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Analysis / And Arafat is still in charge

By Ze'ev Schiff Ha'aretz August 24, 2003

Following yesterday’s assassination of senior Hamas
official Ismail Abu Shanab, we can expect an
escalation in military activity, with Israel and
Hamas trading blows.

And the person with the most
influence over how long this
period lasts is not Palestinian
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas,
but Palestinian Authority
Chairman Yasser Arafat – who on
Wednesday, even before Israel’s
hit on Abu Shanab, rejected a
request that he transfer
control of two major PA

security services to Abbas and his security
chief, Mohammed Dahlan.

Arafat also postponed a discussion of the plan
submitted by Abbas and Dahlan for taking action
against Hamas and Islamic Jihad following
Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Israel’s security cabinet, which discussed the
response to the Jerusalem bus bombing, took the
expected escalation into account. If the
escalation continues, Abu Shanab will clearly
not be the last Hamas leader in Israel’s gun
sights. There are also likely to be large-scale
arrest operations throughout the West Bank.

The decision to broaden the scope of arrests was
made after Israel discovered that on the same
day that a Hamas bomber from Hebron blew up the
bus in Jerusalem, an Islamic Jihad cell from
Western Samaria had been en route to a suicide
bombing in Haifa – but was arrested instead.

There is no doubt that Hamas, which yesterday
declared an end to the cease-fire, will now try
to act against Israel on various fronts. The
ludicrous part is that both the Jerusalem
attack, which killed 20 people, and another,
less deadly suicide bombing last week are
considered by Hamas to be part of the

During the weeks of truce, in which neither the
Israel Defense Forces nor the PA security
services took action against Hamas, the
organization built up its strength and its
capabilities. Now, it will undoubtedly try to
fire Qassam rockets and mortar shells at
Israeli towns, to set off roadside bombs and
lay ambushes on the roads in Gaza or to attack
Israeli settlements. And of course, more
suicide bombings. It will also try to recruit
Islamic Jihad and Fatah cells to join it.

The statement issued yesterday by Dahlan’s
spokesman, which claimed that Dahlan had been
planning to take action against Hamas, but
froze his plans because of the assassination of
Abu Shanab, has been met with scorn in Israel.
Why did he never act before? Why did he
repeatedly say that he has no intention of
acting against the terrorist infrastructure?

Dahlan’s organization did absolutely nothing in
the day and a half following the Jerusalem
bombing – which is what goaded the IDF to act.
The security plan that has supposedly just been
“frozen” has actually been in the deep freeze
for a long time, even though Israel warned
Dahlan repeatedly that his inaction would
eventually lead to disaster.

Last week, the PA’s Preventive Security Service
in Gaza proved that it can act when it wishes:
After a booby-trapped bicycle was placed near
the service’s offices, the service immediately
arrested the Islamic Jihad members who were
responsible; two of those arrested were even
wounded in an exchange of gunfire during the

When, following Tuesday’s bombing, America and
Israel pressed Abbas and Dahlan to act against
the terrorist infrastructure, they first asked
for time to convene the PA cabinet. Then they
said they had to bring the plan to the PLO’s
executive committee, headed by Arafat. But
Arafat failed to approve it, saying it required
additional discussion. And all of this happened
before the assassination of Abu Shanab.

At the same meeting, Arafat was asked to hand
over control of two major security
organizations, the National Security Service
and the General Intelligence Service, which he
has retained despite the fact that the PA’s
reform plan called for all the security
services to be under Abbas’s control. Arafat
replied that this demand also needed to be
studied. As usual, he did not refuse outright,
but neither did he give his approval.

It is impossible to predict how long the period
of escalation we are now entering will last.
The Americans will surely try to shorten it,
through both diplomatic activity and pressure.
Israel has informed Washington that it remains
committed to the diplomatic process, but it
sees no chance of this process succeeding
without action against the terrorist

America’s stance on the terrorist infrastructure
has hardened since Tuesday’s bombing, but it
has not yet reached the stage of ultimatums –
and for this, Washington deserves criticism.
Before the Aqaba conference, the Americans told
Israel that Dahlan would need much time before
he was able to start fighting terror. Israel
agreed that Dahlan would need some time to
organize, but warned that Hamas would exploit
the cease-fire.

When Israel told the Americans that three to
four weeks ought to suffice for preparation
time before Dahlan began taking action, the
Americans responded that they would dictate the
time limit – a response that generated some
sharp exchanges between Secretary of State
Colin Powell and IDF Chief of Staff Moshe
Ya’alon when the latter visited Washington.

Now, following the Jerusalem bombing, America is
beginning to issue more forceful demands that
the terrorist infrastructure be eliminated
immediately. Powell also called on Arafat to
immediately transfer responsibility for all the
security services to Abbas – something that,
under the reform plan, he should have done long

That is a way of pointing the finger of blame at
Arafat – but it also confirms that Arafat is
the man who decides, while Abbas, incapable of
doing anything on his own, must wait on
Arafat’s word.

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