Arafat Plans Declaration of War of Liberation
The day US Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni returned to the region, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources quoted Yasser Arafat as confiding to his intimates that he was drafting his most important speech in two decades: a declaration of the Palestinian War of Liberation.
He promised to wait until after retired general Zinni had left, adding: “There’s a limit to our patience!” From Arafat’s point of view, US peace and ceasefire initiatives have all been wasted enterprises – whether Camp David, Taba, Paris, Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh, or the Tenet ceasefire proposal and the Mitchell blueprint – and he would make envoy Zinni admit failure.
Arafat believes his declaration will fire up the Palestinian and Arab masses and draw them into a new cycle of hostilities against Israel.
What Arafat is smarting under most, aside from the loss of his own masses’ enthusiasm for the struggle, is the desertion of Arab leaders. None are rushing to rescue him from his state of confinement in Ramallah and international isolation. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Gulf and Saudi leaders have not even made courtesy phone calls in sympathy with his plight.
The Israelis do not bother to conceal that their tanks are merely churning mud as a polite gesture for Zinni rather than seriously relaxing their closures of Palestinian cities. The 10 yards they pulled back Thursday are easily covered when he leaves. Israeli tanks remain within sight of Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Israel promises to keep them there until the Palestinians hand over the murderers of cabinet minister Zeevi. Raids into Palestinian territory to round up suspected terrorists also continues unabated.
But the most painful slap in the face was delivered by Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, who as Egyptian foreign minister was the most fervent champion of Arafat’s Intifada. In comments still echoing round the Arab world, Moussa declared last week that it was time for Arafat and the Palestinians to realize they had become incidental to current history and “no longer of interest in the Arab world”, which faces more acute problems. He reflected an Arab consensus when he urged the Palestinians to give up their battle for a final-status peace treaty with Israel and settle for the most they could get: a limited interim accord.
Blows from Washington are coming thick and fast on Arab heads, in the form of new appointments that signal a sharp about-turn from President Clinton sympathetic consideration of Arab viewpoints. One such appointment is that of the hawkish State Department official John Bolton as secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs – over the objections of secretary of state Colin Powell. A strong opponent of regional and international treaties on these issues and advocate of bilateral US ad hoc agreements with individual countries, his appointment means that the Bush administration has turned its back on Egyptian-led Arab demands to make Israel sign the nuclear non- proliferation treaty and accept nuclear disarmament in the Middle East.
United States will henceforth deal directly with Israel on such issues, bypassing regional Arab involvement.
Arab leaders are also disturbed by the loss of another Clinton holdover, Bruce Reidel, as head of the US National Security Council’s Middle East desk. The Sharon government will not mourn his loss. Reidel was the hand behind many an Israeli media campaign alleging US pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make concessions to the Palestinians in the interests of keeping an Arab coalition lined up behind US policies. Reidel is replaced by Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who has had little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1998, Khalilzad co-signed a letter to Clinton, calling on him to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. His emphasis is expected to focus on Afghanistan – not Palestine.
Moussa knew what he was talking about when he spoke of the Palestinian issue’s weakened impact in the world arena.
Closer to home, Jordan’s King Abdullah fired his military intelligence chief, General Zahar al-Fawaz, in a surprise move that astounded its object. His replacement is General Tahseen Shrdum, a Circassian of Chechen descent, who served on the Jordanian teams that drew up Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. This changeover is a blatant strengthening of the pro-Israeli element in Jordanian military intelligence – and reflects the Jordanian monarch’s determination to keep up with the fast-moving Middle East changes reflected in debkafilereporting in recent weeks.
The new appointments in Washington, Amr Moussa’s change of face, King Abdullah’s posture – all fit into the new picture presaged by Sharon when he declared Yasser Arafat irrelevant. They have all closed ranks, placing the Palestinian leader under both physical and diplomatic siege. He can either toe the American line by genuinely rooting out terror and turning his back on violence or see his cause sinking ever deeper into irrelevance.
But Arafat being Arafat, he is far more likely to make one more desperate throw and force Palestinian and Israeli to endure the ultimate act of terror of what he calls the Palestinian War of Liberation.