Senior army and intelligence officials have offered the Israeli Cabinet a grim assessment of Yasser Arafat’s leadership in the Gaza Strip.
The Sunday Cabinet session, which focused on security issues in Gaza and the West Bank, took place a day before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to begin talks in Cairo aimed at developing a timetable for the next phase of Palestinian self-rule.
As though timed to highlight the difficult security issues facing them, the Cabinet meeting took place the same day that a Palestinian terrorist was foiled in his attempt to launch a suicide bombing at the Erez checkpoint separating Israel from Gaza.
Israeli security officials fired at the terrorist when he refused their orders to stop before reaching the checkpoint. A bomb strapped to his body exploded, but there were no casualties. The bomber himself was lightly wounded.
During the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly complained that Arafat has not met Israel’s expectations on security issues and that as a result, forthcoming negotiations with the Palestinians will be complicated.
The next stage of negotiations are scheduled to focus on an Israeli army withdrawal from the West Bank and the concurrent holding of Palestinian elections.
In briefing the Cabinet, the Israel Defense Force chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, warned of a “Lebanonization” of Gaza. He noted that armed militias, including the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Fatah Hawks militia, were operating freely without regard for the Palestinian Authority.
Saguy said Arafat has not lived up to earlier pledges to disarm Hamas, nor has he cracked down on Islamic fundamentalists launching terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Saguy also gave Arafat low grades for his financial and administrative handling of Gaza, which became autonomous in May.
The head of the General Security Services discussed the problem of preventing terrorist attacks in the West Bank, where Jewish settlements are interspersed among Palestinian population centers more extensively than in Gaza, and as a result will make an army withdrawal in the West Bank a complicated affair.
Some government ministers said after the meeting that Israel should renegotiate the Palestinian self-rule accord in order to avoid any army withdrawal from the West Bank. They said that such a withdrawal would lead to a security nightmare when it came to protecting Jewish settlements.
But the Palestinian Authority has demanded that Israel implement the autonomy accord, including redeployment of troops in the West Bank, as originally stipulated in the self-rule accord.
At its weekly meeting on Saturday, the Palestinian Authority came out strongly against renegotiating the accord.
“Israel must implement everything it has agreed upon with the Palestinians,” Yasser Abed-Rabbo, the Palestinian Authority official in charge of information, told reporters.
“Redeployment and holding elections are at the top of the Palestinian agenda,” he said.