Who Held up Arafat’s Release – If not Arafat?

The package incorporating Yasser Arafat’s freedom from a month under siege in Ramallah, the transfer of six Palestinian assassins and terror chiefs to jail in Anglo-American custody and the lifting of the Israeli blockade of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, has been teetering on the brink of consummation since early Tuesday, April 30. The parties involved in the three-way negotiations, the Vatican, the United States, the UK, Israel and the Palestinians, all explain that loose ends remain to be tied up.
debkafile‘s sources have another explanation.
In fact, the details are all in the bag. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators inBethlehem have finalized the list of 30 wanted Palestinian terror activists barricaded in the church for the last four weeks, who will go into permanent exile, never to return to Israeli or Palestinian territory. Their place of exile has been selected, Italy, which has offered them visas.
The detailed arrangements for the transfer of the six wanted Palestinians holed up in Arafat’s compound are all but settled – but for a single snag called Yasser Arafat. All the parties are of one mind over the disposition of the four PFLP activists who assassinated the Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, plus the PFLP secretary Ahmad Saadat and the Karine-A arms smuggling project’s organizer, Fuad Shobaki. Yet Arafat is withholding his final endorsement on the entire package. The longer he delays, the longer the negotiators’ faces grow and the stronger their suspicion that he is procrastinating deliberately in order to overturn Washington’s new Middle East policy.
According to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources, Arafat has inserted two cogs in the negotiating wheel: One, he has vetoed the deportation of the 30 senior Palestinian terrorists outside Palestinian jurisdiction; Two, he is standing out against the security arrangements the Anglo-American specialists have set up for holding the six men in Jericho jail.
Our sources report the Palestinian leader has assigned 7 rooms in the Palestinian Jericho compound to the six prisoners – one each, excepting for Saadat who gets two. This is to signify that he is not a convict but an honored guest of the Palestinian Authority. But Arafat refuses to sign on to the US-UK arrangement for West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub’s militia to secure the British unit and the Jericho facility. He insists that their safety is their own concern, not that of the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian leader is in effect deferring his moment of freedom on one excuse or another – which would not make sense, were it not for the opposing compulsions emanating from two factions inside his own camp:
Faction one: Four top Palestinian officials – his official deputy Abu Mazen, Palestinian legislature speaker Abu Ala, his spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo and his financial adviser Mohammed Rashid, are demanding that Yasser Arafat abandon his radical stance and his strategy of terror. This group, the pro-American-Saudi faction of the Palestinian leadership, wants him to use the fresh opportunity presented him to rebuild the Palestinian Authority on lines that will bring the Palestinian people to recovery. Deeply distressed from 20 months of Intifada, the ordinary Palestinian has hardly any money and many are on the point of starvation. Arafat’s aides are telling that the radical national-Islamic line he chose to follow with the Hamas, Jihad Islami and Hizballah, oriented on the Iran-Syria-Iraq axis, has run its course. The Palestinians have been beaten back by the US war on terror and Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield.
Now, he must seize the moment; the Americans, the Saudis and the Arab world are prepared to restore his fortunes and governing institutions – for a price. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Secretary of State Colin Powell have spelled this price out very clearly: As soon as he is free, he must embark on the fight against terror.
In other words, he must abandon his Intifada.
The West bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub heads the military arm of this faction. Although his credibility is low among his own people, and Israeli forces demolished his Bitunia command center, Rajoub is alone in retaining a functioning militia and the only one continuing to pay regular wages to his 3,000 men. The money comes from sources interested in restoring Arafat and his Palestinian Authority as a non-terrorist entity – Americans, Europeans and certain Israeli circles.
Faction two: This group is effectively led by Arafat himself, who has not yet brought himself to take the path advocated by faction one. Its top members are Tawfiq Tirawi, the intelligence chief who is the real commander of the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Sahar Habash, the Palestinian leader’s gofer, who is still working hard to hold together the extremist Fatah-Hamas-Jihad islami-PFLP- Hizballah alliance.
Ahmad Saadat, secretary general of the hard-line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – PFLP.
Muhamed Dahlan, head of the Gaza Strip preventive security service, whose heart and mind belong with faction one. But his loyalty to Arafat is absolute and where Arafat leads, he will follow. Dahlan commands a trained militia that rivals that of Rajoub.
This faction says to Arafat: You are very near the peak of your achievements. Don’t throw it all away now. For 20 months, you stood up to Israel’s military might and survived; almost single-handed, you – not Bin Laden – held off the American assault on Iraq, by keeping American and Arab leaders fully engaged with the Palestinian issue.
You still have a reserve force, the Hizballah, which has not yet gone into allout action. Keep going, coordinating with Iraq and the Hizballah, and the Americans and Israelis combined will be defeated and you will triumph.
True, the plight of the Palestinian people is acute, but it is prepared for more sacrifice. One more effort and Arafat, Saddam Hussein and Hassan Nasrallah will rule the Middle East. So don’t desert the struggle for the sake of the American-Saudi golden calf.
Arafat does not have long to decide which path to opt for.
He has not yet put his signature on the package on offer, signaling thereby his acceptance of the course advocated by faction one and accepting the well-funded US-Saudi plan to restore his authority and reconstitute it on constructive lines.
On the contrary, at the eleventh hour, Arafat refused to release Saadat and Shobaki to British-American custody, at the cost of remaining in Israeli confinement.
This is not the last word. He is waging his usual war of nerves to squeeze what he can out of his situation.
The negotiations can be expected to limp on, while Arafat feels his way to extracting approval and funding for the reinstatement of his regime in a way that leaves in his hands sufficient budgetary authority to secretly bankroll basic repairs to his badly damaged terrorist infrastructure.
Then he will be ready to return to the terrorist strategy with renewed strength.

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