Israel Resource Review 6th January, 2003


Does Arafat have an American Insurance Policy??
Shimon Shiffer
Diplomatic Correspondent, Yediot Aharonot

It is safe to assume that Yasser Arafat did not wait last night anxiously for the decision of the Israeli political echelon, which convened in the Prime Minister's Bureau in Tel Aviv last night to decide on Israel's response to the terror attack at the old bus station in Tel Aviv.

Arafat has an American insurance policy, a presidential policy that no harm will come to him until after the war in Iraq.

Three out of the four people who were summoned to the meeting with Sharon last night support expelling Arafat: Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes that the conflict with the Palestinians would already be behind us had Israel expelled Arafat and his top advisers a year ago already, for example, by means of landing them in Lebanon on board a helicopter. That is also the opinion of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom.

Prime Minister Sharon's hands are tied on the question of dealing with the Palestinian leader more than his ministers' are. Let us assume that his adviser were to whisper to him to make a decision to exile Arafat now, and thereby divert public attention away from the damage of the police investigation into Likud corruption on the eve of elections. But Sharon will not heed that advice for two reasons: firstly, because he is not prepared to take political calculations into account when making diplomatic-security decisions. Secondly, Sharon made a commitment to President Bush to show restraint in Israel's responses to Palestinian terror attacks.

And if one wants to find another reason why Arafat can be at ease we will remind you that today a team of senior Israeli officials will arrive at the White House in Washington to discuss the special aid package request of USD 12 billion-four billion as a grant and eight billion as loan guarantees.

Anyone who asks Uncle Sam for huge sums like that has to behave just the way Bush expects. It is reasonable to assume that the three ministers will not pressure Sharon into making any far-reaching decisions such as an attack on Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus or the occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has been careful not to push for extreme measures: he is aware of the difficult situation Sharon is in because of the reports about the involvement of his sons, Omri and Gilad, in the Likud scandals. Netanyahu has already picked up the scent of his chance to take Sharon's place sooner than anyone might have thought.

Mofaz believes that Arafat's day will come, even if it takes some time. That is why the defense minister will recommend that the IDF continue with its policy of proactive measures to prevent terror attacks, that we grit our teeth and deal with the root of the problem-Arafat-in another few months. Mofaz believes there is a single scenario that could change that decision: in the event of a massive terror attack prior to the American campaign in Iraq, a situation could evolve in which Arafat would be expelled from Ramallah.

Political officials last night began to question whether the resumption of terror attacks in city centers would tip the scales in any given direction in the few remaining weeks until elections. The answers to those questions were not unequivocal, but it seems that the scandals in the Likud in the course of this past year will overshadow every other story.

This appeared in Yediot Aharonot on January 6, 2002

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