Possible Palestinian cease-fire bid poses a strategic dilemma for Israel.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
In Israel, the different views of the Palestinian
plan that was emerging derive, at least partly, from
different analyses of the Palestinians' motives.
According to one account, there has been a major
change in Palestinian thinking. Young members of the
Tanzim, the militia of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser
Arafat's Fatah movement, recognize that the intifada is
getting them nowhere and want a cease-fire to build a
new relationship with Israel and the United States.
The economic hardship caused by
Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian cities a
month ago has made this need even more
urgent. A cease-fire might encourage
release of Palestinian tax money Israel is
holding — after the Gaza debacle, Sharon transferred
some $15 million of the money July 31 — and addi-
tional aid from the United States and other quarters
would help rebuild life in the Palestinian territories.
sraeli politicians are divided over whether a
cease-fire proposal that the Palestinians
reportedly were about to present last week
The July 23 assassination of Hamas' military
leader, a bombing that also killed 14 civil-
ians, temporarily shelved the plan. The
impetus behind the proposal remains the
same, however, raising the likelihood that
— with some prodding from the interna-
tional community — the Palestinians indeed may
soon put a plan on the table.
According to reports, despite the killing of Hamas
military leader Salah Shehada, talks are still under
way among various Palestinian fac-
tions to work out such a plan.
Some Israeli officials believe it
would show that Israeli steadfastness
against the intifada (uprising) has
pushed the Palestinians to the point
of finally needing negotiations.
That would present Israeli leaders
with a difficult dilemma: Should they
keep up military pressure to finally
crush the intifada? Or should they
respond to a cease-fire plan, even one
about which they have reservations,
with concessions of their own?
Israeli officials continue to regar
with skepticism reports of
Palestinian readiness for a cease-
fire. The suicide bombing July 27
in Jerusalem and terrorist explosion
on July 28 at Hebrew University
did not help the situation.
What is needed, Israeli leaders
say, is not a truce that leaves
Harnas, Tanzim and other terrorist
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip inspect the damage the day after Israel's July
groups and militias intact to fight
Left-wing Israelis, like the Labor Party's Haim
another day, but reform of Palestinian institutions to
Ramon, the new chairman of the Knesset's Foreign
concentrate all military power in one body and dis-
Affairs and Defense Committee, say that if this is the
mantle any competing power centers.
thinking behind the cease-fire drive, it constitutes the
But, after the July 23 raid in Gaza City, which
beginning of a strategic change and is of vital impor-
killed Shehada and at least 14 civilians, Israeli lead-
tance. Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who is in
ers might find their freedom of action limited.
an Israeli jail awaiting trial, is said to think this way.
Coming just as reports were emerging of an immi-
Others offer more tactical explanations for the
nent Palestinian cease-fire plan, the Gaza attack
cease-fire effort. According to a rival theory, Tanzim
opened Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to
activists feel threatened by the moves to reform
charges that he was torpedoing progress toward
Palestinian military . and political institutions. The
peace — and might make it more difficult for his
activists fear they might be sidelined as Arafat's
government to dismiss a new Palestinian plan
cronies control the reform process and use it to
backed by European negotiators.
shore up the old guard's strength.
The stature of the Tanzim fighters has grown
Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the
immensely in Palestinian society during nearly two years
of warfare with Israel. Yet they realize that their power
has no political outlet, and what they are trying to do
through the cease-fire bid, according to this theory, is to
place their movement at the center of the Palestinian
political map, dictating a timetable and an agenda and
stealing the initiative from Arafat and Hamas.
According to this theory, the Tanzim activists want
a cease-fire to create a climate for elections. Their
plan is to push first for internal Fatah elections, in
which they can take control of the movement's insti-
tutions and establish a power base for municipal and
national elections that would follow.
The cease-fire bid, then, is part of an internal
Palestinian power struggle, a tactical move that might
not change attitudes toward Israel, even if the young
Tanzim activists win a greater measure of power.
As for Hamas, the theory goes, they want a cease-fire
to pre-empt attempts to disband their military wing as
part of the reform of the Palestinian armed services.
• The idea was for the Tanzim to publish a unilateral
cease-fire declaration in various Western newspapers, in
the Arabic press and in a Hebrew daily. Mark Perry, an
American lobbyist for the Palestinians, helped draft the
As the initiative gained momentum, Mohammad
Dahlan, the former head of Palestinian security in
the Gaza Strip and one of Arafat's
potential successors, was brought in.
Arafat's top aides were left out. Hamas
leaders were approached and, accord-
ing to reports, at least some indicated
that they would be ready to go along.
However, according to Israeli intelli-
gence, Arafat found out what was going
on and made it clear that he had no
interest in a cease-fire at this juncture.
The activists on the ground got the
message, and Israeli defense and intelli-
gence officials insist that the terrorist
rank-and-file would not have respected
the cease-fire that the political leaders
had negotiated in their names.
At the July 26 meeting of the
Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee, Ramon produced a ver-
sion of the Palestiniaricease-fire docu-
ment and asked Defense Minister
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer whether he had
known about it before Shehada was
1 ( ill
Ben-Eliezer said he had, but played
down its significance. He described it
as an initiative by the leaders of the organizations
and not the grassroots terrorists who, he said, would
have ignored it. And, Ben-Eliezer added, so would
Shehada himself, who at the time of his assassination
was planning acts of mega-terror, including a one-
ton truck bomb, and simultaneous bombings in six
different Israeli cities.
Ben-Eliezer made the official Israeli position clear:
A genuine cease-fire would be welcomed, but not at
the expense of reform of the Palestinian security
services. He is convinced that the most effective
guarantee of long-term peace and quiet is a single
armed Palestinian force, in total control of
Palestinian territory, and cooperating with the Israel
Defense Forces on security matters.