Israel May Accept U.S. Call for Truce Before Weekend

A cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is expected to be declared before the weekend, in response to an American request, and should go into effect at the beginning of next week, according to Israeli defense establishment sources.

A cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is expected to be declared before the weekend, in response to an American request, and should go into effect at the beginning of next week, according to Israeli defense establishment sources.

Parallel to Palestinian steps to cease the terror, the IDF will freeze its operations in the territories, undertake symbolic withdrawals from cities and refugee camps, and remove siege checkpoints. But it will continue its "pinpoint preventions" of "ticking bombs" and operations to prevent attempts to smuggle weapons into the territories.

Israel will commit to a halt in Israeli raids - but not to a settlement freeze, arguing that only after the plan formulated by CIA Director George Tenet - measured by its implementation, not chronology - comes the implementation of Mitchell Commission's recommendations, which include a settlement freeze.

Last night Israel was expecting that a high-level American call to both sides for a cease-fire would arrive within hours, either in advance of today's arrival of U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni, or immediately after his arrival. That call would enable Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to avoid declaring a unilateral cease-fire and for PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to avoid appearing to be surrendering to Israeli pressure.

Israeli assessments say that a cease-fire could gather momentum, if the Palestinians move to maintain it, but a cease-fire's success depends on Arafat's readiness to impose his will on the Tanzim - and that remains a mystery.

Marwan Barghouti, head of the Tanzim, said yesterday that it's "too late for Tenet," but he also says he remains committed to a peace deal with Israel if Israel leaves the territories.

Tonight or tomorrow, Zinni will convene the joint security committee's highest echelon. Israel will be represented by Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, head of planning in the general staff, and Brig. Gen. Eibal Giladi, head of strategic planning under Eiland. The Palestinian representatives are the heads of the preventive security forces in the West Bank and Gaza, Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, as well as Gaza General Intelligence chief Amin al Hindi. It is not clear if his West Bank parallel, Tawfik Tirawi, will be invited to the meeting.

Israel's position, as it will be presented to Zinni and the Palestinians, was formulated earlier this week by the strategic planning department in what has been dubbed the Giladi Document, and was authorized by the general staff, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and Sharon. The position is based on the Tenet work plan from last June and is more flexible than that plan regarding how to go into Tenet, but strict about when Tenet gives way to the next step, the Mitchell Report.

According to the Israeli position, priority would be given to the actual cease-fire, while the arrest of suspects, weapons collections from armed militias, elimination of terrorist infrastructure, and incitement, would be postponed - though not canceled. Joint intelligence cooperation would be resumed, and the territories from which the IDF withdraws would be handed over to the Palestinian security services. Israel would retain the right to respond "fire for fire," to prevent terror attacks in motion, and to intercept weapons of escalation, such as happened in the Karine A weapons boat affair.

A government source knowledgeable about the Giladi Document is under the impression that the new Israeli position, which follows Sharon's relinquishing of his demand for seven days of quiet before beginning the Tenet plan, reflects both Sharon and Ben-Eliezer's wishes for calm, and their recognition of the balance of forces in the Palestinian arena. But it does not give up basic demands. According to that source, Israel is now ready for the Palestinian campaign against terror "to be paid in payments, not cash," but without lowering the price. So, says the source, it is "a threshold, not an end."

The working assumption in the Israeli position is that the IDF operations during the past two weeks in the territories put an end to the immunity the refugee camps and some of the cities enjoyed from IDF counter-terror operations, and the destruction of the facilities and capability to manufacture Kassam rockets was greatly disturbing to the Palestinians and created a sense of impotence against Israel's overwhelming military strength, as was the generally feeble international response to Israel's operations.

The leadership of the Palestinian security forces have a clear-cut interest in ending the terror operations conducted by the Hamas and Tanzim, but Arafat is now closer to the Tanzim than to the security forces, and Israel's declaration of his immunity from direct attack encourages him to continue pushing the Tanzim to take action against certain types of Israeli targets, particularly in the territories. Attacks in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, whether in suicide bombings or "no return" shooting attacks in which the attackers can presume they won't survive, are not convenient for Arafat, but not so inconvenient that he would challenge the Tanzim or confront the militant mood in the Palestinian community. Therefore, Israel will agree to a cease-fire first approach, and postponement to later stages of in-depth actions by the PA against terrorism, in the hope that Arafat will move closer to the security forces and convince the Palestinian public not to put their fate in the hands of organizations or individuals determined to conduct terror attacks.

Last night Israel's assessment was that after a formal request from U.S. President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or Zinni himself, and Sharon and Arafat's acceptance of that request, the security committee would meet to set down the steps for the implementation of Tenet. The Palestinians need 48-72 hours, Israel believes, for the decision to reach the last of its rank-and-file troops. Israel's approach will be to monitor progress along three permanent measures: intent, effort, and result.

The Israel Defense Forces will freeze its operations on the ground in the territories, but won't withdraw from all its positions, except for some symbolic withdrawal. Certain checkpoints will be evacuated and the Israeli positions on Palestinian rooftops will be removed.

Israel's approach, as formulated in the Giladi Document, are based on stages, levels and mutuality - step by step, from the easy to the difficult, conditioning gestures and abatements on similar progress on the other side. According to that position, there is no formal chronology for the transition from the Tenet plan, which specifies a return to the military positions held by both sides on September 28, 2000, to the Mitchell Report. Therefore, implementing the Tenet plan could take 12 weeks and not four. The situation on the ground will determine things, not the calendar, say security sources.

That kind of lull, if it is achieved and kept, could ease the opening of an American offensive against Iraq, which Israeli security sources say they expect by the end of May or early June.