homeland," said Dahlan, who along with Arafat returned from exile in the mid-1990s.
Before the current uprising, "we were in a better position than we are now, politically and internationally," Dahlan said in the interview.
Israeli premier Ehud Barak (search) was then proposing a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with a foothold in Jerusalem. Israel's economy was growing at 6 percent annually, and the nascent Palestinian one was on the upswing on the strength of peace hopes and investment in tourism.
The Palestinian uprising broke out after then-opposition leader Sharon visited the contested Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount on Sept. 28, 2000. Deadly clashes broke out the next day.
With violence raging, the sides could not reach a peace deal, and Sharon won elections and removed Barak's offers from the table. The violence has spiraled into a cycle of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military strikes.
In all, 2,477 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 860 on the Israeli side. Half the Palestinians are jobless — as is almost 11 percent of the Israeli work force. Both economies have shrunk, and Israel has reoccupied many of the Palestinian autonomous zones.
Despite this, a prominent leader of the uprising, Marwan Barghouti, said he had no regrets about the past three years.
"To die is better than living under occupation," Barghouti told the Tel Aviv court, during closing arguments in his murder trial. Israel accuses him of involvement in attacks that killed 26 Israelis.
"I am proud of the intefadeh. I am proud of the resistance to the Israeli occupation," he told the judges in Hebrew. "Today three years have passed and I hope the Israelis have learned the Palestinian people cannot be [defeated] with force."
Barghouti — nabbed by Israeli troops near Ramallah last year — says he is a politician uninvolved in terrorism, but he has not directly addressed the charges against him during the trial, as he refuses to recognize its legitimacy.
The judges said Monday that legal proceedings would not be completed by Nov. 10 as originally planned. Palestinian sources have said Barghouti tops a list of hundreds of inmates whose release the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah is seeking as part of a prisoner swap with Israel. Israeli officials have said, however, that Barghouti would not be released.
In Gaza City, meanwhile, about 3,000 supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has carried out scores of suicide bombings, rallied Monday.