Israel wants U.S. to guarantee terror groups will disarm
Demand to top agenda during Rice visit
Israel is asking the United States for guarantees that the Palestinian Authority will dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in areas where it assumes security authority - as it is obligated to do under the road map peace plan - rather than settling for an agreement with the terrorist organizations on a cessation of attacks.
PA Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan has refused to offer Israel such a pledge during his talks with Major General Amos Gilad, arguing that it would surely be leaked, impeding efforts to reach a truce with the terrorist groups. He said that the PA would act in its own way to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and that its internal arrangements are no concern of Israel's.
"Dahlan's plan is a truce and nothing else," a senior security official said yesterday. "He told us explicitly that he has no intention of arresting activists or disarming the terrorist organizations."
The demand for U.S. guarantees on this issue will be at the center of Israeli officials' talks with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who arrives in Jerusalem tomorrow. Rice will meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow night and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Sunday. She will also meet with PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad and Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass.
Government sources in Jerusalem predicted yesterday that Washington would grant the requested guarantees, in light of President George Bush's remarks on Wednesday, in which he publicly urged the PA to disarm Hamas rather than settling for a cease-fire. American sources said that Rice planned to stress this issue in her talks with Abbas.
Rice kept up the American pressure during a visit to London yesterday, urging the Europeans to declare Hamas's political wing a terrorist organization. "The EU has listed the armed wing, but social organizations of Hamas have also got to be listed," she said at a London conference. "The notion that on the one hand, Hamas is peaceful, and on the other hand, is trying to blow up the peace process is just illogical and, we're saying, will not work."
Other radical groups like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and "all of the other rejectionists" should also be targeted, she said.
A European diplomat said yesterday that most members of the European Union now agree that Hamas's political wing should be declared a terrorist organization. France, however, is still opposed, the diplomat said, arguing that such a move would sabotage efforts to restart the Mideast peace process, as Hamas's political wing is a "popular movement" that reflects the goals and aspirations of many Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israeli security sources said yesterday that the PA appears close to an agreement on accepting security responsibility for Gaza. The PA prefers to wait until it has formalized a truce with the terrorist organizations, but under pressure from Rice's visit, the handover is likely to take place early next week, they said.
Hamas sources said yesterday that the group will formally announce a truce in the next two days, making the handover even likelier.
Dahlan and Gilad were meeting again on the issue at press time last night, and Israel was hoping to finally receive a timetable for the handover and details of his plans from Dahlan.
But so far, despite the truce talks, there has been no letup in the pace of attempted attacks. "Senior officials in the [terrorist] organizations are speaking of a truce, but the operatives in the field have not received any orders to halt their plans," said the senior security official. "And even if they did, there is no guarantee that they would bow to the pressure."
The lion's share of the recent attacks, both successful and unsuccessful, have been carried out by members of Fatah, the party headed by Abbas and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.