JERUSALEM (Nov. 14)
The revelation that the Oct. 29 kidnapping and killing of Jewish settler Chaim Mizrachi was carried out by members of A1 Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization faction under the command of Yasser Arafat, has sparked outrage as well as a sense of betrayal here.
The government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has repeatedly insisted that Fatah was not involved in any of the terrorist attacks that have occurred since the signing of the Israel-PLO self-rule accord on Sept. 13.
But now, there is growing doubt that Arafat can be counted upon to prevent further acts of terrorism and implement his side of the autonomy agreement.
Mizrachi’s murder had originally been attributed to the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, which opposes the Israeli-Palestinian accord.
But on Friday, the day Rabin met with President Clinton in Washington, the Israel Defense Force announced that the five Palestinians captured in the Mizrachi killing were members of the PLO’s Fatah wing.
Following their meeting, Clinton and Rabin held a joint news conference at which the issue surfaced as to whether the PLO was doing enough to condemn terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In remarks clearly directed at Arafat, Clinton said, “Leaders who seek peace must speak out in a loud and clear voice against those who would destroy those aspirations for peace.”
Later, in response to a question, the president said Arafat was “duty-bound at a minimum to condemn” terrorist attacks as a violation of the Israeli-PLO agreement.
On Saturday, Arafat issued a statement condemning the killing and said the killers acted on their own, without the knowledge of Fatah’s leadership.
TIME FOR ARAFAT TO SPEAK EXPLICITLY
But Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur made it clear at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that while the PLO condemnation was a positive step, it did not go far enough.
“It’s time for him (Arafat) as a leader to speak clearly and loudly and explicitly,” Gur said, “to tell all his people to stop any terrorist activity.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by other Cabinet ministers.
“I hope the future will indicate one thing,” said Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, “that he (Arafat) can control” his people. “Otherwise we have to ask ourselves very difficult questions” about the peace process, he said.
Economics Minister Shimon Shetreet said he believed the PLO had not done enough to oppose acts of terrorism, but that the condemnation by Arafat was sufficient to resume the talks on implementing the autonomy agreement, which were to enter their six round this week in Cairo.
Members of the opposition, upon hearing the announcement that the Mizrachi murderers belonged to Fatah, charged the Rabin government with a “whitewash.”
“The whitewash is beginning to peel off and crumble from the shaky agreement which the Rabin government has signed,” National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Hammer told the Jerusalem Post. “The government spoke to sheep, only to discover that it was dancing with wolves.”
But Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who chaired Sunday’s Cabinet meeting in Rabin’s absence, said the importance of the PLO’s condemnation of the Mizrachi murder should not be underestimated.
Peres called the condemnation a marked change in PLO policy. But he also said Israel would insist that the PLO be made to honor its commitments.
Among those commitments was a letter Arafat sent to Rabin on Sept. 9 in which he renounced violence and vowed to discipline any PLO members who resorted to it.
The letter, written four days before the historic signing of the Palestinian self-rule accord in Washington, represented a crucial step in achieving the accord.
TWO MORE STABBED
During Sunday’s meeting, Israeli security officials told the Cabinet that the PLO instructions to refrain from terrorist acts were generally being obeyed by its members.
They said that the murderers of Mizrachi reported their attack to a Fatah official in the territories.
But the organization apparently did nothing to aid their escape and the Fatah official did not report the information to Arafat.
Peres stated during the Cabinet meeting that there would be no concessions on Israeli security during what he said would be a difficult period until Palestinian autonomy was established.
The Cabinet also decided unanimously to hold a special session when Rabin returns from the United States to discuss the upsurge of violence by Israeli settlers in the territories that had been triggered by the Mizrachi murder.
Jewish residents of the territories were especially inflamed by news of the Fatah link. They maintained that Rabin and his ministers had known about the terrorists’ identity and had deceived them.
Further heightening tensions, two Israelis were stabbed last Friday in separate terrorist incidents.
One Israeli was attacked near an army checkpoint in the Gaza Strip. The other, a 19-year-old soldier, was stabbed in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on his way home for the Sabbath.
The assault in Jerusalem prompted a protest Saturday night by hundreds of residents of the Jewish Quarter.
In a separate incident during the weekend near the West Bank town of Ramallah, settlers climbed a wall and set fire to a Palestinian-owned chicken coop located near the site where Mizrachi was abducted.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Deborah Kalb in Washington.)