Sharon Takes Barghouti File to Washington

For the first time, prime minister Ariel Sharon sets off for Washington Saturday night, May 4, completely in the dark about what awaits him in the Oval Office. In all his previous five visits since taking office, the agenda was clearly laid out. This trip, according to debkafile‘s political sources say, his close advisers have no notion of what he will hear from President George W. Bush. Worse, they are clueless about the president’s new Middle East policy and the points settled between him and Saudi crown prince Abdullah in their talks in Crawford, Texas last weekend.
The little they gleaned from The New York Times report on Wednesday, May 1 – that the Saudi ruler arrived at the Bush ranch worried about his host’s policy vacillations and came out optimistic – only deepened the anxiety in Jerusalem. They have deep forebodings about the new strategy the two leaders agreed on for “joint pressure to break the deadlock in the Middle East crisis”.
As debkafile wrote earlier this week, Abdullah intends to pour Saudi money into the West Bank to rebuild not only the Palestinian Authority but also Yasser Arafat’s standing as PA chairman. Bush, for his part, will steer Sharon toward a new policy. If Sharon balks, Bush will bring the full weight of the White House to bear on him, just as he did this week when he forced him to accept the transfer to a Jericho prison of the wanted killers of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and the end of Arafat’s confinement.
Saudi money will therefore wipe out the profits of Operation Defensive Shield and the month-long siege of Arafat’s compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The feeling in Jerusalem is that Israel will be told to foot the bill for the Saudi lifeline for Arafat. The coin may possibly be a demand to start dismantling Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as Israel’s contribution to the rehabilitation of the Palestinian Authority. Even more ironically, Washington and Riyadh are plunging ahead with their joint strategy without a word from Arafat about dropping his strategy of terror.
The US president’s decision to play the Arafat card left Sharon too stunned to speak and with few options. Several senior cabinet ministers told debkafile that no one in Jerusalem, New York or Washington knows why or how Bush came to embrace Shimon Peres’ Arafat policy of always giving the Palestinian leader yet one more chance to mend his ways, however horrific the latest terrorist atrocity
This week’s UN Security Council deliberations on the Jenin refugee camp fact-finding mission were an added complication. Most media reported the United States as blocking an anti-Israeli Security Council resolution and economic sanctions against Israel for refusing to accept the UN team. But the truth was different.
debkafile‘s sources at the United Nations reveal that the Syrian anti-Israel motion was defeated not be Washington but on the initiative of factions in the UN staff who know what really went on in the Jenin battle. They blocked anti-Israeli moves in the Security Council because they realized that railroading Israel would destroy the last vestige of the world body’s moral legitimacy. They therefore maneuvered the deliberations into a blind alley from which Israel somehow emerged unscathed. Aware of these backroom maneuvers at UN headquarters, Israel took the chance of taking a bold stand against the UN Jenin team. This set of circumstances cannot be relied upon to recur in future diplomatic battles.
Ignorant of his prospects in the White House, Sharon decided to put together some cards of his own. First he leaked details of his peace plan – one drawn up by Israel’s national security council and gathering dust in a bottom drawer. Then, he chose a more powerful card: publication of the Barghouti file.
The Ramallah Fatah-Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti was arrested two weeks ago towards the end of Operation Defensive Shield. He has been under intense interrogation since. The file contains his testimony on how he planned dozens of shooting, bombing and suicide attacks against Israelis and recruited terrorists for perpetrating them. The testimony comes in the form of written statements, recordings and videotaped reconstructions of the attacks he led. Running through the file is his constant assertion of Yasser Arafat’s complicity. In one place he says:
“When I planned this attack and others and found we were short of funds, I turned to Yasser Arafat and told him we needed more money. Before approving the funds, the president asked me to explain every detail. He knew about each attack down to the last detail and the cost of each item needed to put it into motion.”
Sharon would gladly dispose of his retinue of advisers and aides when he flies out Saturday night, if he could take with him instead Marwan Barghouti plus a bevy of reporters to write down his every word. In the Oval Office, he would simply ask the Tanzim chief to tell the president as it was. The Israel prime minister leaves in the belief he has nothing to lose. He therefore plans to open the Barghouti file to show Congress and the American public the true face of the man the Bush administration and Saudi rulers are so intent on rescuing and whom Washington is making the linchpin of its US Middle East policy and its global war on terror.

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