A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives
Three-Part DEBKAfile Series on US Plan to Rebuild Palestinian Administration
20 July: Without waiting for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Europe or Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration is forging forward alone with a grand scheme for overhauling the Palestinian Authority politically, economically, militarily and administratively, a scheme so broad that the term “reforms” does not begin to do it justice.
I. Only Pro-US Members Allowed
DEBKAfile‘s Washington sources reveal that the White House has entrusted the international development agency, USAID, with the task of rebuilding Palestinian Authority institutions from scratch. USAID is no stranger to the region. It has been operating on the West Bank and Gaza Strip since before the 1967 war when the two territories were respectively under Jordanian and Egyptian jurisdictions. Its work was to promote economic growth and democracy and oversee proper water supply, as well as public health, community and education services. When the Oslo Peace Framework Accords regime was initiated in 1993, USAID was forced into a minor role by Yasser Arafat, who insisted that every dollar reaching the Palestinian Authority be processed through him personally. His motives emerged much later: the money was being misspent on weapons acquisitions and running his terrorist campaign against Israel.
Nonetheless, though hardly noticed, USAID offices and facilities in Palestinian areas were not dismantled. They now stand ready to be fully reactivated as a central instrument of the American presence in Palestinian areas.
The Bush administration has assigned USAID a leading role in five of its regular spheres, all essential components of the new Palestinian government:
Water, electricity, transport and infrastructure
Democracy: The creation of elected national and local authority.
Public health: Setting up medical and social welfare services.
Education: Creating a new school system whose curricula is not impregnated with nationalist and religious incitement.
This will be America’s first experiment in creating for a Muslim-dominated society an educational system free of the taint of fostering terrorism – suicidal terrorism, in the Palestinian case.
The CIA has been assigned with creating a single new security force with a single command, according to a plan drawn up by its director, George Tenet, to replace the dozen or more security groups subject to Arafat.
II. Sharon Is Supportive, Prepares for Storm
21 July: The unconventional makeup of the delegation Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon sent to Washington Saturday night, July 20, betrays his ambivalent attitude on the Bush administration’s plan to restructure the Palestinian Authority from top to bottom. That delegation has two heads: the prime minister’s chef de bureau Dov Weissglass and his former military secretary Maj.Gen Moshe Kaplinksy, who takes up the IDF’s West bank command after his return.
The two men are poles apart on the Palestinian issue.
Weissglass shares the European, Egyptian and, up to a point, the Saudi view that the Palestinian Authority stands in need of only limited reforms. They want to retain Yasser Arafat in a ceremonial capacity and introduce a strong Palestinian prime minister.
Weissglass would like to see as prime minister one of his former Palestinian business associates from the time before he entered public life. His first choice would be Arafat’s financial adviser Mohammed Rashid; former Gaza Strip head of security Muhammed Dahlan, his second, with Rashid serving as deputy and finance minister.
Maj.-Gen. Kaplinsky is of one mind with Sharon on the issue. Both know that none of these preferences have much relevance to the White House’s Palestinian scheme. Washington will not tolerate any incumbent of Yasser Arafat’s regime staying on. The two Israeli ministers, Peres and Danny Naveh, sent to revive the dialogue with Palestinian officials over the weekend, made sure they talked to men not appointed by Arafat, but the Washington-approved interior minister General Abdel Razzek Yahya and finance minister Salem Fayed.
Arafat shuns them both, leaving them out of his decision-making forums.
The heavyweight of the delegation to Washington is Kaplinsky, who is slated for the most sensitive, demanding and responsible military post in the coming year after that of chief of staff. As OC Central Command, he will be responsible for the West Bank and Israel’s heartland. Since the Iraqi-Jordanian frontier regions are the likely arenas for some of the heaviest combat in the US campaign against Iraq, Kaplinksy will be in the thick of the action on Israel’s eastern front as well as in the Palestinian arena. Given the Saddam Hussein’s popularity among Palestinians, he will have to place their towns under siege during the fighting, and above all to keep the routes running east from the Mediterranean to the Jordanian frontier and beyond to Iraq safe and clear for large-scale military movements.
At the same, Kaplinsky will be charged with keeping the American Palestinian scheme developing on track and safe from sabotage – especially on the part of Arafat, who is a staunch ally of the Iraqi ruler.
Sharon is not entirely happy with America’s master plan for the Palestinians. Somewhere down the road, maybe a year or two after the war with Iraq, the United States could conceivably slap down before an Israeli government the accomplished fact of a post-Arafat, terror-free Palestinian government, with the Saddam and Hizballah threats gone, and demand a quid pro quo from Israel. It will be made clear that, for the new Palestinian administration to gain credibility in Palestinian eyes, Israel must withdraw all the way to the pre-1967 borders and uproot Israeli towns and settlements.
DEBKAfile‘s Jerusalem sources say that Sharon prefers to push this prospect to the back of his mind while focusing on immediate objectives: Israeli’s military preparations for the coming showdown on the fronts against Iraq in the east and Syria and the Hizballah in the north; confrontation with Palestinian terror and the end-game against Arafat, which is boiling down to cutting off his financing to obviate his capabilities for launching terrorist attacks.
In the meantime, he expects:
1. Arafat to do his best to sabotage the American program. His chances of succeeding are not negligible, in which case the Americans may decide at some point to wash their hands of their New Palestinian Scheme.
2. The war to unseat Saddam will free Jordan of its Iraqi bugbear and allow it to revert to the dominant military and intelligence power in the Palestinian West Bank, as the Hashemite throne was prior to 1967. Sharon would not be averse to this development, even if he will have to remove the more isolated settlements on the West Bank, because it would leave the territory under the joint rule of the Palestinians, the United States, Jordan and Israel – a plan he could live with.
3. In a military confrontation with Syria, Iraq and the Hizballah, the United States and Israel alike face the dangers of mega-terror and attacks by weapons of mass destructions including radiological bombs, chemical and biological weapons. Strategic realities undreamed of today could result from such eruptions.
Considering the unknown factors ahead, the Israeli prime minister has decided for the time being it would be prudent to weave his policies into those of the Bush administration and back Washington’s Palestinian framework. He will hold to this position for as long as it enables him to dominate Israel’s political dynamic and survive as the only politician on the stage capable of filling the shoes of prime minister in Jerusalem.
III. Arafat Threatens Palestinians Joining US Plan
22 July: Two events on Monday, July 22, bore crucially on the American Palestinian endeavor: In the first, the new Palestinian interior minister, Gen. Abdel Razek Yahye, sent messengers to Amman to open talks on importing the Jordan-based Palestinian Liberation Army to West Bank towns – both to replace the Israeli forces sitting on the terror lid in Palestinian cities and to displace Yasser Arafat’s motley security forces, many of whose members moonlight as terrorists.
The officers and men of the Palestinian Liberation Army are Jordanian Palestinians who swear allegiance to the Hashemite crown and are on its payroll. Their official number is 20,000, but the real figure may be less than half. Their arrival on the West Bank would put Arafat in a cleft stick. On the one hand, he can hardly object to vigorous young Palestinian fighters coming to evict Israeli troops from Palestinian towns. But on the other, he knows they will be coming to displace the security bodies loyal to him in line with the American scheme for knocking over his support structure.
The arrival of Jordanian Palestinian troops will therefore signal the countdown for the demise of Arafat’s regime in the West Bank together with Jordan’s reinstatement, a process carried forward by Gen. Yahya with American and Israeli approval and financial support.
The second key development was the response drawn from Arafat’s corner by the DEBKAfile series detailing the role the Bush administration has assigned to USAID in building a new Palestinian administration free of terror and corruption. The Palestinian Authority’s news weekly Al Manar, in a furious article, charged USAID with being an instrument of the Central Intelligence Agency and aiming to destroy the Palestinian Authority. The PA has discovered, the publication reports, that certain Palestinians have established ties with the US organization. These Palestinians are accused of being enemies of the Palestinian authority.
Anyone familiar with Arafatspeak, will interpret this statement as a threat on the lives of Palestinians who throw their lot in with Washington – unless they break off all ties with USAID forthwith.
DEBKAfile‘s intelligence and Palestinian sources report that, a few days ago, Arafat ordered his intelligence units to give the highest priority to marking out the Palestinians collaborating with the Americans. The warning in al Manar followed, hinting that if it proves unavailing, Arafat has every intention of switching over to physical liquidations.
No more than one or two assassinations will be necessary to deter the others and launch his reign of terror in the home camp.
24 July: Various politicians lost no time in capitalizing on the genuine shock, condemnation and remorse in Israel and overseas over the death of children and civilians in Monday’s Israeli F16 warplane bombing of a residential district of Gaza City. More than one previous attempt to hit the Hamas’s top gun, Salah Shehada, was put off when he was found to be in civilian company. The Israeli army admitted that it erred in not calling off the F16 strike too, but stressed that Shehada, founder and commander of the Hamas’s suicidal Ezz-e-din al-Qassam, had knowingly cut short the lives of many Palestinian youths by sending them on suicidal homicide missions against Israeli children, as a matter of policy. Shortly before he was cut down, he began passing directives from Gaza to the West Bank, to initiate a fresh wave of suicide killings.
In the two days since Shehada’s passing, certain “Western circles” and pro-Oslo Israelis have gone to much trouble to demonstrate that his death aborted a near-accord among Palestinian terrorist groups for a ceasefire in terrorist attacks. One publication claimed that such an accord was but 20 minutes away. Another, that the bombing of Shehada’s home occurred two hours before publication of a unilateral, unconditional declaration formulated by Fatah’s Tanzim militia, with tacit endorsement from the Hamas and the Jihad Islami, to halt all terror attacks on Israeli civilians.
On this score, the Israel bombardment would have been doubly reprehensible.
DEBKAfile‘s Palestinian sources, setting the record straight, firmly assert that, far from the ceasefire talks said to be under discussion, the only negotiations current between the Fatah and the Hamas pertained to a truce in the inter-factional warfare between them. There were two issues on the agenda of their discussions:
1. A truce – not in the terrorist campaign against Israel – but in the embarrassing war of leaflets current between Arafat’s Fatah and the Hamas. This feud has not been exposed to the general public but is no less fiery for that. For the first time in many years, Hamas in its publicly circulated leaflets ventured to launch personal attacks against “Abu Amar”, namely Arafat, drawing a tit for tat response.
Hamas escalated its language first. A story run last week in a Jordanian Hamas-allied publication, and picked up later by other media, accused Arafat of transferring five million dollars of Palestinian funds to his wife Suha in Paris. The paper hinted at immoral goings by the leader’s spouse.
Honor-bound to respond, the Fatah in Ramallah fought back with a leaflet accusing the Hamas of insolence towards the Chairman and sullying the Palestinian first lady’s reputation. The Fatah leaflet contemptuously referred to the Hamas spiritual leader, Yassin, as the ” stammering sheikh” and called his top lieutenant, the late Salah Shehada, the “fleeing coward” (from Israeli troops).
This was shortly before he was killed.
2. Under the pressure of Israeli military operations in the West Bank from April, the Intifada Committees set up to coordinate terrorist operations among the various Palestinian groups have fallen apart. Arafat is anxious to re-assemble this essential backbone of his combined terror campaign.