What’s Behind the Bush Palestinian Camp X-Ray Proposal?
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon needed a second vote at the Sunday, 28 April, cabinet meeting to swing a majority of 17 ministers against 8 in favor of President George W. Bush’s proposal for lifting the month-long siege of Yasser Arafat in his shell-pocked HQ in Ramallah. The Bush proposal drove through Israel’s pre-condition for setting Arafat free – the extradition to Israel of the four assassins who murdered the Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi last year, as well as Fouad Shoubaki, the financial director behind the Karine-A arms smuggling project – and Arafat’s senior go-between with Tehran and Baghdad. The sixth man on Israel’s list is the PFLP Secretary General Ahmad Sada’at. Arafat has been harboring all six in his besieged headquarters in Ramallah.
The Bush proposal was for American and British personnel to guard the Palestinian prison in which the six wanted men would be incarcerated. After their handover, Arafat could go free.
By accepting the Bush proposal – after three telephone calls from Washington to Jerusalem in one night and a fourth into the cabinet meeting – Sharon announced he was going back on his solemn vow not to give up on extraditions.
On the spot, he received an invitation to the White House next week.
Had Bush wanted to make prime minister’s life easier, he would have offered to take the six wanted men to the CampX-Ray prison facility set up in GuantanamoBay for al Qaeda prisoners captured in Afghanistan. But the US government has enough on its hands with the Afghan terrorists – most of whose identities are still unknown. Instead, the Bush formula creates a Camp X-Ray Palestinian prison facility by placing it under British and American guards.
If it works, the plan holds a number of advantages for Washington:
A. He wins kudos for hitting on a way to lift the Israeli siege against Arafat.
B. He impresses Saudi crown prince Abdullah and the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, both of whom have accused his administration of pro-Israeli bias, with his even-handed Middle East policy. Abdullah stayed an extra day at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas to give Bush a chance to push his plan through.
C. He began to open the jammed door to the revival of security collaboration between the United States, Israel and the Palestinians. The small extra – the UK presence – refutes charges that he is pushing the Europeans out of Middle East policy-making.
The White House responded swiftly to Israel’s acceptance, terming it “positive and constructive” and calling on Arafat to take the next step by showing himself willing to fight terror.
But it put the Israeli prime minister on the spot because:
A. He was forced to back away from Israel’s fundamental claim to stand those six terrorists before an Israeli court. A makeshift Palestinian tribunal staged a mockery of a trial on Saturday, handing down sentences of between one and 18 years for four of the killers of Israel’s tourism minister. The other two were not tried.
B. Sharon was maneuvered into accepting Arafat’s unrestricted release. The moment Arafat consigns the six wanted men to a “remote detention facility” under British and American guard he is free to go anywhere he pleases, including the West Bank. The Bush-Sharon blueprint for shunting Arafat into the Gaza Strip is a dead letter.
C. The location of the “remote prison facility” – Ramallah or Gaza – is of cardinal importance. If it is Ramallah, Arafat’s Palestinian Authority continue to govern the West Bank, canceling out the greatest feat of Operation Defensive Shield which was to break up his terror-impregnated regime.
D. Another point for Arafat is the introduction of the pro-Palestinian British element.
The British are bad news for Israel and bode future trouble in the intelligence field.
E. Guantanamo B will start out as a one-off detention facility for Palestinian terrorists. Before long, the Palestinians will be clamoring for Israeli servicemen and statesmen who fought terrorists to be imprisoned and face international tribunals for alleged war crimes – a ploy that worked in the case of the battle of Jenin.
Arafat may have formally accepted the Bush plan, but it is a tough call for him too:
A. Turning in six comrades to the Americans and British after they shared his “heroic siege” under Israeli guns might not go down too well with the Palestinian people, Arab opinion and Muslims everywhere. It might be taken as a betrayal to buy his freedom. What then becomes of his proud boast that his only ambition is to be a Shahid, a martyr to the Palestinian cause?
B. His betrayal is two-edged: the US State Departed has listed the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, based in Damascus – and a member of the PLO and Palestinian National Council – a terrorist organization, one of those against which the US is waging its war on global terror. Handing over Ahmed Sada’at, who never even stood trial, would be an admission that the PLO, which Arafat heads, embraces a terrorist group.
That would not be the end of it. The Hamas, the Jihad Islami and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades of Arafat’s own Fatah, will be next in line. He can hardly refuse to turn them over if he gives up PFLF activists. The Palestinian Guantanamo will soon be fuller than the American Camp X-Ray in Cuba.
Maybe that is Washington’s recipe for purging the Palestinians of terrorists, leaving them fit for negotiations on a settlement with Israel.
By letting the Bush plan go through, Arafat opens the way for ending the Church of Nativity siege in Bethlehem on Israel’s terms. Of the 200 terrorists originally barricaded in the church nearly a month ago, Israel is now demanding the extradition of only nine. They too can be sent to the Palestinian Guantanamo facility. The Americans may also take Israel’s part on the controversial UN Jenin committee, whose arrival Israel has meanwhile postponed indefinitely.
debkafile‘s Middle East analysts fully expect Arafat will find a way of ducking round his acceptance of the Bush formula, just as he never lived up to the Tenet ceasefire he publicly accepted last year. He may hand over the four convicted assassins, but he will haggle over the other two – particularly the PFLP secretary, in the hope of wearing Israelis and the Americans down. He may even put Sadaat on mock trial and find him not guilty. In the meantime, he and the PFLP leader are actively keeping the Palestinian terror campaign alive in the face of the damage the IDF wrought to the Palestinian terror machine.
The attempt aborted in Qalqilya over the weekend by an Israeli military raid was for an attack of monstrous dimensions, to blow up a Tel Aviv skyscraper. Far from abandoning the path of terror, Arafat still has big plans ahead.