The Israeli government Sunday effectively suspended the peace process until Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat demonstrates that he will fight Islamic militant groups bent on attacking Israel.
In a carefully worded statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security Cabinet stopped short of declaring the process as frozen, but said the Palestinian Authority “must … fight terrorism and violence as a necessary stage in advancing the political process.”
Meanwhile, in an alarming charge, two top Israeli security officials said that Palestinian police had stopped helping them foil “terrorist actions.”
“Today and for several days, the security mechanisms of the Palestinians have not cooperated with the General Security Services - the Shin Bet,” said Major Gen. Moseh Yaalon, head of Israel’s military intelligence. “In practice, they have conditioned that on a change in the political situation.”
The Israeli security cabinet called on Arafat to take decisive action on several fronts, including strengthening the cooperation in security matters; preventing incitement against Israel; destroying the infrastructure of terror groups; and seizing illegal weapons.
Government spokesman Moshe Fogel said Netanyahu resisted a push by hardliners who wanted him to declare the Oslo peace process dead. “Netanyahu is giving the process a chance,” Fogel said.
But Fogel said the coming days will be dangerous: “This is going to go to the brink, and you don’t always know when you go to the brink if somebody will inadvertently fall off the side.”
Arafat, in Pakistan at an Islamic conference, did not issue an immediate response. A top adviser, Ahmed Tibi, said the peace process was going nowhere anyway, regardless of the security cabinet’s action.
“If the talks have been suspended - so far the Palestinian Authority has received no official notification - this does not change the situation much from what it has been over the past couple of months,” Tibi said.
The explosion was widely forewarned. The relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians had reached this breaking point because of a long line of disputes and a recent dramatic stand by Netanyahu that Jerusalem all of it was Israel’s undivided capital.
Bulldozers last week began clearing land for a Jewish neighborhood on a hilltop of pine trees that the Palestinians had hoped would be part of their capital someday.
On Sunday, clashes broke out for a third consecutive day in Hebron, but Palestinian police formed a human chain to prevent rioters from getting close to the city’s 450 Jewish settlers. All over Israel, security remained on high alert in crowded areas, including celebrations for the holiday of Purim.
Police set up roadblocks at the entrances to Tel Aviv and other coastal cities. For a third day, the 2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were barred from entering Israel.
In about the only hopeful sign of the day, dozens of people gathered at Apropo Cafe in Tel Aviv - the site of the bombing - in their Purim costumes, a gesture many said that life goes on.
But at the Organization of Islamic Conference, Arafat accused Israel on Sunday of acting to destroy the peace process. He condemned Israel for its construction plans in east Jerusalem, which “have led us almost to a dead end that threatens the whole process.”
Still, his head of preventive security in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, had a cordial 75-minute meeting Sunday with Israeli Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani.
But other top Israeli officials gave contrary assessments. Asked about Kahalani’s statements, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, the Israeli army chief of staff, said, “confusion is part of the process.”
Shahak said the Hebron clashes had been encouraged by some Palestinian leaders.
“The clashes between the mob and our soldiers were led, according to our information, by the Fatah organization and as far as we know encouraged by Jibril Rajoub himself and his apparatus,” Shahak said. Fatah is the mainstream PLO faction.
Palestinian security officials say they have tried their best to stop the Hebron clashes. Top Palestinian officials, and Arafat himself, have also denied the Israeli charge that Arafat gave a “green light” to terror groups to attack Israel.
Israeli officials privately back up the charge by pointing to Arafat’s release of 120 Hamas activists two weeks ago and a meeting with Hamas political figures in the early hours of March 10 in which Arafat railed against Netanyahu and then said nothing against terror attacks.
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