In perhaps the most telling moment of yesterday's press conference with US Vice President Dick Cheney, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was asked about charges that the IDF's operations of the last week were less than successful. Sharon launched into one of his oft-repeated themes, that the fight against terrorism will be a long one and then, as if catching himself, repeated that Israel's goal is a cease-fire leading to peace.
Sharon's answer, perhaps unintentionally, revealed that he does not believe the cease-fire that is currently in the works will stick. He has good reason. After all, the current focus of attention, the Tenet plan, was born of the failure of the Mitchell Report, which was born of the failure of the Sharm e-Sheikh summit.
After the Sharm summit, which included the star-studded cast of Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, Hosni Mubarak, and Kofi Annan, the Mitchell Committee was appointed - not to end the fighting, but to report on how future breakdowns of the peace process could be prevented. Almost no one dreamed at that time (October 2000) that the Mitchell Report would not be a post-mortem on the violence, but a prescription for ending it that would remain unimplemented over a year and half later.
What is to prevent the current effort from disappearing in Arafat's trash bin of cease-fires? Two carrots now dangle before Arafat to encourage him to implement the Tenet plan: permission from Sharon to attend the upcoming Arab summit and a meeting with Cheney that would end his blackballing by the Bush administration.
What's next is utterly predictable. Arafat will try to have his cake and eat it, too. In other words, he will see if he can go to Beirut and meet with Cheney without having to implement his commitments under the Tenet plan. One might ask, how could Arafat be so craven as to believe that Israel and the United States will let him get away with that? The real question, unfortunately, is the opposite one: What reason does Arafat have to believe that this time he will be held to his commitments?
The Tenet plan has never been officially released, but as reported it is a blueprint for an unequivocal Palestinian war against terrorism. It reportedly requires not only full cooperation with Israel in fighting terrorism, but the confiscation of weapons and an end to weapons smuggling and incitement (all of which was already stipulated in the Oslo Accords). By accepting Tenet, the Palestinian Authority has ostensibly committed itself to work aggressively to block attacks not only against Israel proper, but terrorism against Israelis living in the territories as well.
So far, despite the Palestinian commitments to ensure quiet from parts of Area A that Israel has just left, the signs that Tenet will be implemented are not encouraging. In an interview given this week to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, West Bank Preventive Security Service chief Col. Jibril Rajoub said, "The measures that Israel is requesting, such as arrests and the collection of weapons, are not realistic." These actions are not "Israeli requests," but the heart of the Palestinian commitments to the United States under Tenet. Rajoub, who is often touted as one of the more pragmatic Palestinian leaders, also rejected demands to dismantle Fatah's own terrorist wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which he called "the most noble expression in the history of the Fatah movement."
Given that PA leaders are already refusing to dismantle terrorist groups loyal to Arafat, such as Force 17, the Tanzim, and the Aksa Martyrs Brigade, it is difficult to imagine these leaders militarily confronting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Does anyone really believe that Arafat will wage war against the people he routinely extols as "heroic martyrs" in exchange for a return ticket to Beirut and a meeting with Cheney?
In his press conference, the vice president said that the United States is "committed" to doing everything it can to help end this current round of violence. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity or that of the United States. The US clearly wants quiet almost as much as Israel, and for a purpose that could not be more dear to Israel's heart: ousting Saddam Hussein. But such quiet cannot be obtained without a modicum of seriousness, realism, and willingness to stare the detritus of broken cease-fires unflinchingly in the face. What matters is not what is offered to Arafat if he does comply with Tenet, but what is promised will happen to him if he does not.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post