Arafat Mocks Ceasefire – and Israeli Prime Minister
The heavy Palestinian fire opened Monday afternoon from Abu Sneineh against the Jewish Quarter of Hebron after more than two months of relative peace, as well as the shooting attack on the armored bus on the Tunnel Highway, were the answer Yasser Arafat and West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub delivered to the 24-hour ultimatum handed them by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter Friday, June 22, for the rounding up scores of activists.
An hour after the shooting was silenced in Hebron, leaving 4 soldiers and a 7-year old boy and a civilian injured, two mortar shells dropped on Netzarim in the Gaza Strip. Two women were injured by bullets piercing the armor protecting the intercity bus, as it headed through the Tunnel Highway south of Jerusalem.
This was more than a rebuff for the second list of activists handed to Arafat in three weeks. It was meant as a stinging slap in the face for the Israeli prime minister and general security chief. For some weeks, and especially after the Tel Aviv disco massacre on June 1, Sharon surprised everyone, including the Americans, by his soft responses to Palestinian attacks. What happened, according to debkafile‘s political sources, was his adoption of the Shin Beit line designating Rajoub a moderating influence and an appropriate anchor for managing the ceasefire and subsequent diplomatic process. Sharon also began using Rajoub as his mainline channel for communications with Arafat.
Shin Bet heads credited Rajoub with curbing the gunfire against Jerusalem’s Gilo and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, after deploying his troops with Arafat’s consent in Beit Jallah and Bethlehem. Both sectors were indeed relatively quiet for almost two months.
From the start, the IDF’s higher command and military intelligence heads rejected the Shin Beit line, claiming that it sowed dangerous illusions. But Sharon came down on the Shin Beit’s side and the generals held silent.
But on Monday, June 25, just as Ariel Sharon was on the point of leaving New York for his White House meeting with President Bush, Arafat chose his moment to signal an end to this arrangement. According to our Palestinian sources, Arafat personally assigned his gunmen to open fire Monday afternoon on the Tunnel Road and the Jewish Quarter of Hebron. A total of 8 Israelis were injured, 4 of them soldiers, in a couple of hours. He deliberately chose sites that would show Sharon and Dichter that they could stop counting on Rajoub, who obeyed no one but Yasser Arafat – certainly not the Americans or the Israelis.
Defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer responded by restoring the blockade of Hebron.
What Arafat accomplished by his lightening two-stroke Monday afternoon was to knock the legs from under the policy of restraint that Sharon painstakingly nurtured for weeks, at great personal cost at home, in advance of his crucial White House encounter.
Arafat signaled Bush and Sharon with characteristic arrogance: Whatever you may decide, it is I who choose when the shooting starts and when it stops.