Well, it turns out Ariel Sharon didn’t exactly provoke the latest Palestinian uprising with his trip to the Temple Mount, after all.

That, of course, was the excuse Yasser Arafat’s followers made for the latest round of stone-throwing, sniper attacks, bus assaults and suicide bombings to plague Jerusalem and its surroundings since last fall.

They suggested that it was provocative of Sharon to make a speech on the holiest site of Judaism — one contested by Arafat and Islamic zealots who claim, against an overwhelming body of historical and archaeological evidence, a Jewish Temple never really stood on the mountain.

Now, thanks to a translation made available by the Middle East Media and Research Institute, we learn from a top Palestine Authority official that the Intifada was planned all along — well before Sharon’s appearance.

“Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people,” said PA Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji during a visit to a refugee camp in Lebanon. “This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton.”

Al-Faluji went even further, pledging the “Palestinian resistance will strike in Tel Aviv, in Ashkelon, in Jerusalem and in every inch of the land of natural Palestine. Israel will not have a quiet night. There will be no security in the heart of Israel,” he said in a speech March 3.

“We say to the Zionist enemy and to the entire world: We will return to the early days of the PLO, to the sixties and seventies; ‘the Fatah Hawks’ will return, as will the ‘Izz Al-Din Al Qassam Brigades’ (the military wing of the Hamas),” he said. “A new stage will continue until the rights are returned to their owners. … We will strike whoever blames us for the failure of the negotiations, because President Yasser Arafat’s patience was greater than Job’s. Arafat has become the Job of the 20th century, because of what the U.S. and Israel lay on him.”

Later, after Israel announced its intention to use Al-Faluji’s own words to support its contention that the Palestine Authority was not acting in good faith, Arafat pressured Al-Faluji to retract his statements. Instead of doing that, however, the PA spokesman denied ever making them.

But these statements by Al-Faluji were really nothing new. He had made similar statements as far back as December of 2000.

“The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations, by request of President Yasser Arafat, who predicted the outbreak of the Intifada as a complementary stage to the Palestinian steadfastness in the negotiations, and not as a specific protest against Sharon’s visit to Al-Haram A-Qudsi (Temple Mount),” he was quoted as saying in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam Dec. 6.

“The Intifada was no surprise for the Palestinian leadership. The leadership had invested all of its efforts in political and diplomatic channels in order to fix the flaws in the negotiations and the peace process, but to no avail. It encountered Israeli stubbornness and continuous renunciation of the (Palestinian) rights. … The PA instructed the political forces and factions to run all matters of the Intifada.”

Fatah Central Committee member Sakhr Habash made a similar statement reported in yet another Palestinian daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the next day. So, Al-Faluji can make all the denials he wants. The evidence is mounting that the so-called “spontaneous” uprising was a planned effort by Arafat and his top lieutenants.

Yet, the whole issue raises some questions in my mind: Why should Israelis and Jews be defensive about Sharon’s planned appearance at the Temple Mount in the first place? In fact, why should any Jew have the slightest trepidation about visiting the holiest site in Judaism? Why should any non-Muslim even need to seek permission to visit the Temple Mount? And, why should a simple, peaceful speech and appearance by an Israeli official anywhere at any time provide license to rioters, assassins and other violent acts by Palestinians?

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