Europeans, Israeli Left, at Odds with Washington on Arafat
Israeli and European media reports on the Sharon-Bush encounter in the White House last Thursday, February 7, conclude almost unanimously that the Israeli prime minister came away empty-handed on three counts:
A. He could not persuade the White House to finally sever ties with Yasser Arafat.
B. Bush refused to add Arafat’s Tanzim, Force 17 and Aqsa Brigades to the Hamas, Hizballah and Jihad Islami on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
C. Bush demanded the relaxation of restrictions Israel has imposed on Palestinian population centers.
Sharon is also described as failing to rise to the US president’s challenge when asked for his plans for the Palestinians and their projected outcome in six months. The prime minister is said to have hedged that six-months’ time was too far away for forecasts.
debkafile ‘s Washington sources have a different story to tell:
The White House, far from relenting on Arafat and his terror groups, is determined more than ever to eliminate his terror machine and, if need be, the Palestinian leader himself. This intention was conveyed in Bush’s own words when he and Sharon faced the press together outside the Oval Office.
“We just had an extensive discussion, said Bush, first about our mutual desire to rid the world of terror. I assured him that our nation is just beginning in a great objective, which is to eliminate those terrorist organizations of global reach. And by doing so, I firmly believe that the world will be a more peaceful place. My most important objective is to protect our homeland. The best way to do so is to rout terrorist organizations where they try to hide and bring them to justice.
“Secondly, I assured the Prime Minister that we will continue to keep pressure on Mr. Arafat to convince him that he must take serious concrete, real steps to reduce terrorist activity in the Middle East.
“We had an interesting discussion about how we can help the Palestinians, those who aren’t involved with terror. I’m deeply concerned about the plight of the average Palestinian, the moms and dads, who are trying to raise their children, to educate their children. My government – I’ve got $300 million in the budget to go through NGOs [non-government organizations] to help Palestinians be able to realize a better life.”
A quick glance at these quotes is revealing. Bush no longer believes Arafat’s terrorist activity imperils Israel alone, but is demanding he “reduce terrorist activity in the Middle East” – at large.
In the last two weeks, debkafile has underlined Washington’s conviction that Arafat has extended his threat to the Egyptian and Jordanian regimes.
The US president’s reference to being “just at the beginning in a great objective” which is to “eliminate those terrorist organizations of global reach”, indicates that it may take time, but in the end he will get to the Palestinians, who threaten a large and important part of the world.
Bush’s stance reflected not so much Sharon’s personal persuasiveness as the success of Israeli’s Mossad and military intelligence in using the Karine-A capture to ferret out Yasser Arafat’s clandestine terror links with hard line Iranian leaders. Bush’s words in Sharon’s presence amounted to a continuing green light for his tactics against Arafat, as long as he works patiently and in keeping with US policy.
At the same time, the US president found fault with at least one of Sharon’s actions – hence the sum earmarked for improving the lot of ordinary Palestinians. According to debkafile‘s sources in Washington, the top people in the Bush administration are furious over the prime minister’s meeting with three top Palestinian officials Wednesday, January 30, for the first time since he took office. In particular, they criticize his willingness to see Mohammed Rashid, Arafat’s millionaire financial adviser.
In Washington’s eyes, the siege against Arafat goes beyond Israeli tank guns pointing at his windows in Ramallah – it is also economic and financial. Bush did not say he would transfer $300 to the Palestinians, only that he’d got the money in the budget and it would stay there until it could be transferred non-government organizations. This distinction is important. It means that Arafat’s government, the Palestinian Authority, will not see a cent of this money, because in Arafat’s hands it will go straight into his war chest for terror, certainly not to Palestinian moms and dads. Since Rashid is Arafat’s main disburser of funds for the Palestinian terror organizations, Sharon was taken to task for receiving him in the face of US efforts to starve the Palestinians of their war funds.
Sharon reluctantly explained that he is under severe pressure at home to throw a bone to his coalition partner, foreign minister Shimon Peres, and mollify left-wing political groups, who with European backing have in the last two weeks mounted a virulent media campaign against his government and armed forces for engaging in a firm anti-terror offensive against Arafat and Palestinian violence.
Last Saturday, February 2, 300 Israeli peaceniks paid a solidarity visit to Arafat in Ramallah. This Saturday, February 9, a delegation of Israeli Arab leaders, including Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, paid their respects to the Palestinian leader. When he grabbled the microphone for his almost daily chant calling on millions of martyrs to march on Jerusalem, his Israeli guests joined in with gusto.
But the Americans remain implacable in their objections to giving Arafat the slightest leeway.
To underline their uncompromising position, US government spokesmen in Washington made haste on Saturday, February 9, to reject the Middle East positions articulated by European Union foreign ministers meeting in Madrid, recognizing Arafat as the only legitimate Palestinian leader. In a powerful vote for Arafat, France called for Palestinian elections within two months to strengthen his undisputed leadership. The European foreign ministers adopted the French proposal and called for the immediate creation of a Palestinian state as the starting point for peace negotiations with Israel.
Both sides were called on to cease the violence, the ministers demanding that the political aspect of the conflict, rather than security issues, be placed at the center. Israel was criticized for isolating and sidelining Arafat.
Washington had previously turned down the French plan as a distraction from its ownMiddle East priorities. The gap between the Bush position and that adopted by the EU keeps on widening. The German and British foreign ministers announced Middle East visits this week “to assess the situation”.
Whatever the Europeans may decide, Bush has plainly said his piece; he fully intends to follow through on his “great objective” of “eliminating those terrorist organizations of global reach” – Arafat’s threat to the Middle East included.