Mubarak Asks for Arafat’s Release; Saudi Prince Abdullah Scraps “Peace Proposal”

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has acceded to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s request for steps to ease Yasser Arafat’s confinement in Ramallah – in return for a phased letup in Palestinian terror and improved relations with Cairo. This is revealed by debkafile‘s political sources. What the two leaders agreed in essence, in their telephone conversation on Thursday, February 21, was for the three processes to go forward in parallel, with Egypt accompanying each step.
Until that phone call, the Egyptian ruler had virtually boycotted the Israeli prime minister for a year. Its immediate outcome was a high level-Israeli-Palestinian security meeting that same night, February 2, attended on the Israeli side by Shin Beth director Avi Dichter and IDF Operations head, Maj.Gen Giora Eiland, and, for the Palestinians, Muhamed Dahlan, head of the Gaza Strip Security Service and Jibril Rajoub, head of Preventive Security in the West Bank. On the agenda were steps to de-escalate the surging violence.
The first was carried out by Israel Friday morning, February 22, when its troops pulled out of positions occupied two weeks ago in the southern Gaza Strip and lifted the blockade trisecting the territory into impassable segments. Another crucial step will take place early next week, when Sharon invites non-combatant Palestinian Authority officials for a second encounter. The first took place earlier this month. debkafile‘s sources point out that, by talking to Arafat’s representatives amid a phased winding down of Palestinian terror, Sharon has in effect agreed to enter into indirect, Egypt-mediated negotiations under fire.
He has evidently decided to give Mubarak a chance by accepting the following scenario:
Israel-Palestinian exchanges will be resumed The Palestinians will reduce the level of terror attacks; Israel will ease its preventive military and economic blockade measures;Arafat’s conditions of confinement will be improved; Israel will let him go to Beirut for the Arab summit on March 28. If all these stages come to pass, Mubarak guarantees to block harsh anti-Israel resolutions in Beirut.
After Thursday’s broadcast, Sharon stonewalled when asked if the arrest in Nablus of the assassins of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi earlier that day would release Arafat to attend the Beirut summit on March 28. His answer was, “Israel always honors its commitments”. That answer related to his promise to the Egyptian ruler.
As part of the process, Cairo will de-freeze its attitude towards Israel and the Sharon government in particular. Sharon will meet Mubarak – first in the Sinai resort of Sharm al Sheikh, followed by Mubarak’s first visit to Israel as president. Inviting Sharon to Cairo will then be considered.
Despite this apparent breakthrough, weighty obstacles remain in the path of the Mubarak-Sharon understanding. The first is Arafat, who does not trust Mubarak any more than Sharon – or even Abdullah, King of Jordan, suspecting all three of plotting his ouster. On past form, he will pretend to go along with the new arrangements, even toning down his terror offensive – until the moment he is let out of Ramallah. But as soon as he is free, he will toss aside his commitments to Mubarak and Sharon, and let loose with virulently anti-Israel rhetoric at the Arab summit conference, also uncageing the suicides, the bombers, the gunmen, the mortars and the rockets. The Palestinian leader has no real interest in Mubarak and Sharon getting along together; he will do his utmost to set them at each other’s throats.
Another key Middle East player, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, needed only one week to reconsider and take back the deal he floated before New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, namely normal relations between the Arab world and Israel in return for its withdrawal to pre-1967 frontiers. From the first, debkafile discounted the motive behind the plan, judging it was aired more with an eye to Riyadh’s rocky relations with Washington than the Israel-Palestinian impasse. Abdullah unsurprisingly killed the idea Thursday, February 21, announcing he would not bring it before the Arab summit.
debkafile‘s defense experts judge Sharon’s buffer zone plan, unveiled in his address to the nation Thursday night, equally ephemeral. The zones are to run from the Gilboa Hill range in the north to beyond Hebron in the south, several kilometers deep. Concrete blocks and other obstacles will demark the zones, which will take at least a year to set up.
Political sources suggest Sharon may have put the idea forward to convey the impression of motion in the war against terror. However, even if it were real, such long-term plans are bound to fall by the wayside in the rush of events beginning now, as the moment for a full-scale American offensive against Iraq draws near

Print Friendly, PDF & Email