Israeli military plotting to kill Arafat: Peres
'Trigger happy': Foreign Minister says ceasefire efforts undermined
October 1, 2001
JERUSALEM - Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, is accusing senior army officers of plotting to kill Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.
The extraordinary accusation is contained in an interview to be published today in Yediot Ahronoth, a leading Israeli daily, excerpts of which were leaked yesterday.
In the interview, Mr. Peres accuses the army of a mud-slinging campaign to undermine him and said that the deputy chief of staff, Major-General Moshe Yaalon, does not understand "Palestinian distress." He said Maj-Gen. Yaalon would like to physically eliminate Mr. Arafat.
"Let's suppose we take him out, what will happen then?" Mr. Peres is quoted as saying. "Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah will come instead. Arafat accepts Israel's existence. He wants to speak to us and wants to be accepted in the West. They will want to establish a single state between Iraq and the Mediterranean."
For some time, Mr. Peres has privately accused the "trigger happy" Israeli military of undermining his efforts to bring about a ceasefire with Palestinians and a return to negotiations.
Mr. Arafat has been more forthright.
During a visit to Egypt yesterday he said an agreement he reached with Mr. Peres last week affirming a previous ceasefire was being intentionally undermined by Israeli political and military officials.
"Despite my political meeting with Peres, there is a deliberate escalation from military leaders and some political leaders on all fronts," Mr. Arafat said in Cairo.
Mr. Peres, the Cabinet's leading dove, is now attempting to appeal directly to the Israeli public and the United States for support in securing a lasting ceasefire with the Palestinians.
At least 12 Palestinians have been killed and more than 150 wounded since Mr. Peres and Mr. Arafat met last Wednesday. The upsurge in violence has prompted criticism from U.S. officials, who have called on the Israelis to avoid "provocative" incursions into Palestinian territory and other inflammatory actions.
"One gets the feeling that the army can't live with a ceasefire and is not prepared to accept that control is in the political echelon's hands," a Foreign Ministry official said.
The unusually strident language reflects broader tensions within the Israeli Cabinet over efforts to bring about a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one year after the latest Palestinian uprising began.
Right-wing ministers are attempting to create a broad-based front against Mr. Peres's "imaginary political initiatives." Supporters of the Foreign Minister suggest senior army generals have lined up behind them. v Palestinian leaders have complained it is impossible to secure a ceasefire because of "provocations" by the Israeli military. The killing of Palestinian demonstrators with live ammunition has led to accusations from the Israeli left that Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, is not committed to the ceasefire.
"Otherwise it is impossible to explain the especially large number killed and wounded on the Palestinian side," said Yossi Sarid, the opposition leader.
Yossi Melman, a leading military analyst, said: "In the past I would not believe there was anything wrong with the military and they would act according to political instructions.
"Now it seems there is room for interpretation and maybe they have their own agenda to put obstacles in the way of Mr. Peres. Since the ceasefire was called they should have been far more cautious."
The Americans have been exerting strong pressure on both sides to restore calm as they attempt to win the co-operation of Arab states for the war on terrorism. Mr. Sharon is caught between hardliners on the right, the mainstay of his support, who favour a military solution to the intifada, and appeasing the United States.
Part of the government sees the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States as a chance to bury the intifada, Mr. Arafat's "terrorist" regime and perhaps the Palestinian leader as well. Mr. Sharon regularly compares Mr. Arafat to Osama bin Laden.
The Cabinet has given the Palestinian Authority until Tuesday night to prove that it is attempting to uphold the ceasefire. Officials said that if it had not begun to take action against terrorism, the government would resume its policy of pre-emptive assassinations.
At the Cabinet meeting, Uzi Landau, a right-wing hawk, said Mr. Peres had caused Israel serious damage by meeting Mr. Arafat. He said the meeting had "blurred the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys."