Cheney Separates Palestinian State Vision from Arafat
Monday, March 18, just before US Vice President Richard Cheney landed in Israel to wind up his 12-nation tour of the region, US Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni extracted from the US- Israeli-Palestinian security commission a limited accord.
Monday night and Tuesday, Israel would withdraw the last troops remaining in Palestinian sectors – the northern Gaza Strip, Bethlehem and Beit Jala, both bordering south Jerusalem – on two conditions: a) that the Palestinian Authority take full security responsibility for keeping the evacuated areas free of terrorist bases and preventing cross-border shooting and rocket attacks on Israeli targets. b) that Palestinian security crack down on the key terrorist organizations still embedded in those areas – Arafat’s Fatah-Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the extremist Hamas and Jihad Islami.
The two sides – Israeli Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter and Maj.-Gen Giora Eiland, and chiefs of the Palestinian Security Services, Muhamed Dahlan, Gaza, and Jibril Rajoub, West Bank – went at it hammer and tongs before the Zinni in the chair steered them towards this limited agreement.
Thus, the US mediator, on the fifth day of his mission, could report to Cheney with whom he rode to Jerusalem on the afternoon of March 18, that he had brought the warring sides one apparent step closer to a Palestinian-Israeli truce.
But all the parties are perfectly aware of its brittleness.
debkafile‘s political and military sources report that the posing and the consent to Israel’s second condition were simply make believe, as long as Arafat did not issue a direct order. And the Palestinian leader would not dream of harming the group he cherishes most as the executors of his campaign of terror.
However, Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s first condition was almost as short-lived, shattered Monday night by two Qasam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip dropping on the Israeli side of the border near Kibbutz Zikim, halfway to Ashkelon. Clearly, even if Israeli tanks roll back from every last inch of Palestinian territory – in deference to the Palestinian pre-condition for ceasefire talks – the terror will go on.
Arafat’s assignment of Dahlan, his trusted minion, to talk about a ceasefire at the trilateral security commission, was another piece of cynicism. The Gaza Strip security chief is one of the ablest and most innovative Palestinian terror masters; he staged the bombings that blew up two Israeli tanks, the lethal raids against Israeli villages Elei Sinai and Atzmona and an array of car bombings, suicide attacks and cell phone strikes against Israeli civilians. The day after Zinni landed last Thursday, March 15, Dahlan declared in a TV interview that nothing would stop the Palestinian campaign of violence, even ifIsrael pulls its troops out of the Palestinian “A Areas” in toto.
The case of Jibril Rajoub, is different. debkafile reports from its Palestinian and intelligence sources that Arafat has decided to get rid of the West Bank security chief. His choice of a replacement is revealing: Bashir Nafi, Fatah-Tanzim commander in the al Amari refugee camp between Ramallah and Jerusalem, a notoriously prolific enabler of major terror strikes, including several multi-casualty hits in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. The most recent was the blast at the ultra-religious district of Jerusalem on March 18, killing ten Israelis and injuring dozens more.
Rajoub, aware of the axe over his head, has tried ingratiation. Monday, March 18, he praised suicide bombers as bringing the Palestinian struggle against Israel to its noblest heights. This is unlikely to do him much good. Although he commands a fairly substantial militia and intelligence unit on the West Bank, Rajoub’s uncertain situation in the Palestinian hierarchy diminishes the value of his commitment to control terrorist activity on his turf after Israeli troops move out. It is unlikely that he will be able to rein in the gunmen and racketeers firing on Jerusalem’s Gilo and Tunnel Road after Israel troops move out of Bethlehem and Beit Jala – particularly since Arafat will not doubt send his Tanzim into action to embarrass the out of favor security chief, whom he accuses of being too close to the Israelis and Americans.
The US vice president’s statement at the state ceremony welcoming him at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, reflects a grim assessment of Arafat’s intentions.
Calling Sharon his “old friend”, Cheney declared he had made this journey to confer with regional leaders on issues of great importance, including the conflict and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region. He went on to say: “I come as well to reconfirm the strong and enduring ties between the American and Israeli peoples and to remind the world of the commitment of the US to the security and well-being of Israel.”
Up to that point, he made no mention of Arafat.
Referring to Bush’s vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, he stressed: “In order to realize that vision, the Israeli people must have confidence that their existence as a Jewish state within secure borders is accepted by all, first and foremost, by Israel’s neighbors in the region.”
But in the context of “a Jewish state within secure borders”. he calls on “Chairman Yasser Arafat to live up to his commitments and renounce once and for all the use of violence as a political weapon and exert 100 percent effort to stamp out terrorism”.
The reference to Arafat is therefore carefully separated from the context of the Bush vision. Instead, he is awarded a failed grade in living up to his commitments to scotch terror.
The distinct separation of the vision of a Palestinian state from the reference by name to Arafat is perhaps the most significant element of Cheney’s first words in Israel. It sounds very much as though Washington does not necessarily view Arafat as the head of a future Palestinian state.
The Palestinian leader, whose political instincts are excessively acute, will certainly have picked up on the Cheney subtext. Therefore, if Zinni’s assignment is to quell the war flames in the Israel-Palestinian arena, to buy time for America’s next steps in the Middle East and its offensive against Iraq, Arafat will make sure the US envoy does not succeed. He will raise those flames as high as he can.
Behind the screen of diplomatic palaver over a truce, debkafile‘s military sources report heavy Israeli tank columns heading north Monday, March 18. Meanwhile, Cheney and Sharon will have been getting down to brass tacks on US strategy in the region, rather than wasting time on an ephemeral ceasefire.