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Copyright 2003 Haaretz
September 29

HEADLINE: Background / If Nasrallah's OK, what about Arafat?

BYLINE: Danny Rubinstein

The conclusion that Yasser Arafat is no longer a partner to negotiations is acceptable not only in Israel and the United States, but also in some European countries. The question is: What are the alternatives? Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said over the weekend that the U.S. administration must recognize the fact that there is no option but to negotiate with Arafat.

This approach, of course, is acceptable to all the Palestinian speakers who learned from the bitter experience of the Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) government. Israel accuses Arafat of being almost exclusively responsible for terrorist attacks, and says he is the ruler in the territories. And the Palestinians respond: If he is the only ruler, that's the clearest indication that he is the only one to negotiate with.

The editor of the Palestinian Authority's periodical Al-Khayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Barghouti, asked why Israel is willing to negotiate with Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah, but not with Arafat and his people. What is the difference between them? Is Nasrallah less of a terrorist than Arafat? He and his organization openly stand for eliminating the Zionist entity. Can we believe Nasrallah, the artist of cynical deception, more than we can believe Arafat?

The Palestinians' answer to these questions is clear. Nasrallah is relevant for Israel only because he's stronger and has better bargaining chips than Arafat.

This week the cabinet of Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) will be sworn in, and one can see already there is no chance it will try to stop Hamas by the use of force. The compromise Arafat and Qureia reached on the control of security mechanisms ensures that Arafat rules everything by means of the National Security Council, which he chairs.

The council will consist of the prime minister, Interior Minister Nasser Yussef, Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath, Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub and the heads of the mechanisms. This is a large, awkward body, and American officials have already made it clear to the Palestinians that they find this arrangement unacceptable. Israel certainly will not accept it.

Labor Minister Ghassan al-Khatib, who will still hold the post in Qureia's cabinet, says the main problem is not who rules the mechanisms but whether there is any reason for the mechanisms to do something about the war against terrorism. The argument is well-known. As long as Israel continues with targeted assassinations, military activity and collective punishment in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no reason for any Palestinian body to do anything.

Quite a few Palestinians recognize their limited ability to act against terror. At a private meeting in East Jerusalem last week, one of the Israelis asked his hosts: "Why don't you try to destroy Hamas?"

The Palestinians countered: "Why don't you Israelis do it?"

Since the begining of the bloody clashes, three years ago, Israel has reestablished its full security control in the West Bank and partial control of Gaza. The Israeli security system is assassinating terrorists, arresting masses of people and imposing heavy punishments. Yet, with all of Israel's power and innovation, the terror has not ceased. Every time a Hamas activist is killed, two take his place, the Palestinians said. And if you arrest 10, then 20 take their place.

We can accept the accusations that Arafat and his men are to blame for the deterioration in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians in the last three years. But we must also admit that those who rule out Arafat have no feasible alternatives to change the situation. This was true during the Abbas government, and it is doubly true now for the Qureia government.

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