Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5763 - December 18, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Israel Bars Arafat from Bethlehem
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Israeli officials are planning to publicly defend their decision to keep soldiers in Bethlehem over Xmas and their decision to bar Yasser Arafat, for the second year running, from attending midnight church services in the city.

The issue surfaced as Israel scored a major diplomatic victory at the U.N. Security Council, which voted to condemn the Nov. 28 terror attacks on Israelis in Kenya.

Early this week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, told Cabinet members that because of continued terror warnings the army does not plan to withdraw from the city. At the same meeting the Cabinet decided that Arafat will not be allowed to attend services in Bethlehem.

Israeli troops withdrew from Bethlehem in August as part of an initiative to gradually transfer security control in portions of the territories back to the Palestinian Authority. But the army returned following a November terrorist bombing in Jerusalem that was carried out by a Palestinian from Bethlehem. In the interim there were persistent reports that terrorists were using Bethlehem as a free zone to plan further operations.

Last year, Israel came under a barrage of international criticism for barring Arafat from making the trip to Bethlehem, after Arafat refused to hand over the assassins of Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi.

Before that, Arafat, a Muslim, had attended every Xmas service in Bethlehem since 1995, a year after the creation of the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials were applauding after the U.N. Security Council condemned last month's terror attacks in Kenya.

"The Security Council has never before adopted a resolution that so clearly condemns the terrorist killing of Israelis or Jews," Israel's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Aaron Jacob, told The New York Times.

On official of the American Jewish Committee told the Times, "After 54 years of Israel's existence, the U.N. Security Council, with American leadership, has finally acknowledged that the loss of Jewish lives in terrorist attacks warrants condemnation."

The resolution passed last Friday by a 14-1 vote. Syria cast the sole dissenting vote.

Three Israelis and 10 Kenyans were killed in the Nov. 28 suicide bombing at the Paradise Hotel north of Mombasa. Minutes earlier, two shoulder-launched missiles narrowly missed an Israeli charter plane taking off from Mombasa airport for Tel Aviv. About a week later, a spokesman for al- Qaida claimed responsibility for the Kenya attacks.

Last weekend, Arafat sought to distance the Palestinian Authority from al-Qaida, telling the London Sunday Times, that bin Laden is exploiting Palestinian suffering to garner support in the Arab world.

Israeli officials recently charged that al-Qaida set up bases in Palestinian-controlled areas, a claim denied by the Palestinian Authority.

Jordanian authorities arrested two members of al-Qaida in connection with the recent assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley, who was gunned down in front of his house in Amman on Oct. 28.

Expel Arafat or Not?

The Israeli cabinet no longer believes Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would cause more trouble outside the country than he is doing from his Ramallah compound, a highly placed security official told The Jerusalem Post.

For months the country's security establishment had agreed that expelling Arafat would cause more harm than good. Now, the consensus is that Arafat is the primary obstacle standing in the way of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Once Arafat is gone, according to one official, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would likely respond -- particularly if Arafat's successor is Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) or Muhammed Dahlan -- by moving decisively in dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip, as well as some mid-sized remote settlements in Judea and Samaria, such as Itamar. He said Sharon would present this not as dismantling, but rather as a "repositioning" of settlements.

A different official, however, said that any dismantling of settlements would not come as an up-front "gesture" to the Palestinians, but rather as one of the stages in a long-term diplomatic process that would necessitate an end to terrorism and genuine Palestinian Authority reform.

A willingness to move on the settlement issue dovetails with remarks of both Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon about a need for decisive military achievements followed by intensive political action.

This has been interpreted by those close to them as meaning the expulsion of Arafat, followed by talks with leaders who take his place.

Mofaz has made clear in private meetings that he believes a new PA leadership will not emerge as long as Arafat remains on the scene. Mofaz has said that he believes negotiations can resume once Arafat is gone, as long as three conditions are met: Terrorism ends; the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, meaning they give up the right of return; and Jerusalem remains under Israeli sovereignty.

The official said Dahlan and Abbas are now essentially in control of the Palestinian Legislative Council and are poised to take over once Arafat is removed from power.

He said a mega-terror attack will lead to Arafat's expulsion. He said this was made clear to Arafat recently by UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who told him that if there is a mega-terror attack, he will find himself facing soldiers with orders either to expel or shoot him.

The official said Arafat has become alienated from his allies, including Larsen and EU special Middle East envoy Miguel Moratinos. In addition, he said, the relationship between Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has completely broken down.

He said some Arab leaders have signaled privately that they want to see Arafat out of the region, but that if he is actually evicted, "we will publicly condemn you."

In the eventuality that Arafat is expelled, he predicated that Hamas will likely "play ball" with the PA to avoid a civil war.

Islamic Jihad, he said, will be less likely to cooperate. This would then bring about massive US pressure on Syria to rein in Islamic Jihad, which is headquartered in Damascus.

The US reaction to an Arafat expulsion, he said, would be "condemnation, but nothing stronger."


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