On the West Bank, Resentment Fuels Support for Iraq

Article excerpt

`THE Palestinian street is with Saddam Hussein. Here is an Arab leader who has the power to match words with deeds."

The remarks of a Palestinian journalist in East Jerusalem typify the groundswell of popular support in the Israeli-occupied territories for the Iraqi leader's invasion of Kuwait.

Even though the Gulf crisis has put the Palestinian issue on the back burner of Middle East diplomacy, many Palestinians have expressed satisfaction and even elation at the lightning Iraqi strike against its oil-rich neighbor.

Conversations with Palestinians reveal several reasons for the surge of support for Iraq:

- The invasion of Kuwait, Palestinians say, has shattered the status quo of complacency in the Middle East characterized by ineffective Arab diplomacy, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue.

"People were happy that Saddam had shaken up the Arab world," Saeb Erakat, a political science professor at Najah University in the West Bank, told reporters."The feeling is that Israel cannot be forced into a peace process unless it is compelled by political changes in the Arab world."

- Palestinians value Iraq's strong support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which has offices and a radio station in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein is considered a champion of the Palestinian cause and a powerful pan-Arab leader, sometimes compared to the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

- Hussein's tough stance toward Israel and the West, and particularly his sharp warnings that he would retaliate with chemical weapons for an Israeli strike on Iraq or any other Arab state, has been welcomed by many Palestinians as an admirable show of Arab strength in the face of intimidations.

"What Saddam has done to Kuwait could also happen to Israel," an East Jerusalem Arab warned Israeli viewers in a sidewalk interview broadcast on local television. …