Defense strategists are opposed to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres's plan to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and are proposing curtailing Peres's freedom of action at the meetings. The Shin Bet security services, Military Intelligence, the Planning Division of the IDF, the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories and other senior officers all see eye to eye on this point.
They feel that the tight schedule of the senior ministers - Peres is likely to begin his planned series of meetings with Arafat very shortly after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon returns from Russia - will not leave sufficient time for the detailed preparation necessary.
The defense establishment feels that the Israeli readiness to meet with Arafat is tantamount to giving the Palestinians a "prize" for violence. The strategists are united in their assessment that Arafat is not interested in a cease-fire and that he merely wants to achieve diplomatic and propaganda gains from his meetings with Peres. A meeting in Europe would be problematic even if Arafat were to issue an unequivocal order to the various organizations to cease violence, they feel, but since this is hardly likely, it simply spells trouble for Israel.
In a report to senior defense echelons this week, a Palestinian leader is quoted as expressing grave disappointment with Arafat. "When he gets blood, Arafat flourishes; when there is no blood, he withers away," the Palestinian said.
The IDF is therefore recommending the following damage-control steps with regard to the proposed meetings:
l To fix a location close to Israel and far from the media (such as Taba or the Erez checkpoint) and to avoid joint photo opportunities
l To put in writing, in advance, the subjects that are open for discussion so as not to embarrass the IDF delegate to the talks, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, by straying from the prime minister's guidelines to hold talks only about the cease-fire
l To provide Peres and the negotiating team with a binding document, signed by Sharon, indicating the scope of Israel's willingness to bargain
l To formulate a "common language" between Peres and the IDF with regard to terms likely to be discussed with Arafat
l To demand an immediate cease-fire from Arafat on all fronts and not to be satisfied with a local start (such as Beit Jala) followed by a progression to other areas
l To avoid making preliminary concessions to Arafat in anticipation of the meetings, in order to ensure success.
Meanwhile, the IDF believes that its roadblocks on Palestinian traffic has cut down the number of terrorist attacks. It has caused would-be terrorists to spend up to a week reaching their targets, instead of a few hours.
At a meeting yesterday with Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, senior officers expressed concern over two recent phenomena: the clear efforts by terrorists to hit as many children as possible in order to evoke a stiff reprisal on the part of Israel, and the growing involvement in terrorism of Israeli Arabs.
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