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Arafat criticizes U.S., says it owes Middle East more

SHARE Arafat criticizes U.S., says it owes Middle East more

RAMALLAH, West Bank — "So, tell me, where are the Americans?" Yasser Arafat's Cabinet secretary, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, asked in his office in the Palestinian leader's compound.

There was exasperation in his voice. Palestinian officials believe that Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent trip to the Middle East made no impact whatsoever on the deteriorating situation and that a far stronger U.S. intervention is needed.

Arafat himself, in a rare interview with a U.S. newspaper, phrased things more diplomatically. "They are a new administration, and definitely they are in need of some time, OK," he said in English. "But now six months have passed and they have international responsibility. I am reminding the Americans that former President George Bush the father had started all this with the peaceful meeting in Madrid," the 1991 peace conference in Madrid, Spain.

Arafat said that he sent a letter to current President Bush on Thursday urging him to help Israelis and Palestinians "revive their hope in the peace process" and stating his concern that the Americans had allowed the Israelis and not a neutral party to be the judge of the two sides' efforts to restore calm.

The letter is a classic illustration of how differently the Israelis and the Palestinians perceive what is happening. "Today, the seven-day calming period asked for by Mr. Powell ends," the letter says. The Israelis do not think that it has begun; as Arafat said in the interview, "Sharon has not even started looking at his watch."

The letter states that during those seven days, "nine Palestinians were killed, including five Israeli-sponsored assassinations." "In spite of" the Israeli attacks on Palestinians, Arafat asserts in the letter, "I am exerting 100 percent effort to stop Palestinian operations against Israel."

The letter does not mention that three Israelis were killed by Palestinian gunmen in the same period. One of those deaths is under investigation as a possible crime rather than a terror attack, the army has said.

In an interview published Friday in The Jerusalem Post, Martin Indyk, the departing U.S. ambassador to Israel, said that Arafat had not yet made the "100 percent effort" of which he boasts.

He also charged that Arafat "never really gave up violence as a tool for achieving his objectives," and he backed Israel's view that calm had not been restored.

"We will know quiet when we see it," he said. "On Monday, two Israelis were killed, one seriously wounded, two car bombs — come on."

In contrast, Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. envoy here, said last week that Arafat was incapable of gaining complete control of a chaotic situation and bringing violence to an abrupt halt. Neither side, he said, should set a standard that the other could not meet, or there would be no constructive exit from a fragile, explosive moment.

Arafat said that the CIA-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian security meetings, including the most recent session at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Friday, had not proved productive. "Every time you go to these meetings, you only discuss matters that have already been agreed upon," he said.

Without independent international observers in the field, he said, it would be impossible to monitor either side's compliance with the cease-fire plan devised by George Tenet, the U.S. director of central intelligence.

Arafat said he anticipated military escalation by the Israelis. "It is a secret?" he asked. "They are speaking about it. Stages of escalation. It became not a secret."

In recent Israeli government meetings, senior officials have debated large-scale military operations against the Palestinian Authority and then voted to continue for the moment with a policy of "targeted" killings of suspected terrorists.

Arafat gestured to the window in the small, austere sitting room of his high-walled Ramallah compound. "Not to forget," he said, pointing to a high-rise hotel at a junction where Israeli troops have been stationed during frequent clashes, "they can fire at me right here from the City Inn."

As evidence of what he contends is his "100 percent effort" to clamp down on terrorism, Arafat pulled from his jacket pocket, which seemed to contain a wealth of documents, a typed report in Arabic from the Palestinian intelligence service. The report, he said, contained detailed information that was provided to the Israelis a day after the June 1 suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv discotheque that killed 20 young people.

The Palestinians had learned that the man who drove the suicide bomber to the beachside disco was a longtime informant for Israeli intelligence, Arafat said, a Palestinian who had been granted Israeli citizenship and had resettled in Israel like many "collaborators."

The bomber himself was a Palestinian with a Jordanian passport, and the militant Hamas group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nabil Shaath, a senior minister present at the interview, has objected repeatedly to Israeli demands for a Palestinian roundup of Islamist militants. He said, "At the very least, this means that looking for the usual suspects will not work in these cases."

But Arafat went further, referring to another deadly terrorist attack in Israel, years ago, in which he said Palestinian collaborators with Israeli intelligence played a leading role. "I have many secrets," he said. "You are speaking with General Yasser Arafat."

Arafat appeared to be trying to make the point that the Tel Aviv bomber had no connection to the Palestinian Authority but did have links at least indirectly with Israel. Asked to spell out what he was suggesting, he said, "I'm giving you facts and leaving it for everyone to arrive to realities."