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l October 2003 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 6 l

A N A L Y S I S

Arafat. Should he stay? Should he go?   

Gary Fitleberg


If he stays there will be trouble. If he goes it will be double.

 

To expel or not to expel? That is the question. 

 

Israel devised a military plan to remove Yasser Arafat one year ago. An elite Israel Defense Force unit prepared to snatch the Palestinian Authority president from his headquarters in the city of Ramallah during Operation Defensive Shield in March and April, 2002, the Jerusalem Post quoted Israel Army Radio as reporting. Soldiers were prepared to storm Arafat´s building and remove him to a North African country aboard a military helicopter, but the operation never received final approval.

 

The analysis of Israeli government officials is split on expelling Arafat.

 

Arafat controls, at minimum, all security forces of the Palestinian Authority. These include known terrorism perpetrators of Arafat’s Fatah faction such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Force 17 and Tanzim.

 

The prevailing assessment in Israel´s defense establishment was that the Tzrifin attack was perpetrated by a Tanzim cell from Nablus. If true, the attack could have been the trigger to change Israel´s policy toward Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, since Tanzim is affiliated with Arafat´s Fatah movement. The main Tanzim operative in Nablus is Naif Abu-Shreikh, who heads Fatah´s military wing in the city. Abu-Shreikh has been involved in many previous homicide bombings and receives orders and funding from two sources: members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stationed in Lebanon and Fatah members based in the Muqata.

 

But around midnight, Hamas took responsibility for the attack both in Tzrifin and Jerusalem. As Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said last night, "the attacks could be by all the ’Palestinian’ groups, they are all fighting for vengeance."

 

The end of the cease-fire and the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas sparked renewed calls by Israeli politicians for Arafat´s expulsion. If his Fatah organization indeed proves to have been responsible for yesterday´s attack, this might encourage the government to either accede to this demand or to take other steps against Arafat. Several such steps have been considered over the last week, including severing his ties with the outside world by reinstating a tight siege around his Muqata ! compound in Ramallah and disrupting the compound´s telephone connections.

 

Arafat´s expulsion was once again discussed in last night´s security consultations, but the defense establishment remains divided over the wisdom of the move, while Prime Minister Ariel Sharon attributes great importance to America´s position. Thus far, the Americans have opposed deporting Arafat, but solid proof of Fatah involvement in yesterday´s bombing might reduce their opposition - or at least get them to consent to a renewed siege of the Muqata.

 

Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Arab “Palestinian” Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath to say that the United States remains opposed to any plans to expel Yasser Arafat.

In addition to speaking to Nabil Shaath , Powell also repeated the message to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

 

A State Department official said. Israel’s Security Cabinet decided to reserve the right to expel Arafat, although it said it would not do so immediately.

 

Sharon’s Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, former head of the IDF and general believes Arafat must go. Mofaz is one of the greatest proponents of Arafat’s exile and expulsion.

 

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has called for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to be expelled, saying he is obstructing peace moves. Mofaz told Israeli army radio that Arafat was a "major obstacle for [Palestinian Prime Minister] Mahmoud Abbas and for the whole political process".

 

Mofaz said the government had to "find the right moment" before throwing out Arafat without damaging Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. He said this could be done "in a relatively short space of time, very possibly even this year".

 

Mofaz added: "I think Israel made a historic mistake by not expelling him about two years ago".

 

"Arafat never wanted to reach an agreement with us and all he wants is to continue the conflict and bleed the citizens of Israel," Mofaz stated.

 

Mofaz has in the past said “Arafat should have been expelled at the start of the latest ‘Palestinian’ uprising three years ago.” But this view has not officially been endorsed by the Israeli cabinet.

 

Arafat has been largely confined by Israeli forces to his battered headquarters in the town of Ramallah for the past year and a half. Israel and the United States have accused him of sabotaging efforts by Abu Mazen to take over the security forces at a time when militant groups have resumed attacks against Israelis.

 

Since Abbas has now resigned the possibility of Arafat’s expulsion sees more imminent. There is no Abbas reputation to be concerned with now.

 

Mofaz’s successor tends to agree with his predecessor.

 

Even before the Tzrifin bombing, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya´alon, speaking at a conference in Herzliya, said that Israel would have to weigh its policy on Arafat in light of the fact that terror attacks are still being funded and commissioned from the Muqata.

 

Ya´alon also said that Israel would continue its attacks on senior Hamas officials. Israel, he declared, will hunt down terrorists wherever they are - "in the organizations´ offices in Damascus, with members of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon or among the Palestinian terrorist cells in the territories."

 

Meanwhile, however, defense officials said they are still worried by the large number of serious warnings of intended terror attacks if Arafat is exiled and will make him a martyr.

 

Recently, particularly after the resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), there has been a surging chorus of voices in Israel calling for Arafat´s expulsion.

 

Yosef Paritsky, Israeli Minister of Infrastructure, however, believes expulsion would strengthen Arafat internally and internationally. According to Paritisky, it is better to keep a close watchful eye on Arafat.

 

“The expulsion would bestow upon Arafat status as an exiled ruler, as a kind of martyr cast out of his homeland by a cruel conqueror. There would be no better way to confer to Arafat such vaunted international status, precisely the image he so badly craves. The elite corridors in Europe would open up to him; international media would regularly interview him; and such success would be nothing, compared to the way Arafat´s stock would soar in the Arab world. Have we become so witless that we would, on our ! own initiative, grant Arafat such lofty stature?

 

In fact, Arafat´s current geographic proximity to us has some utility. Whatever remains within one´s range of vision is always more accessible than what is far away. Perhaps we will reach the conclusion that we have no option other than to negotiate, through one mechanism or another, with Arafat and his associates. In such a case, his expulsion could rule out such a negotiating option.

 

We must face the simple truth: Arafat has unsurpassed stature in Palestinian society. Palestinians view him as president, and as a national hero. Among other things, his saintly status stems from his ability to navigate between mutually contentious factions in Palestinian society, and from his resistance to Israel. And since Arafat´s strength is sustained by his opposition to Israel, his exile would only fortify his position among Palestinians.

 

While expulsion would play into Arafat´s hands, and strengthen him, negotiations with him would, paradoxically, weaken him. That is because such talks would likely cause tension or outright conflict between Arafat and the fundamentalist terror organizations. There can only be one real test of a policy measure - and that is a cold, calculated measure of its utility. By this standard, what would be better for Israel: Arafat´s isolation,or to move closer to him? We must remember: We are at war, and wars are won by ploys, cagey shrewdness and initiative."

 

Arafat will be able to travel freely. Arafat will be an international jetsetter and fundraiser for terrorism against Israel. Arafat in exile will be a big mistake and disaster for Israel. It is better to keep a close eye on him and isolate him as much as possible. Keep him under “house arrest” and guard in Muqata and make Arafat an "irrelevant" ruler until he dies a natural death.

 

 

Gary Fitleberg is a Political Analyst specializing in International Relations with emphasis on Middle East affairs.

 

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