May 29, 2001
DEBKAfile's Palestinian sources disclose that the two conversations the US Middle East Envoy William Burns held with Yasser Arafat in Gaza Sunday and Monday failed to close any gaps. While the US envoy insisted in a ceasefire before discussing the terms of US Senator George Mitchell's report, the Palestinian leader demanded first a monitoring mechanism with an International presence - only to be turned down by Burns.
The US envoy came seething out of his encounters with Arafat - not only because he made no headway, but because the world media kept on linking Sunday's multiple mortar blast in Jerusalem with his mission, some describing the attack as the Palestinians' special welcome.
DEBKAfile 's US diplomatic sources report that Burns was on the telephone more than once with Secretary of State Colin Powell, at the tail end of his African tour, to decide whether there was any point in the secretary stopping over in the Middle East this week. This has still not been decided.
The most urgent subject of discussion between Burns, Powell and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, ahead, even of the Mitchell recommendations and a settlement freeze, was how to get Arafat down from the ascending terrorist track. As a last resort, Sharon was to announce he accepted the Mitchell recommendations in full in the dim hope of persuading Arafat to respond with a complete ceasefire.
Even that hope was dashed when the Palestinian leader announced Monday he was off next day, May 29, to Moscow, effectively washing his hands of the US shuttle mission.
He left his men instructions to carry on with their heightened terrorist campaign, whatever they might hear.
At his meeting with Sharon in Jerusalem, Burns was given details of the massacre planned for last Thursday at the Tel Aviv bus depot (which we cannot disclose here because of a court gag order). Sharon said that Israel was at the end of its patience. DEBKAfile's political sources learn that Tuesday or Wednesday of this week are cited for Israel to hit back if the Palestinian campaign persists.
Both the US and Israel have received fresh intelligence confirming Arafat's orders to step up the campaign of terror in view of his suspicion that someone - the Americans, the Israelis, disloyal members of the Palestinian leadership, or certain moderate Arab rulers - has decided to liquidate him.
In a typical reaction to threat, Arafat is raising the pitch of violence, hoping for a regional conflagration that will bring his enemies running to save him in return for his turning down the heat.
According to DEBKAfile's intelligence sources, Arafat's suspicion of Israel rests on reports he has received in the last few days. They claim that Israeli security agents threw out hints in conversations with certain members of the middle Palestinian command that it had become necessary to dispose of Arafat or the Arafat regime. Specifically, he was told that a senior Israeli agent said to a Fatah leader in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus: "We know that the Fatah is behind the violence against Israelis and the slaughter and that they are acting on orders from Arafat in person. He doesn't imagine the price he will pay for his actions."
The Palestinian leader construed these words as a threat to his life.
Arafat is also casting a suspicious eye on his most devoted followers, in particular, his own top deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, after being tipped off that Abu Mazen, when he visited Washington earlier this month, confided in Secretary Powell that it was time to be rid of Arafat. The reason, he explained, was that as long as he was around there was not the slightest hope of an accommodation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Abu Mazen has of course strenuously denied the allegation. To lull suspicion, he scattered militant statements to the Israeli weekend press, adding: "Some lunatics believe that if they remove me, Jibril Rajoub or Yasser Arafat, they will solve the problem. I tell them that nothing will be solved."
That sentence was meant for Arafat's ears.
©2001 - DebkaFile