‘Israel’s assassination of Arafat only a matter of time’
* PA security adviser says leader target because he symbolises freedom
* Calls assassinations of Rantissi an attempt to abort inter-Palestinian dialogue
* Patten says prospects for peace ‘not very encouraging’
CAIRO: An Israeli attempt to assassinate Yasser Arafat is “only a matter of time”; the Palestinian leader’s national security adviser Jibril Rajoub said in an interview published here on Wednesday.
“An attack on Arafat’s life is only a matter of time because Arafat symbolises the freedom” of the Palestinian people, General Rajoub told the Egyptian weekly magazine Nahdat Mir.
On March 22, the leader of the Palestinian radical Islamic movement Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed in an Israeli helicopter raid in Gaza City. And Israel assassinated his successor, Abdelaziz Rantissi, less than a month later. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was slapped down by his allies in Washington after giving an interview in which he warned that Arafat was a “marked man”.
But he renewed the threat in early April, saying his long-time nemesis was to blame for “the murder of Jews for decades” and that “all those who kill Jews or push for the killing of Jews or Israeli citizens deserve to die.”
For Rajoub, the assassinations of Sheikh Yassin and Rantissi were designed “to abort the inter-Palestinian dialogue, which was on the point of succeeding” between Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and radical groups.
“The Israelis hit us to push us to react,” he said, adding that Hamas retaliation would be “legitimate”.But “the militarisation of the intifada (uprising) and the launching of suicide operations (inside Israel) have been a strategic error,” Rajoub said. “The resistance should be limited to the occupied zones.”
Meanwhile, a top European Union official said on Wednesday the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians were “not very encouraging”. External relations commissioner Chris Patten told the European Parliament, taking a different tack from EU foreign ministers, “Some have argued that we should seek out the positive like the promised and welcome Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, rather than focus on the negative. Well, so be it.” “Some of course always see a glass as half full, when others believe it is half empty.
“Others find it rather challenging to believe a glass is half full when they can’t see very much liquid at all.” The Union is part of the Quartet of mediating powers in the region, alongside the United Nations, Russia and United States. During the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Ireland, Patten made no attempt to disguise his own disapproval of the Israeli initiative, which was endorsed by US President George W Bush.
He said the plan had caused “an awful lot of damage” and alienated Palestinians and Arabs across the Middle East. Arab leaders and some European officials have criticised Israel for insisting on keeping parts of the West Bank and denying Palestinians the right to return to land lost in Israel.
Patten suggested that the United States’ ambition to bring peace; modernisation and democracy to the wider Middle East would be thwarted unless it brought the Islamic world on board. “We have to avoid words and policies which alienate large parts of the Islamic world and threaten the very clash of civilisations which all sane men and women should want to avoid at all costs,” he said. Patten said the international community must rescue what it can from “what is left” of the Middle East peace process even if it was “not a very encouraging prospect”. This would require an insistence that a final settlement must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians and must result in two viable sovereign states with no changes to pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by both sides. —Agencies