If the Palestinians were expecting a viable political solution to their pains from the CIA, maybe it is time for them to wake up. Mr.George Tenet was not sent to the Mideast in order to achieve what his former boss – Mr. Clinton- was unable to do; nor Mr. Bush- by the way – held him in office and resumed his mission in order to put all the pressure on the Israeli side and to scare Sharon or to make him swallow up his former positions and give them up. Suffices it to remind the skeptics that it is well Israel who declared its early agreement on Tenet plan, when the Palestinian Authority (PA) was opposing some of its contents. That is to mean at least that if Sharon found his account in the suggestions made by the Agency chief, Arafat found in it nothing but injustice and bitterness. Now as to what happened between the early agreement of Sharon, and the belated contrived OK given by Arafat, there is matter to speculating , for it is actually the whole summary of the occult CIA intervention.
On Tuesday, June 12, when it appeared that Sharon was agreeing on Tenet plan, all the Israeli media network sang in almost a single voice, pushing Arafat to feel guilty for embarrassing Mr. Tenet to the point that the latter was no longer wishing to stay anymore. Throughout the day, Israeli news reports predicted that the Palestinians would reject the plan. It appeared that Arafat was being tested by the CIA chief. As Israeli Cabinet Secretary, GideonSaar, put it: ” Arafat will be tested in his actions. If he stops terrorism and prevents incitement then the program can make progress. If not, we will stay in the same situation we have been in for months.” So, obviously the main strain was being exerted upon the PA chief executive, by the simple fact that the Israeli Prime Minister had already accepted the American plan, although he never wished that intervention as it has been rumored. That was very bad for Arafat who has never hidden his bitterness, caused by the American recalcitrance at , on the one hand sending him an invitation to the White House- where Sharon and Katsav have already been received- , and on the other hand intervening if not to support him – he was no longer expecting that perhaps- , then at least to stop the Israeli violence. The Israeli media network was hammering all the day long that Israel has accepted the Cease fire and the american plan although it was not favorable to them. The following scenario evolved rapidly and was being widely echoed : Mr. Tenet, it was said, was already packing and preparing to leave. Would he go back to Washington or join Mr. Bush in Europe ? Anyway, what he would report to his President would not only definitively convince the latter that his first reflex -:holding back from intervening – was sound, but it would also determine, in the worse way possible, the common position expected to be issued after the US-EU summit, as regards the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That was not exactly the purpose Arafat was seeking after eight months of uprising and political deadlock. It was not the violence that was scaring the PA – that was something they got used to it since the beginning of their national tragedy -, but rather the political discredit.
Here a question raises: Political discredit outside the Palestinian territories or inside them?
No doubt that the Palestinian leaders felt all the consequences hidden behind the way they were to answer that question. For if they were going to respond positively to the outside pressure- mainly the American – they would face the anger of their compatriots and eventually the erosion of their own legitimacy. Otherwise, the question that would be inevitably put to them is : What Tenet and Sharon gave you in return for your acceptance of the CIA plan?
Anyway, what decided Arafat to accept the CIA plan has much more to do with the regional and international political configuration than with his own wishes. The diplomatic ballet that started with the arrival of the Mitchell’s committee on the scene, and continued with the appointment of Mr. Burns as Assistant Secretary for the Middle East, and the interfering of several political players from the international scene – European Union and Russia included-, was expected to reach a climax with a joint declaration at the US-EU summit of Gothenburg on the Middle East. We know that if some hot topics still divide Americans and Europeans, they would resort to the same language when they come to talk about the peace process. This is at least the official position lately emphasized by two men as different as Mr. Vedrine – French Foreign Minister-and Mr. Bush. We have to observe that before the PA acceptance of Tenet plan was made public, the diplomacy was not being dismissed: Shimon Perez and Nabil Shaath thus were invited to the Luxembourg European reunion (June 11 and 12) that preceded and prepared Gothenburg. Meanwhile, Mr. William Burns did not cross his arms to watch what Tenet was able to achieve. We know that he shuttled between the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders, not really in order ” to secure their approval of the Mitchell report’s recommendations”- that was already done- , but rather to suggest that the political process was not to be overshadowed by the security matters. It was quite important to link between the two sides of the appeasing process if the Americans and the Europeans wanted to convince Arafat that he has nothing to fear in stepping forward; and to make all this ballet acceptable , they had to push him to the dance floor. A compromise was to be found.
Pressure was maintained to the latest moment. By 5 p.m., the Israeli news reports announced Mr. Tenet’s impending departure and the failure of his mission, saying that he was about to lay the blame on the Palestinians. Whether that was true or part of the play, remains obscure. But we know that in a letter addressed to the CIA director by Arafat, the latter acceptance of the blueprint was already acquired, albeit he rejected the buffer zone clause and said the timetable for lifting Israeli closures of Palestinian territories should follow the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement.( That deal called for closures to be lifted 48 hours after a cessation of hostilities agreement was reached). We know too that on the issue of arresting Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders – as enlisted by Israel – Arafat said he would arrest only people who broke the law. Here two remarks deserve to be noted:
1- On the Palestinian side, it is not only the Islamists who reacted against the agreement, but also some of Arafat’s own people: Thus, speaking to the Israeli radio, Fath General Secretary Marwan Barghouthi said on the day the agreement was to be carried on ,(June 13) : ” The Palestinians are not convinced and of course we refuse any agreement, any understanding which will not guarantee the Israelis’ full withdrawal from the occupied territories”; and he added: ” the intifada will continue and it will represent the will of the Palestinian people”. Moreover, although Arafat has declared to Tenet that he had a promise from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to halt all terror attacks, we hardly need to say that the leaders of these organizations reacted almost immediately against the Tenet paper, rejecting it and challenging Arafat authority: ” The deal is born dead”, said Abdel Aziz Rantissi – Hamas- ; ” the 450 killed in eight months of intifada are not going to be dust in the air because the people are not going to end the resistance”.
2- On the Israeli side, the scene is not much better. The early acceptance of the Tenet paper by Sharon did not mean that he is definitively acquired to the appeasing process even if he has never ceased to claim that security cooperation precedes any political negotiations. As a matter of fact, Sharon clings to a tight vision of that cooperation. For him, it would be everything or nothing, which means that violence has to be completely uprooted before undertaking any steps towards the peace process negotiations. Otherwise, the Palestinians – according to Sharon – have to accept the “fait accompli” of the occupation and to show obedience to the Israeli security priorities prior to discuss any political matter with them. Yet, nobody reminded him as it seems that even with the labor governments that preceded him, things did not work that way. In fact, violence has never ceased completely, and what was actually maintaining the apparent ” quietness” in the period that preceded the uprising, was merely the hope that those negotiations would lead the Palestinian people to a positive result. One does not need Einstein brains though to understand that since the negotiations stopped, nothing could hold people anymore from expressing their anger. At last, it seems obvious that Sharon’s strategy would not work. Anyway, he too has a big problem with his own people: we know for example, that Jewish leaders and the Council of Jewish Communities in the west bank declared that the agreement meant ” the abandonment of Jewish residents to Arafat’s terrorists” !!! They warned that the settlers would take over every army post vacated by soldiers!
Here are then the real stakes, not in any other diplomatic game. It is on the field that the current program would be tested. And this is not to mean that the security problem does not matter. Of course it does, but why should it be exclusively an Israeli issue, based on Sharon views and conditions? The Israelis were not alone to be killed and injured. What about comparing their losses with the Palestinians’? So, granting security is also a Palestinian problem, perhaps even much more complicated on this side. On the other hand, in the present situation , to ask for a complete quietness is not only utopian but also dangerous. Those who are required to implement the cease- fire and to stabilize the shaky scene, are supposed to know that the current process is not going to work unless it is supported by another -: the political negotiations- without waiting anymore. For it is only that latter process which is able to give hope to the population, and thus to maintain some quietness, or at least to limit violence. This is also the opinion of Mr. Kofi Annan who lately agreed with Mr. Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on the fact that if any Middle East security agreement is to endure, it has to be embedded in a political process. Mr. Annan said precisely:” there should be an effort to move on to the diplomatic process in order to ensure that the ceasefire holds for the longer term”. Translated into more a simple language, this is to mean: Do not wait anymore before resuming the negotiations process.
Now, we know that this is not to happen soon, not only because Sharon opposes it, but also because the two plans agreed upon – The Mitchell report and the Tenet paper – schedule more or less a long period of appeasement and confidence building steps, before any real negotiations can start. The question is thereupon: What would happen meanwhile?
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.