A Palestinian ceasefire accord -“hudna” – appears to be in the works, ready to be declared during the weekend visit of the US president’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It is worth noting that the ceasefire discussed ad nauseum does not and never did apply to the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. It is meant to be an intra-organizational truce, binding on the rival Palestinian factions alone, although Israel is required to withdraw its troops from Palestinian territory in return for a ceasefire to which it is not a party.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources reveal that the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat has big plans for the coming period of “calm”. For some weeks, he and his senior aides have been working on preparations for a grand victory march. Among its objectives will be a demonstration that Arafat was clever enough to extort American and Israeli recognition for a Palestinian state by a sustained campaign of terror, that he is not done yet, and that Palestinian prime minister Abbas is a nobody who had the gall to challenge his authority.
Some of the ministers whom Arafat planted in the Abbas cabinet joined in the preparations.
The march will reach its climax with Arafat’s arrival in the Gaza Strip. He will be presented as the savior whose brilliant policies brought about the removal of Israel’s military presence from the territory and delivered him from the Israeli siege that kept him trapped in Ramallah from May 2002.
The fact that for the last six months Arafat has been free to travel where he pleased in Palestinian areas or overseas will not be mentioned for fear of marring his appearance of great suffering in the Palestinian cause.
What really kept him confined to his quarters in Ramallah, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources stress, was his obligation to shelter the 180-200 master-terrorists of his own Fatah, Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as well as masterminds of the Popular Fronts, the Hamas and a group of Hizballah agents who were planted on the West Bank. All of them are wanted by Israel for orchestrating major terrorist attacks and murder and live under Arafat personal protection. His presence in the Ramallah headquarters guarantees their safety. Since Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush that he would not harm Arafat in person, the wanted terrorists under his protection are out of Israel’s reach.
This immunity was again demonstrated after the Aqaba summit on June 4 when Sharon gave the US president another promise, this one to restrict the Israeli campaign of targeted assassinations against terrorist activists to members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and “ticking bombs”, meaning suicide terrorists on their way to target with explosives on their person.
Since June 4, senior terrorist commanders, controllers and recruiters have accordingly been immune from Israeli preventive operations.
As a result, some of the master terrorists sheltered by Arafat have begun trickling out of the Ramallah headquarters – at first staying close to their havens, but soon moving farther afield around West Bank towns.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror exports say that these escapees from Arafat’s quarters have three things in common:
1. They make sure to return “home” before dark and stay there till morning.
2. They are handed detailed instructions by Abu Demara, Arafat’s chief operations officer, regarding their West Bank destinations, which terror cells to contact and what terror operations to set up until a “ceasefire” goes into effect. That is why all the shooting and suicide attacks in the last few days, most of them thwarted, originate in the West Bank and not the Gaza Strip.
3. They have been put to work designing attacks for the post-ceasefire period – also from the West Bank.
In view of Arafat’s short- and long-term planning, the great effort invested by President Bush, secretary of state Colin Powell, Dr. Rice and the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers for progress in solving the Palestinian-Israel conflict will have three immediate results:
A. Abbas’s prestige will take a nose dive which may well end in his retirement.
B. Hamas in the Gaza Strip will enjoy a respite from Israeli military pressure as a result of the ceasefire and a chance to regroup and rearm, while Palestinian terrorist action from the West Bank will be sustained.
C. Yasser Arafat will enjoy a revival of his prestige in the eyes of the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.