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P.A. Under Siege?

Defense officials debate extent of threat to Arafat's rule.

by Naomi Segal

August 23, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Six Israeli defense officials are debating whether the government should take steps to prevent the collapse of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's regime. The Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported that officials are warning that the collapse of the Palestinian Authority could lead to chaos in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz cited Defense Ministry sources who say Arafat's "SOS signals" appear to be part of a familiar strategy -- portraying himself as weak to avoid having to carry out his obligations under peace deals and cease-fires, such as his responsibility to subdue Palestinian militants.

A Defense Ministry report presented to the government states that "the panicked signals of distress" that Arafat is sending are meant "to expedite the deployment of monitors to the region," according to Ha'aretz. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared to agree, saying that "the claim that Arafat does not control the situation on the ground is unfounded," according to Ha'aretz.

Ma'ariv, however, cited government officials who feel that Israel's policy of targeting wanted Palestinians has placed great strain on Arafat, who fears he may also be singled out.

The paper said this was one of the reasons for Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer's public assurance that Israel does not have its sights set on Arafat. Arafat also wrote to U.S. officials asking them to press Israel to stop its policy of targeting suspected Palestinian militants.

Sharon and his advisers say the policy -- which they call "active self-defense" -- is justified because it targets Palestinian militants before they can strike innocent Israeli civilians.

According to a Palestinian minister, the Palestinian Authority is losing its influence over Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movements because of the Israeli policy. Ziad Abu Ziad told Israel Radio that Israel's policy is radicalizing the Palestinian street.

When Israel recently publicized the names of seven alleged terrorists it said the Palestinian Authority has refused to arrest, many took it as a signal that these seven were next on Israel's list for "targeted killings," -- a policy that much of the world condemns simply as "assassination."

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