Arafat struggles to assert authority

30 November 2001

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has bowed to sustained US and Israeli pressure and has committed himself to enforcing a cessation of all armed attacks on Israelis. His 16 December televised speech announcing the new crackdown came after Israel had responded to the latest spate of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa and the West Bank by declaring that Arafat was no longer a relevant political figure. Arafat made some progress in the days after his declaration, securing pledges from radical groups that they were prepared to halt suicide attacks.

Israeli leaders did not respond directly to Arafat's new pledge, but Israeli security officials have agreed to resume contacts with their Palestinian counterparts. Israeli Defence Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said on 19 December that the resumed meetings were aimed at 'exploring ways to help the Palestinian Authority [PA] in the war against terror'. However, Jibril Rajoub, the PA's security chief for the West Bank, said on 20 December that Israel had refused to stop its policy of political assassinations. Most of the recent Palestinian attacks have been in revenge for Israeli assassinations. 'They believe the world revolves around their security,' Rajoub said. 'They ignore the security and stability of the other side.'

A Hamas leader in the West Bank was quoted as saying on 19 December that the movement was considering a suspension of suicide attacks. However, the Gaza branch of the movement has so far failed to endorse this position. There were clashes in Gaza on 20 December when PA officers tried to arrest Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, the leader of Hamas in Gaza.

The US gave a guarded reaction to Arafat's speech. Washington had earlier signalled its dismay at the flare-up in violence by withdrawing its special envoy, Anthony Zinni. A spokesman for President Bush said on 16 December that it was vital for Arafat's words to be followed with concrete actions.

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