JERUSALEM (Aug. 8)
The rallying cry of Israeli opponents to the Oslo accords — “Don’t give the Palestinians guns!” — is being sounded again, and this time against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Acceding to a request by the Palestinian Authority, which seeks to put down a revolt by reformist vigilantes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Sharon government last week agreed in principle to allow armed patrols by Palestinian police.
Sharon said Sunday that the decision was subject to Cabinet approval, but few among Israel’s top brass expected a veto.
“Had the Israel Defense Force not met the Palestinian demand, we ourselves would be blamed for the anarchy in the authority,” Israel’s chief of military staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, told reporters Sunday.
According to security sources, Palestinian police whom the Shin Bet clears of any connection to terrorism would be allowed to carry pistols and batons in specified areas of the West Bank and! Gaza.
Palestinian officials said preliminary deployment of armed police could begin as early as Monday in Ramallah, Tulkarm and Jericho — West Bank cities that are relatively stable because they have gone largely untouched by several weeks of often-violent pro-reform protests by grass-roots members of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.
Israeli security sources declined comment on whether such “experimental” deployment would be put to a Cabinet vote.
But they said the Palestinian patrols would coordinate all movements with Jerusalem to prevent them coming under fire should Israeli forces need to launch a sweep for terrorists.
The Defense Ministry decision drew flak from right wingers for whom it recalled the creation, under the 1993 Oslo accord, of armed Palestinian security forces. Many of these officers ended up turning their guns on Israeli soldiers and settlers.
“It is inconceivable to permit the Palestinians to carry weapons, even pistols, because the ! authority and even the police are fully involved in, initiate, carry o ut and abet Palestinian terror,” Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party said at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
The decision to encourage self-policing by the Palestinian Authority flowed from a declaration by Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, last week that terror in the West Bank and Gaza was a “bottomless barrel.” Ze’evi-Farkash’s comments were intended to push home his belief that Palestinian terrorism cannot completely be quashed by Israel’s military.
Ya’alon said the decision was “reversible” should it be abused by the Palestinians, but security sources admitted that the prospect of mounting military raids into the West Bank and Gaza to disarm the policemen would be tactically and politically rash.
But at least one security veteran pointed to the fact that Israel has failed to fully disarm terrorist groups as evidence that the decision on Palestinian police was largely a matter of making a ! diplomatic gesture toward bolstering the ailing P.A.
“They already have weapons. We are not giving them anything they do not have,” said Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra, a former Shin Bet deputy director.
Although Israel has shunned Arafat, the Jewish state remains committed to encouraging reform with the Palestinian Authority.