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Arafat and Jenin - What Sort of Deal Did Bush Strike?
30 April 2002
President Bush and his foreign-policy advisers moved with great creativity to disarm one of the most pressing issues in the Middle East: isolation of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound. We'd be applauding full force if it didn't appear that Bush made a bad deal to secure Arafat's release.
Under the agreement, British and American guards will secure six Palestinians, now in Arafat's compound, who are wanted by Israel. Arafat then will be free to move around the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
This arrangement represents a significant concession by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Heretofore, a major goal of encircling Arafat's compound with tanks was to isolate him. That such isolation contradicted Israeli calls for Arafat to combat terrorism always was clear to anyone with any emotional distance from this conflict. With Arafat's new ability to move about, calls for him to smash the remaining "infrastructure of terror" will take on new force. Surely he can now see how severely his embrace of violence has backfired for the Palestinian people. Perhaps a visit to Jenin can bring that message home to him.
But it is on the issue of Jenin that this deal smells. Both American and Israeli officials said Monday that in return for freeing Arafat, the United States agreed to stand by Israel in its high-stakes confrontation with the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The Security Council has authorized, and Annan seeks to dispatch, a U.N. fact-finding team to evaluate what happened in Jenin. The Israelis say their soldiers carefully safeguarded civilians. The Palestinians say the Israelis massacred hundreds. That would seem a situation tailor-made for independent fact-finding, and Annan assembled an impressive team: Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland; Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Red Cross, and Sadako Ogata, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, plus several military advisers.
For 10 days now, however, the Israeli government has prevented the fact-finding team from getting started. Coming on top of the strict control Israel exercised over Jenin during and for five days following the fighting, Israeli delaying tactics have a growing number of people asking whether it is trying to hide something.
That question is additionally informed by condemnations of Israeli actions in Jenin coming from Amnesty International and other human-rights organizations that have visited the camp. London's Independent newspaper also has done credible reporting from Jenin suggesting that while "massacre" may be too strong a word, many civilians were killed, including women, children and the elderly, in situations that cannot be justified as "collateral damage."
Of the 50 dead Palestinians identified at the time the Independent was doing its reporting from Jenin, almost half were civilian. In five days of interviews, the Independent constructed horrific individual tales of nurses, disabled people and unarmed schoolboys shot dead by Israeli forces.
Neither Israel nor the United States has any legal authority to interfere with the fact-finding mission. By trying to cooperate with Israel, Annan has put his own credibility on the line. With or without Israel's cooperation, very soon the mission must begin, in service to the truth of what really happened in Jenin.
Editorial, Minneapolis Star Tribune