Arafat, in his besieged bureau, continues to work. It’s important to him to display a sight of a working PA, someone to talk to. Mohammed Dahlan and Mohammed Rashid are in Ramallah, outside the besieged bureau, busy transferring money. There is no need for meetings and discussions. This is a small staff, which understands the rais, even by a wink.
However odd it sounds, the Palestinian leadership has not changed and is not about to change. The same faces, the same names. The people sitting with Arafat in his office are enjoying it, earning glory for participating in the fighting. General Haj Ismail, commander of the Palestinian army on the West Bank, who fled from Lebanon in ’82 when the IDF invaded, could have lost his entire world this time. Luckily, he happened to be in Arafat’s office, and since he’s there, has stayed glued to him.
In the future, the Palestinian side will make an accounting of who was where during the war. In any case, the real stars produced by the fighting are the local Tanzim leaders, who conducted the fighting in practice in the various cities. Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, in contrast, will have to answer some hard questions. For example, was his disappearance indeed necessary the entire time. Jibril Rajoub will have to work hard to restore his image, after his men surrendered in his headquarters.
The same name, the same faces, while the PA administration, the people under the faces, has fallen apart. The computer system has been destroyed. The population registry, for example, no longer exists. Taxes cannot be collected. The security organizations have been scattered, some of the people arrested. [… ]
The real victor in the present fighting are the Tanzim, and it is they who will set the agenda for the day after. If Arafat wants, ever, to stop the terror, this will only be by means of the Tanzim. Already now they have taken the place of the security organizations, and run matters in the field, although it does not have an authoritative central leadership, only local leaders. Each leadership has its own agenda, which does not necessary conform to Arafat’s.
Powell Will Get Only Gestures
When the security cabinet met to discuss Powell’s visit, there were two issues that were left without an answer: when the IDF leaves the territories, to whom will it leave security responsibility? The second: how do we move on from there to diplomatic talks?
As to the first question, the sense among the top political and security echelons is that Israel will have to talk with the local Tanzim commanders, and reach understandings with them.
Powell’s visit will not end the operation. The Israeli decision, at the moment, is to lower the IDF’s profile a bit, to leave most of the places where it’s possible, and in the cities where it is not possible, to try and at least leave the city centers, or cancel the curfew. These are gestures for the three days Powell is here and it is very likely we will have to pay for these gestures. When Zinni came similar gestures were made, and Israel suffered 126 casualties in terror attacks.
Powell’s visit is liable to end in failure, firstly because of the fact that the Palestinians don’t believe the Americans. Last year senior PA officials went to Cairo for talks with Mubarak and the Egyptian leadership. They were given a seminar in the history of reality. The Egyptians demanded, demonstratively, that the PA cooperate with Powell and reach an arrangement with him. They spoke of a gradual process of stabilization and quiet, the implementation of the Zinni plan, while getting European and American aid for rehabilitating the PA administration and its security organizations.
The Israeli security establishment believes that Powell will at most succeed in bringing Arafat to discuss a cease-fire, but without any commitment to fight terror and stop the terror attacks. In discussions held this week with Zinni’s people, Israel demanded that Powell at least show Arafat the Zinni document, which Sharon has already accepted. Israel does not imagine that the secretary of state will completely ignore what his envoy did, especially since the Zinni document, unlike the Tenet document, is operative, and deals with the battle against terror. There are three principles in the Zinni document, leading to a cease-fire and to a war on terror: arrests, confiscating illegal weapons and dealing with terror infrastructure. It details the stages and the timetables, including how the various charity organizations should be handled, the mosque cells, the terror budgets, its bank accounts. Arafat rejected this before Operation Protective Wall and will not accept it now. The Tanzim will certainly not accept it.
Regardless of what Israel does or doesn’t do, we are going to clash with the Americans. Powell’s arrival reflects a dramatic, fundamental change that Washington’s approach underwent last week to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not just another trip to see what’s going on, to spread a little cosmetics. For the first time the Bush administration has a strategy for the Middle East, making it possible to compare Powell’s visit to the quality visits of Kissinger in their time.
The change took place when Vice President Cheney returned from his visit to the region and made it clear to the president that any attempt to separate the Iraqi issue form the Palestinian one was impossible. No Arab coalition could be enlisted to keep quiet over the American attack on Iraq if the US could not be shown to be concerned about the Palestinian issue and to be doing something. Cheney also told the president that instability in Egypt and Jordan was no longer theoretical. [… ]
This article ran in Yediot Ahronot on April 12th, 2002