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Ha'aretz, November 17, 1998
 

Arafat as a partner, or a collaborator

By Gideon Levy

 

Something unusual has happened recently. Jerusalem has expressed satisfaction with something the Palestinians are doing. The prime minister and the foreign minister have voiced appreciation for the steps taken by the Palestinian Authority in their war against terror. It is nice to hear a good word about the Palestinians coming from Netanyahu and Sharon; and it is nice to know that the Palestinian Authority is waging war on terror. But anyone listening carefully to what is going on in the Palestinian street cannot help but ask himself if Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not making a mess of this war against terror. The firm steps recently taken by Arafat against his own people may turn out to be a fateful miscalculation for him no less than for Israel. Israel and Arafat ought to let up the pressure at least a moment before it is too late.This campaign against terror has a very negative image among the Palestinian public. In Palestinian eyes, the prime minister of Israel keeps piling demands upon dictates on their leadership, while Arafat submits docilely. They hear about the list of wanted terrorists that Israel - only Israel - has decided should be arrested, as if there is no Palestinian side involved at all, and no Palestinian legal and judicial system. They hear about Israeli leaks concerning the security memorandum signed at Wye, which presents their leadership in very bad light (one member of the Palestinian negotiations team even complained that the leaks are endangering the lives of Palestinian leaders, using as proof the Iranian threats on Arafat's life made public immediately following the Israeli leaks). The aim of all the anti-terror programs is only to preserve Israel's "security," as if the lives of Palestinians are not daily in danger in the territories.

Dozens of preemptive arrests have been made in the area of Nablus, while not a single one has been made in neighboring Yitzhar, whose Jewish residents threaten the lives of Palestinian farmers with firearms. Palestinians see hundreds of their people detained after each terror attack, while the killers of Arabs in Israel continue to receive ridiculous punishments, like that of the youth from Beit Haggai. They witness extensive arrests, not only among the military wing of Hamas and the Jihad, but also - and this is the new and most worrisome development - among the political leadership of these organizations.

Abed Al Aziz Rantisi has been under arrest since April, despite the order by the Supreme Court of Gaza to release him. The same goes for Dr. Mahmout A Zahar and even Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who is still under house arrest. Israel has not conducted waves of arrests of this scope following a single terror attack. After the attack in Gush Katif, no less than 300 Hamas members were arrested. After the failed terror attack in the Mahane Yehuda market, the charity organizations of the Islamic Jihad were also closed down. Why? "In order to crack the 'terror infrastructure,'" says Israel. But the oppressive measures that are somehow endurable when they are carried out by Israel become completely unbearable to the Palestinians when they are carried out by their own national leadership.

The Palestinians also know of the involvement of the CIA in the agreements - which is not an organization with a very good reputation in the Arab world - and they see how Netanyahu dictates exactly how their leadership must vote in their supreme national institution. And they know that all this is intended merely to pacify the Israeli right. And not only are the contents of the agreement dissonant with a partnership of equal rights, but so is the tone taken by Israeli spokespeople.

Netanyahu dictates and threatens; Arafat swallows it. The interest of both sides is clear. Arafat is willing to forget everything to gain some advancement, no matter how small, and Netanyahu wants to prove to the right that he is the one in charge of the relationship with his rival-partner of necessity. But this is unfortunately very nearsighted of both of them. Arafat's status has been on the decline for some time now. His recent measures against his own people have exacerbated the situation even more. Now Palestinians no longer compare him to collaborator General Antoine Lahed. Instead, some are comparing him to Druze soldiers serving in the IDF who shoot at Palestinians. This is bad news not only for Israel but also for the war on terror.

If we believe that weakening Arafat, causing the deterioration of the Palestinian Authority, and perhaps even - heaven forbid - a Palestinian civil war are in Israel's interests, then we are on the right track. But the true Israeli interest, even that of Netanyahu, should be to maintain Arafat as a strong partner in his own home. If the current trend continues, and we keep on squeezing him into a corner, we will end up finding ourselves with excellent security memorandums but no authorized body to implement them; with an abrogated Palestinian covenant, but with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as the leader of the Palestinian people

 

 

(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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