Arafat Proposes

The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has discreetly approached Israeli’s prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon with secret proposals for an interim settlement, the first such initiative on his part since the inception of the Palestinian-Israeli diplomatic process at Oslo in 1993. His messengers quietly handed a five-point outline to Sharon’s Arab affairs adviser, Wahab Madjali, at the beginning of this week. The salient points appear for the first time here in DEBKA-Net-Weekly.

  • An independent Palestinian state will be proclaimed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas under current Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.

  • The Israeli government undertakes not to take hostile action against the new state

  • The Palestinian and Israeli governments will conduct diplomatic negotiations for long-range interim agreements.

  • No time limits will be set for the conclusion of these negotiations

  • The core issues between the two peoples, such as permanent frontiers, Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes will be broached in the last stage of the negotiations after consummation of the interim accords has begun.

Though seemingly moderate, Arafat’s formula makes no promises to desist from terrorism against Israel or any other form of violence.

This uncharacteristic initiative by the Palestinian leader is symptomatic of the tight corner in which he finds himself. The Israeli voter clearly opted for a right-wing Israeli prime minister and rejected the accommodating. Ehud Barak. The Bush administration is totally out of sympathy with his cause, as his emissaries Nabil Shaat and Jibril Rajoub found out this week when they called on Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet in Washington to prepare the secretary’s visit to Gaza next week. They were warned that that US administration would have no truck with the Palestinian Authority as long it persisted in its armed offensive against Israel and continued its close alliance with Saddam Hussein. US and Palestinian sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the Palestinians were taken aback by the sharpness of their dressing-down. Tenet was particularly furious at what he perceived as a Palestinian breach of faith with all the understandings he brokered during the Clinton presidency. On top of this brush-off, the European Union has cut off donations for as long as war is waged.

The Palestinian Authority’s war chest is therefore empty and operational funding down to nothing. Even Arab sources of cash, primarily Saudi Arabia, have dried up – especially in view of the heightened Baghdad-Gulf tensions. The only Palestinian recipients of Arab donations are members of Arafat’s opposition.

Arafat reads into these snubs a concerted US-European drive to oust him from the Palestinian leadership in favor of a more accommodating figure. He is therefore desperate enough to make a move towards an Israeli statesman as the only way to temper American and European disfavor.

Will Arafat actually bring his peace plan to the negotiating table? DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian experts believe he will, because every avenue is closed against him for budgeting his regime, his people are tired and badly in need of a breathing space, a break in the fighting now in its fifth month. Arafat does not think in terms of a total ceasefire, only a lull or slowdown in combat and terrorist activity. After a month or two opposite Israel at the conference table, he believes he can go back to the Europeans and ask for donations. Meanwhile, he may develop new sources of funds and rest and reorganize his troops for a return to the fray.

Whether Sharon will buy Arafat’s plan is another question. DEBKA-Net-Weekly ‘s estimates that he may conceivably accept it as a basis for beginning talks, provided a clause pledging total cessation of all hostile operations is appended. But the calculations on both sides may be overtaken by events. Towards the end of the week, Middle East war temperatures shot up amid ominous signals from Baghdad.

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