As it was expected, the answer given by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the Israeli request asking for the arrest of some islamic activists was : NO. Mr. Nabil Shaath explained to the reporters that ” it is illegal to say arrest 300 people and then come talk to us”; and he added: ” if we have any information from Israel, or from our own security, that there might be something planned in Israel, we will go after them.” So, this is not a ” carte blanche” given to the islamists as the Israelis fancied. The PA made it sure that it would arrest people only if they are guilty or – at least- suspected of fomenting trouble. We know it did it in the past, and there is no reason to think Arafat would refrain from arresting those who oppose him again, sometimes in spite of the Human Rights organizations’ critics. What happened once would happen again. Nevertheless, it would be a great mistake to think that nothing changed in the political landscape. The PA has understood – as it sounds- the lessons of the past. It knows for instance that a compromise with Israel that would not reward its people with a real hope for freedom and dignity, not only would not work, but would be discrediting and thus harmful for peace. This is the ground of the current position. More simply put: Arafat is not refusing cooperation, but rather trying not to discredit himself in his own people’s eyes. Let’s remember that some factions from “FATH” – his organization- have claimed that they would not accept to be disarmed. In 1983, in the Lebanese Bekaa, a revolt burst out against his authority in the same organization. So, nothing really could hamper that to happen again in case he is judged too soft on some issues.
Needless to say that the situation is still highly explosive, in spite of the declared cease- fire , and in spite of the shuttle diplomacy and the presence of senior representatives of important institutions, who dropped in the region or are expected , such as: MM. William Burns, Miguel Moratinos, Javier Solana, Joschka Fischer, Terje Rod-Larsen, George Tenet, and Goran Persson. Either on the Palestinian or on the Israeli side – not to talk of the neighbors- the violence is not quite ruled out. And this is not only a physical and a material violence, but also a moral one. It is noticeable for example that a day before Mr. Tenet’s arrival, the Israeli Prime Minister declared to a Russian television channel ( NTV) that Mr. Arafat is ” a murderer and a pathological liar “, adding that ” he is not a head of state” , fo he behaves as the head of terrorists and murderers” !
It is tempting to say thereupon : Well! If these words are pronounced by the man who allowed the shameful and inhuman tragical slaughter of Sabra and Chatila, as it has been proved by an Israeli investigation commission, we can say nothing but : He is perhaps speaking of himself! The phenomenon is known in psychology as ” projection”. And if Sharon was speaking as a Prime Minister , then the Israelis are in deep trouble, for this is not the way the chief of a government address another political official, with whom he intends to start or to resume – negotiations.
But there is worse: for it sounds that this is not an isolated behavior in Israel these days. Most Israeli newspapers seem to agree upon a recently propagated prototype of Arafat and the PA. Here are some examples: On June 6, “Jerusalem Post” reported the above quotation from Sharon’s interview with NTV, and specified that ” these comments come just three days after the security cabinet issued a statement saying that the Palestinian Authority and Arafat are involved in terror, encourage terror, and incite to hatred and violence.”
On May 31, the same newspaper reported the following declaration of Housing Minister Natan Sharansky:” I think that for many years we have made great efforts to turn Arafat into a partner… I think now we are at the end of the road…” And Sharansky did not hide that he had no great hope, which means that in case Arafat is found not responding to Israel’s conditions, he would be considered as a foe. The Israeli Minister put it more clearly when he said that the purpose of a war with the Palestinians would be ” to destroy the military and terrorist infrastructure in the PA…” Otherwise the same scenario than the one led by Sharon in 1982 when he invaded Lebanon and besieged Beirut proclaiming these goals as a justification for his war.
On June 7, “Ha’aretz” reported a declaration of the head of the Intelligence Department, Major General Amos Malka, who said that as long as ” he does not have any strategic victory to point to vindicate the past eight months of violence”, Arafat would prefer the continuation of the conflict with Israel to an internal conflict with the Islamic opposition groups. Amos Malka considered the cease-fire
proclaimed by Arafat as ” a tactical step, a pause that may continue for several days or several months” , but would eventually end . “After this pause he added, Arafat ” will crawl back to terrorism”.
Understandably, these words mean that for the head of the Intelligence Department, Arafat’s file is already classified, so to say; and for the Israeli establishment there is no compromise looping at the horizon, but terrorism and war.
“Ha’aretz” has by the way already reported the declarations of Nabil Shaath and Jibril Rajoub about the PA response to the Israeli request ( the list of 34 names ), and observed that this is actually ” an essential component of the cease-fire, without which it would be meaningless”. At this point, it is important to emphasize that the Palestinian position is so far trying to stick to the norms of world wide legality: nobody can be held responsible for a crime if his culpability is not proved. Now, what about those who resist occupation and are thus allowed by the United Nations’ charter to fight their enemies by all means? Israel has first to prove that the people it is asking for their arrest are guilty. And since this is a war situation, and as long as it continues, it would be a very complicated matter to handle this case if the law is to be taken in consideration. The point is that some years ago, varied mass media and Human Rights organizations, found Arafat guilty of dictatorship, and his management of the self-rule finances far from being flawless. The Islamist activists were considered by numerous analysts and commentators in the West as victims of oppression as long as they were held in custody. It is not an exaggeration thus to say that their release by the PA has been a result of these precedent critical comments as well as a result of the internal pressure after the failure of the peace process. Now, is it fair to ask Arafat to do exactly what everybody reproached him to do some time ago? Observe that for the Israelis there is already at least a guilty person, and this is Arafat himself. He is condemned without further trial. His cease- fire is considered as a joke. He is ” now playing games”, said an adviser to Prime Minister Sharon, who added: “He’s looking for a reduction in the hostilities, and thinks that will get him off the hook”!
But what’s the “hook” here? And who is actually playing games and hunting down people? the same Israeli official- quoted by the “Jerusalem Post” (June 7)- says: “Arafat wants to keep the violence on a flame low enough to make possible some kind of international conference”…! This is actually the point. This is exactly what Israel is hardly trying to avoid, for an international conference means the intervention of several players, and subsequently more pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, to freeze settlements, and to recognize the Palestinian rights De facto. And this why propagating an image of Arafat as ” a terrorist” – which is not new anyway – has become a goal of the Israeli policy, for if everybody in the West come to agreeing with the Israeli viewpoint, all the pressure would be put on Arafat to play the game wished by the Zionist establishment in order to masquerade the peace, so that no international conference would be held and no more concessions would be allowed to the Arabs.
Yet, who among the Palestinian leaders would be foolish enough to accept a masquerade of peace as peace and to mistake the very diminished self-rule for independence?
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.