While the main players at Wednesday’s Red Sea quadrilateral summit basked in the climate of a new chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace showcased in Aqaba, a very senior White House official approached a top Israeli security leader with a quiet question.
“Tell me, after what you have seen and heard here in the closed-door discussions – if you had to wager who’s going to be around six months from now, would you bet on Abu Mazen or Yasser Arafat?”
The Israeli didn’t hesitate. “Yasser Arafat,” he replied.
“Are you serious?” the American shot back.
“Look,” the Israeli said, “Things will be pretty quiet today and two days from now – maybe even into the next two or three weeks. (He was over-optimistic. The next day, Thursday, June 5, two Israelis were found brutally murdered in a Jerusalem wood, bearing the marks of Palestinian terrorist killings.) You’ll go back to Washington, we’ll head back to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and the Palestinians will return to Ramallah and Gaza. Thursday, Arafat will start summoning all the Palestinians who participated in the summits in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh, ordering them to appear at his Ramallah headquarters.
“First, he’ll call Abu Mazen, then Mohammed Dahlan and Nabil Shaath, and so on. Each will be invited for a one-on-one chat. They’ll be questioned quietly and with supreme patience about the tiniest details of the occasions, such as Bush’s facial expression when Saudi crown prince Abdullah spoke to him about the hunt underway in Saudi Arabia for Al Qaeda operatives, or how (Bush’s national security adviser) Condoleezza Rice reacted when (Palestinian security minister) Dahlan told her about Mohammed Rashid (ex-financial adviser to Arafat and now close confidant of high Egyptian officials). Arafat will want to know what Rice said when Dahlan mentioned Rashid’s plan for a ‘sulha’, or ritual reconciliation, between himself and Abu Mazen.
“Arafat will put every one of them through the wringer for hours. By pretending he already knows it all he will manipulate the interviewees into spilling everything to escape the intense heat of his questioning. Arafat will keep his own counsel until they’ve all been turned inside out.
His technique is special and highly effective. He acquires total command of the facts by squeezing every last drop of information from his interlocutors – and only then does he strike. Abu Mazen and Dahlan won’t realize they’ve been dropped into deep and murky waters without a lifebelt until they try to swim. “
The senior White House official heard the exposition and walked off.