Arafat Signing Same Old Tune

by DEBKAfile

4 June 2002

"CIA director George Tenet knew - even before he talked to Yasser Arafat Tuesday, June 4, on ways of de-terrorizing and reforming the Palestinian tangled security apparatus - that he would be going back to Washington empty-handed.

After five years, Arafat finally signed a Palestinian Authority juridical system into existence, supposedly as an independent arm of authority. In its first ruling, the three-member bench meeting in Ramallah, ordered the release of Ahmed Saadat, who as secretary general of the Damascus-based radical Palestine Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is accused by Israel of engineering the assassination last year of the Israeli minister of tourism Rehavam Zeevi.

Saadat, holed up with Arafat by Israeli troops in Ramallah for more than a month, was sent to a Palestinian prison in Jericho in May in the custody of American and British guards, under a deal Israel and the Palestinians signed for the lifting of the IDF siege around Arafat’s Ramallah compound.

Under this deal, Israel waived its immediate demand for Saadat’s extradition, together with that five other wanted terrorists incarcerated with him.

No sooner had the new 'reformed' court handed down its first ruling Monday, June 3, when it was overruled by the Palestinian cabinet on Arafat’s orders.

So much for an independent judiciary. It showed Tenet, if he did not know already, that all the ‘reformed' Palestinian institutions, whether the courts, a security force streamlined from twelve organs – all heavily engaged in terror – to four, or a government whittled down from 32 ministers to 19 or 20, would come out of the overhaul unchanged; Arafat, like all totalitarian rulers, may pay lip service to the trappings of democracy, but he will never loosen his grip on authority or allow anyone to hire or fire appointees in his regime.

The Palestinian pretext for reversing the court ruling was 'Israel threats' on Saadat’s life.

According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, this Palestinian hardliner has more than one reason for not venturing out of the golden cage in which the six wanted men are confined in Jericho. Clearly, he would prefer not to be nabbed by Israeli forces, but he is just as leery of his erstwhile protector, Yasser Arafat. The PFLP leader, locked up in Arafat’s private quarters in Ramallah for 34 days, has become the repository of too many secrets for his colleague’s comfort, such as the ways in which Arafat instigates terror and the exact nature of his ties with Tehran,Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut. Sharon knows he can count on Saadat not being tempted by the opened door to walk free of his safe berth just yet.

As to Arafat’s daily announcements of plans to reform his ruling system, Tenet has been bitten by the Palestinian leader before. Almost two years ago, Arafat reneged on a solemn promise he gave the CIA chief and President Clinton at Sharm al-Sheikh to renounce terror in public and in Arabic, and to cooperate in the activation of a security coordinating system.

A year ago, another Arafat pledge to abide by a ceasefire Tenet himself arranged hurriedly, after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 teenagers in a Tel Aviv discothèque, was broken almost as soon as it was made. In between the two, stretches a long string of double-dealing by Arafat with the CIA director.

DEBKAfile ’s military sources say this time will be no different. After a brief slowdown in the Palestinian terror assault, the flames are expected to rise high again as soon as all threeUS officials shuttling through the Middle East, the State Department’s William Burns, the Pentagon’s Douglas Feith and Tenet, have gone home tomake their reports to the White House’s top team. They will be in time to prepare Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s weekend talks with president George W. Bush, after which Israel’s Ariel Sharon arrives in Washington next Monday, June 10. Next week may also see Syrian foreign minister Farouk Shara in the US capital.

All this week, Syrian, Saudi, and Egyptian officials have been to-ing and fro-ing between their capitals, putting their heads together on the next phase of the Middle East crisis: Bush expects to spend a busy week consulting with his visitors on where to go next, even though the clouds of war gather over the equally intractable Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir."