Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Sharon, U.S. and Arafat Monitor Cease Fire
by Mordecai Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

A fragile cease fire continued, threatened by a long gun battle on Monday but not to the breaking point.

There were heavy gun battles throughout the day and into last night near Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians also fired seven mortar shells in three salvos at Jewish communities and IDF positions in Gaza yesterday and close to midnight on Sunday.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally declared a cease fire on May 21, soon after the internationally sponsored Mitchell report on the situation was published. Israel refrained from taking any initiatives to halt Palestinian terror.

However, twenty Israelis were killed and more than 100 wounded when a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up outside a nightclub along Tel Aviv's beach front promenade last Friday. Nearly all the victims were young immigrants from the former Soviet Union and most of them were girls. The bomb was particularly devastating because it was packed with screws and nails, and the injuries were serious.

In the wake of the bombing, Israel took nonviolent steps to restrain the Palestinians, and tightened the closure on the territories and ordered even those Palestinians with entry permits back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Sharon also declared an end to the unilateral cease-fire. However when Arafat soon declared a cease fire on the Palestinian side, the Israeli cabinet decided not to order any military reprisals, but to see whether international pressure would spur Arafat to rein in Palestinian violence.

Israel and America have insisted that Arafat must take active steps to halt terror and not just stop the shooting. This means that he must rearrest the terrorists that were in PA jails who were released as part of the current cycle of Palestinian violence. The extremist Islamic groups including the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas have not accepted a cease fire.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Sharon and Arafat on Monday for the third time since Friday to urge both sides to maintain a cease-fire.

"The secretary urged Arafat in the strongest possible terms to follow words with actions and to undertake a 100-percent effort against violence and terrorism, including the arrest of those responsible for atrocities like the bombings on Friday," a U.S. State Department official said.

Over the weekend Powell warned against frequently dispatching senior officials to the region. "Over- involvement on the part of the most senior people in government tends to keep people from making the kinds of decisions they have to make, because they are always looking for a little better deal, and [they say,] `The Americans are coming. They'll make it happen,' or, `The Americans will put pressure here, the Americans will do that,' " Powell told CNN.

Powell said the US wants to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton administration, which in its last days used its highest-level personnel in negotiations and built up expectations in a dangerous way.

Although most observers believe that Arafat is still in control of the situation in the PA, his control is not immediate and absolute. It is expected that it may take him a full days to bring complete quiet. However the big question is if he truly intends to put an end to the current cycle of violence for the immediate future or is just paying lip service to international opinion which was insistent that Palestinian violence stop after the last horrible bomb.

Prime Minister Sharon has come under intense criticism from the Right for not responding militarily to the suicide bomb. Members of his own Likud party had harsh words and the Ichud Haleumi led by Rechavam Zeevi threatened to leave the government over the issue.

Though clearly on the defensive, Sharon held his ground. "The defense establishment knows what to do and it is ready to do it," Sharon told members of the Likud Knesset faction. "No one is preventing our defense forces from doing what they need to do. Our policy is not restraint. Our policy is to protect the people of Israel."

Sharon also confirmed that he was considering a plan to create a new security buffer zone and enclose settlements in the West Bank with a security fence to prevent infiltration by terrorists. "This is the concept that we are dealing with today," Sharon said.

A senior army commander said Monday that Arafat's cease-fire statement caused the cancellation of a "severe assault" on the Palestinian Authority that the air force was poised to launch.

Cabinet minister Danny Naveh (Likud) said Arafat should be given a chance to demonstrate that his cease-fire calls are serious, but added that the "testing period" cannot last long. Naveh left little doubt that if the brittle calm collapsed, Arafat's Authority would be squarely in the cross- hairs of the Israeli military. "If Arafat does not indeed fight terror, as he has claimed he intends to do, the significance of this is that we will have to be the ones to fight terror," Naveh said. "Terror is not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but also that which gives a green light to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that is the Palestinian Authority."

Meanwhile, Israeli forces arrested two senior Palestinian officials and two other Palestinians on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority officials and witnesses said. The officials said an Israeli patrol stopped a Palestinian taxi and arrested Majdi Alawneh, a senior Palestinian liaison official with Israel in Nablus.

Near Qalqilya another Palestinian official, Iyad Mardawi, was arrested. The two were arrested on charges of sabotaging the liaison cooperation with Israel.

Ha'aretz commentator Danny Rubinstein suggests that one factor behind Arafat's decision was the impact of the suicide bombing on the Palestinian public. "During past periods of the Intifadah, there were many instances when, had Arafat declared a cease-fire, no one would have listened to him," he says. "Therefore, he refrained from doing so. No one wants to give an order that will go unobeyed."

This time, Rubinstein says, the horror of the carnage shocked even many Palestinians, and there was also fear of the Israeli reprisal. Rubinstein says he believed that Arafat never wanted the Al Aqsa Intifadah to break out in the first place. "But once it suddenly erupted, he could not act differently. He refrained from issuing orders to cease fire because he know that no one would heed them."

For most of Israel, life continues as usual, as it has been for the past eight months. There seems little possibility of any uncontrolled spread of violence. The bastions of Torah continue providing the most effective protection in the present and the best guarantee for the future.


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