President George W. Bush was very cautious about the marks he gave to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat on the latter’s cease-fire efforts. True, Bush stated: “I was pleased to see that Mr. Arafat is trying to control the radical elements within the Palestinian Authority, and I think the world ought to applaud him for that” (emphasis added). Bush re-stated his belief that “there ought to be a Palestinian state, the boundaries of which will be negotiated by the parties” (Presidential News Conference — October 11, 2001 — CNN.com).
Yet Bush did not confirm that Arafat had in fact eliminated or even reduced violence: “I hope progress is being made.” He even added: “I hope he’s [Arafat’s] taking measures necessary to reduce the violence in the Middle East.” Elsewhere in his remarks, Bush continued his firm policy against those who shelter terrorist organizations: “We are sending a signal to the world as we speak that if you harbor a terrorist, there will be a price to pay.” Referring to diplomatic indications from Syria that it too is ready to help in the war against terrorism, Bush established his own criteria for joining the new worldwide coalition: “I’m a performance-oriented person. I believe in results. And if you want to join the coalition against terror, we’ll welcome you in….All I ask for is results” (emphasis added).
Two separate criteria are possibly emerging with respect to U.S. policy on fighting terrorism. There are states, or organizations like the PLO, that will claim they are trying to assist the U.S. in fighting terrorism. But the results of this effort can be mixed or even ineffectual. In the case of Yasser Arafat, it will be demonstrated that the results of his latest cease-fire actions have been entirely inadequate. As a result, Israel continues to face a real and immediate threat of large-scale terrorism against its civilians. Premature political rewards to Yasser Arafat on the basis of his purported effort only reduces the chances that America’s latest diplomatic efforts at brokering a cease-fire will succeed.
Current Palestinian Cease-Fire Compliance: Totally Inadequate Results
Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has failed to live up to key cease-fire commitments to the State of Israel. Arafat declared his newest cease-fire on September 18. He renewed this cease-fire commitment again following the Peres-Arafat meeting on September 26. Looking only at shooting attacks, the number of incidents remains at approximately 100 for the week of October 4-10 — the same number that Israel contended with one week earlier. Taking into account all types of attacks, these dropped from 28 daily attacks on October 8 to 12 daily attacks on October 9, but then shot back up to 22 attacks on October 11 and 23 attacks on October 12.
The most important category for Israel of cease-fire observance is the arrest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants planning suicide bombings against Israel. The cease-fire plan brokered on June 13, 2001, by U.S. CIA Director George Tenet is explicit about this cease-fire requirement: “The Palestinian Authority will move immediately to apprehend, question, and incarcerate terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza” (Ha’aretz, June 14, 2001).
Originally, Israel provided a list of about 108 names of terrorists to be arrested.
In response to a Palestinian request, Israel detailed a list of 48 terrorists of the highest priority, while still insisting on the eventual arrest of the original 108.
At the Peres-Arafat meeting, Israel provided a list of 10 terrorists out of the 108 which it regarded as “ticking bombs,” that required immediate arrest in the first phase of the cease fire.
Some circles in Washington last week noted the progress that Arafat made in reportedly arresting 4 out of the 10 on the “ticking bombs” list. Yet, it is now clear, from solid evidence in the hands of Israel, that 2 of the 4 were not imprisoned at all. One of the remaining 2 “arrested” militants is kept under conditions that allow him to remain in constant contact with his operatives in order to give instructions and receive reports. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that highly lethal bombing attacks continue, including a PFLP car bomb attempt in Jerusalem on the night of October 6-7 and another bombing device next to Kibbutz Nahal Oz October 8. Israel alone intercepted both efforts. In short, Arafat’s willingness to clash with pro-bin Laden Palestinians demonstrators who threaten his own regime does not correlate with any corresponding readiness to struggle against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order to prevent attacks on Israel.
The Fate of Past Cease-Fire Efforts
The presently failed cease-fire is only the latest case of unimplemented cease-fire proposals by Yassar Arafat since he initiated the latest intifada against Israel:
October 4, 2000 — Barak-Arafat meeting in Paris with U.S. Secretary of State Albright and French President Chirac. “Points of Understanding” document concluded, but Arafat refused to sign.
October 16-17, 2000 — At the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit, Arafat agrees in front of President Clinton to issue a public statement unequivocally calling for an end to violence. In exchange, Israel agrees to Fact-Finding Commission that becomes the Mitchell Committee. Arafat does not issue the cease-fire statement, nonetheless the Mitchell Committee is formed and begins its work.
November 1, 2000 — Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat meet. As a result, Barak and Arafat conclude a “Joint Statement on the Cessation of Violence.” Car bomb explodes in Jerusalem. Cease-fire is not implemented.
November 17, 2000 — After a November 9 meeting with President Clinton, Arafat declares a cease-fire in Area A. Shooting incidents drop from 53 per day to 34, then rise again to 53.
June 2, 2001 — Arafat declares in public that he is ready to issue a cease-fire after Dolphinarium Disco attack in Tel Aviv. Incidents of mortar shelling increase from one attack on June 1 to 3 attacks on June 4 to 4 attacks on June 10. Attacks using explosives return to highpoint of 12 per day.
June 13, 2001 — Arafat agrees to Tenet Work Plan. Mortar attacks drop from 4 per day on June 13 to 2 attacks per day on June 18. Shooting and other attacks continue.
The Challenge for U.S. and Israeli Policy
Arafat has repeatedly failed to comply with his own cease-fire commitments, despite high level interventions of world leaders from President Clinton to German Foreign Minister Fischer. The Palestinian Authority continues to harbor terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and refuses to dismantle their military infrastructures. Hamas operatives have made contact with bin Laden’s network and have overseas connections in Sudan, Lebanon and Jordan. In any event, most attacks against Israelis presently come from organizations directly under Arafat himself — from Force 17 to Fatah/Tanzim.
Israel seeks to draw a distinction between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian population, much like the U.S. distinguishes between the Taliban and the Afghan people. It would be a mistake to interpret Israeli measures to ease the plight of the Palestinian population on a local basis with any Israeli approval of Arafat’s cease-fire performance.
Yasser Arafat has only taken strategic decisions to renounce the fight against terrorist groups when he has been under enormous international pressure to do so: after the Gulf War in 1991 and after the suicide bombings of 1996. Awarding Arafat’s ineffective efforts at this time will be counterproductive, for such a policy will only assure that he will lose the motivation to reach the standard of performance that President Bush himself has established.