Arafat calls for end to violence: what now?

In his Dec. 16 televised address to the Palestinian nation, on the occasion of the Muslim Eid-el-Fitr festive holiday following the fasting month of Ramadan, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat called for an end to all armed actions, especially the suicide bombings in Israel proper. He noted that he and his Palestinian National Authority have always denounced these bomb attacks as aiding Israeli extremists by helping to justify their brutal terror against the Palestinians.

At the same time, he called upon the Israeli government to stop the war against the Palestinian people and to return to the negotiating table.

The Palestinian goal was, and remains, to move towards realizing their right to self-determination and setting up an independent state within the borders of the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including eastern Jerusalem.

Even before Arafat’s address, his security forces had closed down and searched about 30 offices of the militant arm of the fundamentalist Hamas, the Izz-a-Din el-Kassem, and of the Jihad militia in Gaza and several West Bank cities.

The immediate reaction from the forces of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was that Arafat and his “outburst” are irrelevant. Sharon’s spokesman, and also White House spokesman Ari Fleisher, maintained that Arafat had to arrest all the “terrorists” and move against their organizations, detain their leaders, as well as make way for a new leadership, prepared to collaborate with Israel.

The alleged peace-maker, Shimon Peres, blew the same horn and stated, “Arafat and his Authority have to get out of their terrorist cycle.” War Minister Ben-Eliezer too stated that Arafat should not be trusted so easily, “the test would be real and stiff actions against the Palestinian terror ...”

Israeli peace organizations and activists from Gush-Shalom, Hadash, the Communist Forum, the Women’s Coalition for Peace and others, as well as Arab Knesset members, published statements calling upon Sharon and his cabinet to answer Arafat’s call by ending the military terror against the Palestinians, to withdraw from all Palestinian areas seized lately, relieve the closures and blockades, as well as to return to the negotiation table without delay.

Many observers in Israel and among the Palestinian public are expressing their suspicion that Sharon and his “security” brass will answer Arafat’s call to end violence with new provocative acts, such as terror raids upon Palestinian targets and more assassinations of leading resistance leaders, in order to provoke Palestinian retaliation to be used as a propaganda ploy against the Palestinians. This, anyway, is the way Sharon has acted until now. There is no reason to believe he has changed.