Arafat Close to Wresting Diplomatic Process from Abbas

Yasser Arafat celebrated the death of the Middle East road map in an interview Wednesday, September 3, blaming Israel and the US. His main butt, Palestinian prime Mahmoud Abbas, declared his supported the US peace initiative, but threatened to quit unless given more powers. Arafat chips away at these powers day after day. Having retained his grip on the bulk of Palestinian security forces, he is now seeking to take over Abu Mazen’s diplomatic prerogatives as well.
A pretty forlorn attempt to repair the disarray at the top of the Palestinian leadership was initatited earlier this week by Egyptian security chief general Omar Suleiman, architect of the first Palestinian ceasefire that broke down in August. The Egyptian spymaster attempting to reconstitute the collapsed “hudna” chaired a conference in Cairo on Monday and Tuesday, September 1-2, attended by Yasser Arafat’s new security czar, West Bank strongman Jibril Rajoub, Beirut Hamas chief Osama Hamdoun and Palestinian culture minister Ziad Abu Amr, present as the eyes and ears of prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Hamas was more than ready for a ceasefire. It is suffering acutely from the heat of the intensive Israeli targeted missile operation against its leaders in the Gaza Strip and has already lost 11 operatives in two weeks. Suleiman proposed a formula that would make the next ceasefire binding on all the Palestinian groups, unlike the truce that broke down last month. Under the new pact, moreover, Hamas would have to promise this time to keep its promise to stop shooting guns, rockets, Qassam missiles and mortar.
All the participants in the Cairo parley raised their hands to endorse a ceasefire Tuesday afternoon, September 2. Hamas Beirut chief Hamdoun then took off for the group’s headquarters in Damascus to seek the signatures of Hamas-in-exile leaders Khaled Meshal and Mussa Abu Marzook.
Needless to say, Israel does not seek a new Palestinian ceasefire any more than it wanted the first one. Not only was it full of holes, but it gave the terrorists a badly needed breathing space to regroup, rearm and prepare the next campaign of violence. The partial pause certainly did nothing to break up terrorist organizations or even stem the rising spiral of attacks.
Prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, as well most of the top Israeli military reject a rerun of “the same old thing”, an empty ceasefire, particularly in the light of the latest intelligence reaching the desks of Sharon, Mofaz and chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence and counter-terrorism sources, the collapse of the ceasefire in mid-August caught Arafat’s Fatah, Tanzim militia and suicide arm, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as well as the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, unawares. They did not expect Israel to react so strongly to their reduced attacks or even to the August 19 Jerusalem bus bombing that left 21 Israelis dead and 150 injured. By then, their preparations for the most powerful terrorist campaign ever were well advanced. They had hoped for a respite up until the end of September for the finishing touches to those preparations.
Israel’s subsequent air strike that killed Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab, followed by a systematic air campaign of liquidations in the last two weeks has immobilized the group. Their leading members are afraid to show their faces above ground. Nonetheless, the Hamas too has been able to ready itself to pitch in with its fellow Palestinian terror groups for the coming terrorist offensive. It is to be launched from several fronts, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources learn:
— The Gaza Strip: The Hamas and Arafat’s Fatah and al-Aqsa Brigades have joined forces in the framework of “popular resistance committees”. They plan an onslaught on a never-before-seen scale against the Jewish Katif Bloc, composed of suicide bombers, shaped explosive charges for blasting tanks and other Israeli armor and attempts to overrun IDF posts and seize captives. Missile and mortar barrages will target towns and villages in southern Israel.
— Bethlehem-Jerusalem Sector: Palestinian terrorists are gathering in increasing numbers in the Bethlehem area abutting on Jerusalem. In the six weeks since the town and its outlying villages were handed over to Palestinian control, the terrorists have been accumulating intelligence and marking out targets in Jerusalem and its environs.
— Hebron Sector: Similar preparatory steps for the launching of a blanket terrorist war on the Jewish quarters and neighboring communities have gone ahead there too.
— Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilya: In the northern sector of the West Bank, Arafat’s Fatah terrorist infrastructure is in charge of setting up attacks in the northern and central districts of the West bank as well as across the border in the Sharon region of central Israel between Tel Aviv and Netanya.
The breakdown of the ceasefire last month found all these terrorist structures taking in new recruits and distributing weapons, explosives and funding. The men collected their tools of terror in one place – Arafat’s office at Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah. No wonder Israeli leaders practically froth at the mouth when there is talk of a new “ceasefire”. However, they are far from being of one mind about what Israeli should do next.
Mofaz has urged the expulsion of Arafat before. In a radio interview this week, he declared that he favored deporting the Palestinian terrorist chief, possibly by the end of the year, because he was complicating peace moves. “I think Israel made an historic mistake by not expelling him about two years ago… As for the future I believe we will need to address this matter in a relatively short space of time, very possibly even this year.”
Each time the subject came up in the past, Sharon under pressure from Washington stepped in to say no and, each time, rickety measures like the phony ceasefire were given another chance.
The security issue now ties in closely with the attempts by Palestinian middlemen to broker a truce between Arafat and Abu Mazen. The reconciliation plan put together for consideration by both men faithfully mirrors the balance of power between them. Its five main points are:
1. Arafat and Abbas will head a new Palestinian national security council, whose five members must be approved by both.
2. Arafat and Abu Mazen undertake to refrain from unilateral reforms or appointments in Palestinian Authority Palestinian institutions.
3. Abu Mazen will go back to attending the meetings of the Fatah central council which he boycotted after being attacked by the majority commanded by Arafat.
4. Abbas will accept the nomination of Arafat loyalist Hani al-Hassan as interior minister, while Arafat will not query Abbas’ ally Mohammed Dahlan in internal security.
5. Arafat will lead the Palestinian side in any negotiations with Israel. Abu Mazen will desist from diplomatic, military and economic initiatives with Israel that are not endorsed by Arafat.
It is too soon to tell if the two plans – the Egyptian truce proposal which has been put before the Hamas Damascus leaders and the Arafat-Abu Mazen reconciliation plan – will fly.
If the Sharon government accepts another Egyptian-mediated truce, the Palestinian terrorist network will get all the time it needs for setting up the next terrorist offensive. If Abbas buys the mediators’ reconciliation plan, he will be shorn of both the troops and the power for stemming the tide of terror and talking peace with Israel. Arafat will have grabbed them both.

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