Arafat Backs Away from Euro-US Mediation

A glance at the website of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction kills stone dead the renewed, stepped up efforts by U.S. and European mediators to end more than 13 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed and prod both sides into returning to the negotiating table.The site, edited by two of Arafat’s closest confidants, Sahar Habash and Tawfik Abu Garbiya, carries an article headlined “Our Position”.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources note the article discloses what the Americans and Europeans have been offering the Palestinians over the past several weeks, the bones of which were presented by British prime minister Tony Blair to President W. Bush in the White House Wednesday, November 7. The article then goes on to spell out Arafat’s negative response.
The European plan (some US officials were involved in the planning and negotiation) lists four Israeli obligations:
A. To evacuate forces from all parts of the Gaza Strip and vacate all the Israeli settlements there.
B. To recognize an independent Palestinian state.
C. To pull its forces back to lines and positions held before the Intifada began on September 28, 2000.
D. To shelve the issues of 1948 Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem and final frontiers for a later date.
If Israel makes good on those four points, the Palestinians will be obligated to:
1. Go back to full security cooperation with Israel.
2. Arrest the murderers of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.
3. Outlaw the military wings of Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad and arrest their members.
According to the Fatah website, Arafat rejected the plan outright. His reason this time was his refusal to “sacrifice the PLO and Palestinian unity” for a few measly Israeli concessions. He also notified any would-be mediators that the time for interim agreements was past, and a permanent Israeli-Palestinian settlement must be concluded immediately.
His attitude, seen in the regional context, ties in, according to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, with Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri’s refusal to act against the Hibzallah, or even, as a first step, freeze the Shiite group’s accounts in Beirut banks. It derives also from the Palestinian leader’s certainty that a possible anthrax-Baghdad link leaves American military action against Iraq an open option, despite the denials of secretary of state Colin Powell.
In turning down US-Euro mediation efforts, Arafat is therefore saying in effect: I, Yasser Arafat, will not destroy Palestinian unity while U.S. vice president Richard Cheney as long as defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld plan to shift the global anti-terror war to Lebanon and Iraq.
Arafat’s nay explains the announcement by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Wednesday that there were no plans for President George W. Bush to meet the Palestinian chairman during the U.N. General Assembly next week.
On another political front, the Knesset on Wednesday opened the way for one of its most vocal Arab members, Azmi Bishara, to face criminal prosecution on charges of supporting terrorist organizations and traveling to an enemy state.
Bishara, who claims he was being persecuted for his political views, got into hot water in Israel during a recent visit to Damascus, when he came out publicly in support of the Hizbollah’s fight as just. The trip itself, Israeli Attorney-General Eliyakim Rubinstein said, was illegal because Syria is an enemy state. If convicted, Bishara could be sentenced to a maximum of four years in prison.
After the Knesset stripped Bishara of his parliamentary immunity, another outspoken Arab-Israeli legislator, Ahmed Tibi, said: “The state of Israel is a Jewish democracy. It is democratic for Jews and Jewish for Arabs.”
The message, echoing declarations at the U.N. world conference against racism, held in Durban, South Africa two months ago, attempted to categorize Israel as a terrorist and apartheid state that protects the democratic rights of its Jewish citizens alone.
Arafat chants this mantra regularly. It is echoed as a credo by Syrian president Bashar Assad, who told British prime minister Tony Blair last week that Israel is a source of international terror.
Tibi does not have to strain to make his argument. He points to Likud legislator Yisrael Katz’s bill to effectively outlaw Israeli Arab parties by blocking the election to parliament of candidates supporting armed organizations – such as the PLO – hostile to Israel. In Katz’s words, as quoted by the left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper, “Arab legislators are “leeches who suck the blood of Israeli democracy” and should be “eradicated by legal means”.
It’s not hard to see where Tibi and Katz are going – towards opposite and mutually exclusive national agendas. Tibi openly denies Israel’s mission as a Jewish state. Once the Arabs are in charge, they, and not Jewish nationalist legislators, will make the rules of democracy. Israeli Arabs will then be free to eliminate the Zionist ideal and support the Palestinian cause openly.
Katz is less subtle. Once support for the PLO as a terrorist entity becomes a punishable offense by law, the international anti-terror coalition will be bound to help Israeli fight the Palestinians. Bishara has no interest in lawmaking. He wants the world media to witness his grandstand performance when he goes on trial. On the stand, he will denounce Israeli government discrimination against the country’s Arab minority (1.2 million out of the 6.2 million population; Bishara is one of 10 Arab Knesset members).
Israeli Arab legislators are eager to ride the Osama bin Laden-Taliban wave of popularity sweeping the Arab world as the US campaign in Afghanistan advances. For Bishara, this is a golden opportunity to present himself to Muslims everywhere as the symbolic victim of Zionist racism and its backer, war-mongering America.The only catch in Bishara’s game, according to debkafile, is this: Bishara is Christian, not Muslim

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