Bush Promises Pressure on… Arafat

For days the media have reported the US and Israel at loggerheads over the presence of Israeli troops in seven Palestinian towns, since the day after the murder of cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevion October 17. According to debkafile‘s Washington sources, no hint of this was reflected in the conversation President George W. Bush had with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres Tuesday, when he dropped in on a meeting between Peres and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Later, Peres quoted the president as telling him that Middle East violence was making it more difficult to keep the US-led anti-terror coalition together. However, he denied hearing any sort of threats to the strong US-Israel friendship (Labor’s almost-elected leader, Avraham Burg, and other members of his party, together with a long line of politicians, warned that the friendship was in dire peril.) or demands that Israeli troops pull out of Palestinian territory forthwith. Bush, in fact, is quoted by the White House spokesman as promising Peres he would keep “firm pressure” on the Palestinian Authority to stop violence and terror. He also stressed once again that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “must make 100-percent efforts to end the violence, arrest terrorists and work against terrorist groups.”
Now, he said, is not the time for the US to deal with Arafat, but it would be done at a later stage in the war on terror.
The president also took the opportunity of inviting Sharon to Washington next month.
After his previous meetings with vice president Richard Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Peres said in answer to press questions: “I didn’t hear a word of criticism. I heard a good deal of understanding.”
Tuesday, October 23, Israeli airspace was closed without notice for a three day “air force exercise”, a secret that came out when an Arkia Eilat-Tel Aviv flight, finding its flight path unexpectedly closed, turned back to Eilat.
debkafile‘s military sources report exclusively that Jordanian, as well as Israeli airspace was closed, to enable the landing of US military airlifts to the two countries. The giant C-17 air transports were spotted landing at Ben Gurion and other airports.
Peres in Washington – like the defense minister and chief of staff at home – all emphasized that the Israeli army has no intention of staying in Palestinian territory in the long term. But so far, debkafile‘s military sources report that IDF commanders have received no orders to arrange for a troop withdrawal this week.
Clearly, a rupture in US-Israeli relations is not at hand, notwithstanding the heavy warnings. If anything, the US president appears to be losing patience with the Arab and Muslim world, friends and foes alike. Whereas Monday, the Bush Administration announced warfare would be suspending in honor of the Muslim month of Ramadan starting November 15, Tuesday that promise was withdrawn. The Palestinian leader may also have to adapt to his new standing. Whereas before the Zeevi murder he was the perennial partner for peace, today the US president like the Israeli prime minister consider him a terrorist. Arafat, like even some of the moderate Arab rulers, secretly believes that Osama Bin Laden has scored a signal victory for the Arab nation against mighty America and its Middle East hegemony, leaving Israeli on the brink of eclipse.
President Bush is aware of this. Therefore, the dire media assessments are way off the mark. What do matter are the Bush promise to deal with Arafat at a later stage and the American military airlift landing at this moment.

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