The level of trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians dropped to the level of zero and both peoples are swimming in their own blood. This became evident after a series of acts of terrorism carried out by the Palestinian separatists and by Israel’s actions in response. The number of dead Israelis and Palestinians reached 64 on Friday. This was the bloodiest day since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising. The day started with the murder of five Israeli students by a Palestinian guerrilla in one of the settlements of the Gaza Strip. Ahmed Mefraj was among those Palestinians who were killed on Friday. General Mefraj was the deputy chief of the Palestinian security service. He was the highest-ranking official killed in the clash between Palestine and Israel.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli premier, said in an interview on Israeli television that he was ready to conduct negotiations on a truce with the Palestinians. Sharon made it understood that he might lift his requirement for Palestinians to stop the hostile actions for one week.
The right-wing forces, which have been supporting all of Sharon’s military actions up until now, harshly criticized his latest initiatives. The coalition “Our Home Israel – National Unity” announced that it is going to leave the Israeli government. As the leader of this party, Avigdor Lieberman, said, the decision was made after Sharon refused one of the major principles that was the basis of the government of the national union – “no negotiations when guns are firing.”
“Ariel Sharon has been going in zigzags, but, today, he has chosen his final strategy: to yield," Lieberman said. "The compromise that was chosen by the head of the government is not good for us at all. The government, which is acting this way, does not have a right to exist. Sharon is ready to forget about 'the seven days of silence,' then Yasser Arafat will be allowed to leave Ramallah and everything will be over with a retreat to the borders of 1967 and with the full capitulation in the face of terror. The head of the government has been fulfilling all of our requirements up until now. That is why we were staying with the government. But Ariel Sharon has crossed the line today. The further participation in the activity of this government will betray the interests of our electorate.” This position is shared by the party of the Russian emigrants, Israel ba-Aliya.
The split in the government coalition made Sharon face the following choice: either to listen to what the right-wing forces say and continue with the policy of the military pressure on the Palestinians or to start negotiations with Arafat or his representatives.
Anthony Zinni, the American president's envoy for regulation of the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, is returning to the Middle East soon. Dick Cheney is going to tour the Middle East after Zinni. They should see the situation in the region themselves and make an adequate decision. It is not very likely that such a decision will be good for Israel. Washington is not happy about the latest initiatives of the Israeli government.
Colin Powell said that if Sharon thinks that the problem can be solved with the help of war, counting the killed Palestinians, then Sharon thinks wrongly.
The chancellery of the head of the Israeli government immediately reacted to unbelievably critical words of the American secretary of state. It was said in the statement that Israel had not declared a war with the Palestinians and all the actions taken by the Israeli army on the territories that are under the control of Palestine were of a defensive and anti-terrorist character.
There have been many attempts made to find things in common between the actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. It has been stressed that the Palestinian national administration was allegedly “a terrorist group” and that the leadership of the administration organized acts of terrorism in Israel. There is a conclusion coming out of these ideas: one should behave with this administration the same way as with Al-Qaida and with Yasser Arafat the same way as with Bin Laden.
Nevertheless, Washington is not interested in Israel’s anti-terrorist operations. America is first and foremost interested in its new phase of the anti-terrorist operation in the Middle East, which may start very soon. The Americans need the support of the Arab countries for that operation. Needless to say, this support is not likely to be guaranteed if the Arab countries see that the USA is supporting Israel again. If this happens, if the USA support Israel, then the leaders of some of the Arab countries risk the wild rage of the people and also give the new anti-governmental arguments for the radical Islamic opposition. Such experiments are not good for the Middle East; they are dangerous.
To all appearances, Washington realizes this reality, and they decided to work on it now. The American and Egyptian presidents (during the visit of Egypt’s President to America) discussed Cairo’s initiative to hold a meeting between the premier of Israel, Ariel Sharon, and the leader of the Palestinian national autonomy, Yasser Arafat in the nearest future. The Americans reportedly support the initiative of the Egyptian president that the meeting should be based on the recent peaceful initiatives of the Saudi Prince Abdullah. It is not ruled out in this connection that Washington might try to twist Israel’s arms and make Sharon have a meeting with Arafat at least in the resort town of Sharm ash-Sheikh, as was proposed by the Egyptian president. Sharon does not seem to like Abdullah's initiatives, and he is not willing to travel for a meeting with the Palestinian leader. Anyway, the observers are sure that the Americans will always find serious arguments for the Israelis to accept their recommendations.
It is worth mentioning that Mitchell-Tenet’s plan, which was approved earlier, does not find this universal approval now, either in America or in the USA. However, if we compare the plans of Saudi Arabia and the plan of the former director of the CIA, then the first one is more loyal for the Palestinians than the second one. The authors of the plan urge to stop the violence, resume the peace negotiations, and restore the mutual trust between the governments of Israel and Palestine and between the military structures of Israel and Palestine. The authors of the plan called upon the government of Israel to cancel the economic sanctions on the Palestinian territories meant to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Tenet’s plan has a goal of creating conditions for implementing the recommendations of Mitchell’s commission, which concerns security issues. It will be possible to talk about the resumption of peace talks only after this plan is implemented and after the principal issues of the status of Jerusalem are solved. The requirements for the Palestinian autonomy: to arrest all Islamic Jihad gunmen, the list of which had been given by Israel to Palestine; to stop the provoking propaganda, which assists in the acts of terrorism and violence against the Israeli settlements; to take all measures possible for the prevention of terror; and to prevent to the activity of separate groups and certain figures that are connected with the terrorist activities. The requirements of Israel: to move the troops back toe the positions held until September 28, not to perform any military activities on Palestinian territory, and so on. The requirements to both of the parties include the resumption of cooperation between the special forces and joint activity to prevent terrorist acts.
The plan, which was offered by the prince of Saudi Arabia, stipulates Israel’s recognition by all Arab countries. The condition for this recognition is the return of Israel’s borders back in the ones of 1967, before the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied.
Ariel Sharon had a very negative attitude to the plan at first. A spokesman for the Israeli government said that any requirement for Israel to return to the borders of 1967 make negotiations needless. Israel cannot accept conditions that threaten its security, and the return to the borders of 1967 is such a condition.
Everything changed after the USA and Egypt gave their support to the peaceful initiatives of Saudi Arabia. Ariel Sharon had to take a step back. He addressed to the President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak with a request to arrange a secret meeting between him and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah. Mubarak said that Sharon was willing to learn more about Abdullah’s suggestion.
What does Ariel Sharon have on his mind? He is probably taking a tactical break until the American special envoy visits the Middle East, or maybe he is extending his room for a maneuver? The criticism of his actions from every side makes him more flexible. If he stops the military operation on the occupied Palestinian territories, he will obtain the trump cards from Arafat and America, who have been criticizing him for being too violent. However, in this situation, he will have to turn to the radicals face to face, who criticize him for his conciliatory position. The first act of terrorism will automatically strike him out of the list of the presently working terrorists. One may say that Ariel Sharon found himself in the situation in which Yasser Arafat was a month ago. Everybody was saying that Arafat would soon fade away as a politician. Let us see if he copes with that situation.
In addition, Yasser Arafat is ready to start the peace talks with Israel as soon as possible, despite the constant humiliation from which his nation suffers. Arafat said that in an interview to the Italian state television RAI, having confirmed the readiness of the Palestinians to realize the place of CIA’s head, which was set forth in June of 2001.
Dmitry Litvinovich PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov