Arafat Never Obeys Ultimatums

As Ehud Barak learned to his extreme discomfiture, confronting the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with an ultimatum is pointless. He just carries on with his agenda regardless. En route to Washington to meet President George W. Bush on Tuesday, the present Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, articulated three policy points that hinged on an ultimatum he gave to Arafat:
1. He calls me Ariel and I call him George, said he to the Washington Post and Newsweek before emplaning, adding, “Nothing positive will happen here unless the world puts heavy pressure upon Arafat to stop terror, violence and incitement.” He then stressed that war is not about to break out, “you can put that in your headline.”
2. Later in the interview, the prime minister noted that since Arafat accepted the Tenet document a few days ago, “we have suffered 230 terrorist attacks, four Israeli civilians have been killed and another 10 wounded”. Although Arafat has full control over his territory, he has given no orders to stop the incitement or re-arrest terrorists planning attacks. Israel is still committed to the peace plans, “but we reserve our right of self defense.” Arafat must stand by his undertaking. “It’s impossible to continue this way.”
3. Talking to Israeli reporters aboard his plan, Ariel put it differently: We can’t destroy the Palestinian Authority now. We can’t launch a comprehensive offensive from Rafah to Gaza and Dahariyeh, from Hebron to Jeinin. But Israeli will refrain from launching a total assault as long as this is possible.
Sharon’s message on his way to Washington was that he stood in the forefront of the effort to arrest the region’s slide into war, whereas Arafat had fallen at every ceasefire post.
On Friday, June 22, Sharon had the Shin Beit director, Avi Dichter give Arafat and Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service on the West Bank, 24 hours to arrest the scores of terrorists directly implicated in terrorism who appeared on the named list he put before them. The ultimatum expired and no arrests were made. Exactly the same fate befell the list the CIA Director George Tenet tendered Arafat in the first week of June, with an ultimatum to carry out arrests, despite the Palestinian leader’s hand-one-heart pledge to arrest every last one. Then Israel held its hand, as did the United States, letting the Palestinian leader get away with making a mockery of the ultimatum servers.
This impression Sharon determined to rectify. The second list was tendered both to Arafat and to Jibril Rajoub. The prime minister’s rationale was clear. The United States and part of Israel’s security establishment rely on Rajoub as credible Palestinian leader. If Arafat refrains from steps against the terrorists, Rajoub would be their last hope. If he failed them, the Americans would understand at last that there was no one in the Palestinian Authority to lift a finger to curb the violence.
And indeed, once again there were no arrests. Instead, Arafat gave everyone his usual runaround to hold off Israel action. He invited a select group of Israeli journalists Friday night to air his promise to halt to Palestinian attacks on “all Israelis” and round up illegal mortars. He also staged meetings with militant Palestinian chiefs, for “fresh instructions”, when in fact he sent them home to carry on as before. Instead of arresting them, he tipped off the men appearing on Dichter’s list that they had become Israel’s targets.
Sunday, just as Sharon flew out of Lod airport, Fatah activist Osama Jawabreh died in an exploding public telephone booth in the center of Nablus. It looked very much as though Israel, failing Palestinian action, had decided to take matters into its own hands and reverted to its policy of hitting wanted terrorists left at large in Palestinian-ruled territory.
debkafile‘s counter-terrorism sources note that the target, like the list’s recipients, was selected with some forethought. Osama Jawabreh was high on Israel’s wanted list as a one-man wholesale manufacturer and supplier of bombing devices to any group willing to kill Israelis. The Fatah, Tanzim, hamas, Jihad Islami, Hizballah and any wildcat group organizing for a random attack, could count on explosives, assault rifles, ammunition, mortar shells or a booby-trapped car a few days after placing an order. The Kalashnikovs Jawabreh supplied killed settlers; the explosives blew up in marketplaces in Hadera and Netanya. Jawabreh was rumored to have manufactured a super booby-trap to beat all the bomb-cars that ever blasted an Israeli town center.
Jawabreh’s name came up in conversations both Tenet and Dichter had with Arafat. The Palestinian leader claimed he had no control over the wanted man and Nablus was outside his turf.
According to the information reaching debkafile ‘s counter-terrorism sources, Arafat in fact warned the US and Israeli intelligence chiefs that sending his men to detain Jawabreh would provoke a blood bath with the local militias. He remarked sarcastically that to lay hands on bomb purveyor in that West Bank town, he would need one of the Israeli tanks blockading the town.
Arafat’s intent was clear: it was up to the Israelis and Americans to find a way to eliminate Jawabreh.
Instead of obeying an ultimatum, Arafat neatly passed the initiative back to Israel. If Sharon wants the dozens of terrorists eliminated, he must do the job himself or admit it is beyond him. But If Israel does go forward with a campaign of liquidations it will have to face accusing fingers as chief ceasefire violator and provider of validation for continuing Palestinian violence. Sharon has therefore missed the object of his gambit, which was to show Arafat up to the Americans as boxed in sufficiently to be forced to renounce his campaign of violence against Israel. In Washington, he had intended to demonstrate in advance of the US secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit to the region later this week, that pinning Arafat down was the way to lift the war threat looming over the Middle East.
That expectation was the subtext of the interviews he gave to the Washington Post and Newsweek Saturday. But Arafat has turned Sharon’s ultimatum gambit back on its author. Not only had he no intention of renouncing violence, but he has every intention of intensifying it. Sharon, before meeting Bush on Tuesday, will have to think again.

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