- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has "a few days, no more" to end the violence among his supporters or face a sharply escalated Israeli military response, Israels president said yesterday.
"People are fed up. Our patience is not unlimited," Moshe Katsav said in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times at Blair House, the United States official executive guest residence.
Mr. Katsav said he conveyed his concerns to President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other top administration officials in meetings yesterday. Mr. Bush also hosted a working dinner last night for the Israeli president, who is on his first official trip to Washington since his surprise election last summer.
Eight months of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have intensified in recent days, despite the release last month of a report by a commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell calling for an immediate cease-fire and steps to rebuild the shattered peace process.
Four Israeli settlers have been killed in the past three days, prompting intense political pressure on the government for a crackdown.
"It is a question of a few days, not more, for Yasser Arafat to decide" whether to halt the violence, Mr. Katsav said in the interview.
Should Israel respond militarily, the president said, it would not be by reoccupying territory now administered by the Palestinians, but by "an attack on the centers and sources of the terrorism," which he said included Mr. Arafats leadership group.
Mr. Katsav also said he had told Mr. Bush he was convinced that Mr. Arafat has concluded that street violence and terrorism are effective ways to achieve his political ends.
Mr. Katsav said Mr. Bush replied, "I hope you are wrong." But, the Israeli added, Mr. Bush "is not sure."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that, at their morning meeting, Mr. Bush had "reaffirmed Americas support for Israel and … discussed the United States engagement to be a facilitator in the region."
A U.S. diplomatic team headed by Ambassador William Burns, Mr. Powells newly designated point man for the region, has made little progress in arranging meetings to get the two sides to discuss new security arrangements to halt the fighting.
Palestinian officials contend Israel hopes to use the truce to entrench itself in disputed territories. They point to passages in the Mitchell report that call for an eventual total freeze on Israeli settlements in occupied territory, which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has yet to accept.
In Jerusalem yesterday, Mr. Sharon echoed Mr. Katsavs warnings that Israels self-imposed cease-fire will end soon if Mr. Arafat does not move to curb the violence.
"My blood is boiling," Mr. Sharon said during a visit to the family of a Jewish settler on the West Bank killed in a roadside ambush this week. "I will have to decide when to do what I think has to be done."
Israeli press outlets reported that Mr. Sharon had phoned Mr. Powell Wednesday after a car bombing in the coastal city of Netanya to say the current situation was intolerable and could not continue much longer.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Mr. Powell had talked to both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat by phone Wednesday evening, imploring both to stop the fighting.
Mr. Powell urged Mr. Sharon to "continue his policy of restraint and de-escalation," Mr. Boucher said yesterday.
But the Israeli prime minister is also under pressure from domestic critics to strike hard in the wake of the most recent violence.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a rival in Mr. Sharons own Likud Party, urged a direct attack on the Palestinian Authoritys infrastructure.
"We must go from reaction to decisive action," Mr. Netanyahu said. "We must make it clear to Arafat that if he continues his policy of terror, we will cause this corrupt terrorist regime to collapse and we have the power to do this."
Mr. Katsav, 56, shot to international prominence last July when he upset former prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres in a secret ballot of Israels parliament, the Knesset, for the largely ceremonial but high-profile presidents post.
Mr. Katsav, who was born in Iran and moved to Israel as a boy, has been seen as a symbol of the political emergence of the "second Israel" — the wave of Sephardic Jews from Arab and Islamic countries who moved to the new Jewish state in its early years and still form the bulk of the countrys lower classes.
A Knesset member for the conservative Likud Party since 1977, Mr. Katsav denied during last years voting that he was running an "ethnic" campaign, but many saw his victory as a challenge to the European-oriented Ashkenazi Jews who have traditionally dominated the countrys politics.
In yesterdays interview, Mr. Katsav said:
Israel was convinced, based on its own intelligence sources, that Mr. Arafat had the power to bring the violence to a halt, even with loosely affiliated groups, such as Hamas.
A combined appeal from Europe and the United States for an end to Palestinian violence would force Mr. Arafat to back down.
Ordinary Palestinians have suffered even more than Israelis from Mr. Arafats record of broken promises and by the violence that has claimed more than 500 lives since the collapse of the Camp David summit last summer.
The Israeli president said that, while it was "very difficult" for him to trust the Palestinian leader, he would continue to negotiate with him.
"Hes my partner. Hes popular with his people. What can I do?" Mr. Katsav asked.
"I want peace. Do I have any choice?"
Abraham Rabinovich in Je-rusalem contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide