Ben Eliezer Reaccredits Arafat
Israel’s defense minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer may have started out with a small plan to do down Haim Ramon, his rival for the Labor party leadership, and perhaps steal the Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon’s limelight. He has ended up writing a powerful recipe for Yasser Arafat’s re-accreditation at a time of surging Palestinian terrorism.
The plan offers the discredited Palestinian Authority yet another chance to prove itself capable of cutting down terrorism and violence, starting with the Gaza Strip and perhaps one West Bank town, Bethlehem or Hebron, after Israeli military encirclements are lifted. Tests of this kind Arafat has made a mockery of time and again – as General Anthony Zinni, George Tenet and Colin Powell can attest to in person. This time, Arafat lost no time in grabbing the lifeline the Israeli defense minister handed him, and hauling himself out of the trough in his fortunes to center stage. The Palestinian cabinet was hastily convened Wednesday, August 7 and took up the offer. A few hours later, the Israel-Palestinian security committee – that proved so useless in the past – was due to reconvene to discuss the details.
Gritting their teeth, IDF officers were told to sit across from Palestinian “security officers” whom they identity and hunt by day as terrorist masterminds.
The timing for Arafat could not have been more fortuitous.
One day earlier, Tuesday, August 6, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld virtually stamped on the Ben Eliezer plan and the possibility of Arafat ever being an Israeli interlocutor, in the frankest terms. He doubted whether Israel should hand over control of territory to the Palestinian Authority, “which is involved in terrorism”, and went on to say: “My feelings about the so-called occupied territories are that there was a war. Israel urged neighboring states not to get involved once it started. They all jumped in and they lost a lot of real estate to Israel because Israel prevailed in the conflict.”
The US secretary agreed that at some point a Palestinian entity would be established that Israel could accept on grounds of security, but he did not include the Arafat regime in that future. “Maybe it will take some Palestinian expatriates coming back to the region and providing… responsible government,” he remarked.
What the Ben Eliezer Gaza plan has achieved is to turn the clock back to the old days of Ehud Barak’s government dominated by the pro-Oslo camp of Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami who, under Bill Clinton’s baton, acclaimed Yasser Arafat as the one and only peace interlocutor and showered rewards on him of concessions, land, cash and other gifts, each time his terrorists murdered Israelis. That policy gave life to Arafat’s “Al Aqsa Intifada” which no one ventured to stop – until George W. Bush entered the White House and said openly that Arafat is a terrorist.
Bin Eliezer’s offer has given Arafat an unexpected lease of life when he most needed it.
But for Israel, the timing was unfortunate.
The defense minister’s plan was accepted on the very day that the Israeli defense cabinet reviewed measures against mega-terrorist attacks – and not by an anonymous hand, by any means. Only a week has gone by since 9 Israeli commuters died when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus on a quiet country road in Galilee, followed by a spate of brutal ambushes of Israeli civilian cars on West Bank roads and waves of suicide killers thrown back from the gates of Jerusalem.
Israel’s war on Palestinian terror faces its self-made setback as the United States moves large-scale infantry and armored forces over to the Middle East ready for military action against Iraq, and the day before Saddam Hussein is due to promise his people (in a TV address Thursday morning, August 8) victory over the United States.
Arafat and his followers quite openly pledge their support for Saddam Hussein and his “just cause”, exactly as they did in 1991.
But no part of the American and Israeli war against terror seems to have relevance for the Israeli defense minister, who has other fish to fry. His fellow cook is fellow Laborite, foreign minister Shimon Peres, who applauds any step to restore his old Oslo peace partner, Arafat, and revive his regime. Whereas the Rumsfeld statements cast doubt on the legitimacy of a delegation representing that regime being received in Washington, Ben Eliezer has made it kosher.
Sharon remains mum on his defense minister’s machinations. He is evidently counting on the upcoming Iraq campaign to eclipse them – and Arafat too – once and for all, without him having to lift a finger. Arafat is unlikely to give him that much space before his terrorists strike again.