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As US shuffles deck, Arafat is joker in the pack

As US shuffles deck, Arafat is joker in the pack

Author:
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 5, 2001

Even the US seems to have run out of words and deeds of patience for the Palestinian leader, Steve Mufson reports.

It has become a ritual over the years: after every new round of bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians, a senior US official somberly urges both sides to exert maximum restraint to prevent further violence. Not on Monday. With buildings still ablaze near the Gaza headquarters of Yasser Arafat after an Israeli rocket attack, the Bush administration had few words of sympathy for the Palestinian leader.

Instead, the administration said that the Israeli reprisals for suicide bombing attacks over the weekend that killed 26 people were legitimate responses, and that Israel "has a right to live in security.'' The sharp American reaction marks the culmination of months of US exasperation with Arafat's failure to deliver on pledges to restrain Palestinian violence. The administration also was not impressed by the low- to mid-level arrests made by Arafat's Palestinian Authority on Sunday after the first wave of suicide bombings, for which the militant group Hamas claimed credit. ''After these many months of missed opportunities, there's a reluctance to accept the same old excuses and half measures,'' said a senior administration official, who said the initial arrests ''seemed like a business as usual response from the Palestinian Authority.''

Moreover, the administration felt the weekend bombings scored a direct hit on recent steps it had taken to address Palestinian concerns, with Bush's recognition of the need of a Palestinian state in a United Nations speech, Secretary of State Colin Powell's November 19 speech in Louisville, and the dispatch to the region of Anthony Zinni, a politically savvy retired general with superb contacts in the Arab world. ''The administration has tried very hard to build the atmosphere for moving forward toward a genuine cease-fire and a resumption of a negotiations process,'' the senior official said. ''We now see a direct challenge to those efforts and a direct challenge to Arafat's authority from Hamas. And in that context, people (in the administration) feel very strongly that the burden is on Arafat to deliver the leadership to demonstrate that he is a eader for peace.''

The Bush administration, which even at the beginning of the year believed Arafat could do more to restrain violence, has been further swayed by an effort by visiting Israeli leaders to persuade the administration of Arafat's complicity in the continued violence. Sources say that last month Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and last Tuesday senior Israeli intelligence official Avi Dichter gave the United States damning information about Arafat's role and broken pledges on security measures. As a result, there was no US effort at even-handedness to assigning blame for the latest round of attack and counter-attack. The administration did not mention that the attacks were preceded by the Israeli assassination last month of top Hamas commander, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud.

The latest bloody incidents appear to have solidified the view among administration members that the Palestinian leader has brought Israeli retaliation upon himself, while undercutting any US plan to pressure Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. ''The burden clearly is on Chairman Arafat,'' Fleischer said. ''Arafat is capable of doing much more." Even people sympathetic with the Palestinian cause and critical of Israel's policies have been trying to convince Arafat of the importance of this moment. ''In terms of the Bush administration, this is a very critical point right now because of 9/11 and the administration's position on terrorism,'' said Edward Abington, former US consul general in Jerusalem and a political consultant to the Palestinian Authority. ''If he (Arafat) wants to be taken seriously, he has to deal with terrorim seriously.''

On Monday, Fleischer echoed language Bush has used in talking about terrorism. ''It's important now for Chairman Arafat to show that he does represent peace and does not harbour terrorists,'' he said. Abington said the bombings also came just as the administration was asking Arafat to give them something to work with so it could pressure Sharon. ''These bombings essentially undercut anything (Bush) people were trying to do vis-a-vis Sharon in terms of him exercising moderation,'' Abington said. ''How can the president, when these terrible bombings take place, ask Sharon to act with restraint?''

(LA Times-Washington Post)
 


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