In two key decisions this week, Israel made it clear that when it comes to international intervention, there are those it can trust and those it cannot.
During a marathon Cabinet session Sunday, Israel put the United Nations in the second category, voting against allowing a U.N. fact-finding panel to visit the Jenin refugee camp.
Earlier during the Cabinet meeting, the government gave an altogether different verdict regarding U.S. and British soldiers when it approved an American plan for ending Israel’s siege of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters.
The meeting took place one day after Palestinian terrorists killed four people in a West Bank settlement near Hebron.
After the Cabinet voted Sunday to bar temporarily the fact-finding panel, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke to the head of the U.N. team and “informed him that the arrival of the committee will be delayed until further clarifications about current issues,” according to a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Spokesman Arnon Perlman also said Sharon has been invited to Washington next week for talks with President Bush.
Following the Cabinet decision, the U.N. panel members, due to arrive in Israel on Sunday from Geneva, canceled their flights.
The panel was going to investigate Palestinian claims of an Israeli massacre at the camp when Israeli forces scoured the camp for terrorists earlier this month.
Prior to the Cabinet meeting, Peres said the panel’s mission amounted to a search for a “blood libel” against Israel.
Concerned about a possible anti-Israel bias in the panel, Israel sent a team to New York late last week in an effort to change the committee’s composition and mandate.
Some progress was made in those efforts. According to reports, U.N. officials had agreed to Israel’s request that military personnel who testify before the panel will be anonymous and will be immune from legal proceedings against them. At the same time, U.N. officials retained the right to determine the witnesses it calls.
The panel originally was slated to arrive Saturday, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan postponed its arrival until Sunday following an Israeli request earlier in the weekend.
In another development, two U.S. senators prepared a letter to Annan, suggesting parameters for the fact-finding mission.
“There must be a form of objectivity displayed by the United Nations,” the letter said. “If actions taken by Israel are to be investigated, so too should those by the Palestinian Authority and the forces under its control and authority in Jenin.”
The other major decision reached Sunday by Israel’s Cabinet soon elicited a positive response from the United States.
After the Cabinet agreed to an American plan for ending the siege at Arafat’s headquarters, the White House issued a statement saying, “The president views the vote of the Israeli Cabinet as helpful and constructive.
“The next move is up to Yasser Arafat,” the statement added.
Hours after the Cabinet voted its approval, Arafat also accepted the U.S. plan, according to a Palestinian spokesman.
Israel’s communications minister, Reuven Rivlin, hinted at a link between Israel’s acceptance of the Ramallah proposal and the decision about the U.N. panel. Amid uncertainty and wariness over how the U.N. mission will proceed, Israel will need firm U.S. backing, Rivlin said Sunday.
Under the U.S. plan, American and British troops would guard Palestinians wanted by Israel for last October’s murder of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
Last week, a Palestinian tribunal handed down sentences ranging from one to 18 years to four men for Ze’evi’s murder. But Israel called the move a sham and demanded their handover.
The troops would also guard a Palestinian official who is alleged to have overseen an attempt to smuggle arms aboard the Karine-A, a ship intercepted by Israel in January.
After the Palestinians are turned over to U.S. and British officials, Israel would withdraw from Ramallah and allow Arafat to travel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke three times over the weekend about the Ramallah proposal with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, who in turn was in touch with Palestinian officials.
The two sides’ acceptance of the U.S. plan came as Bush met at his Texas ranch with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
During the visit, Abdullah presented Bush with an eight-point peace plan that included an end to the Israeli siege at Ramallah.
One point of disagreement between the United States and Saudis is a Saudi proposal to station an armed multinational peacekeeping force in the region. Bush supports unarmed monitors.
“We believe, on the other hand, that the situation is so complex now that mere observers would not do the job,” the Saudi foreign minister said Sunday on ABC-TV’s “This Week.”
Progress on the Ramallah proposal came amid a weekend of renewed Palestinian terror.
On Saturday, Palestinian terrorists wearing Israeli army uniforms infiltrated a Jewish settlement and killed four people, including a 5-year-old girl.
The gunmen wounded seven other people, including the girl’s mother and two siblings, aged 2 and 4.
The attack occurred after at least two terrorists cut through the perimeter fence of the Adura settlement near Hebron. They burst into several homes, shooting some of the victims as they lay sleeping before escaping toward Palestinian-controlled Hebron.
Several hours later, Israeli security forces searching the surrounding area killed one of the terrorists.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack.
In what was described as an unprecedented move, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, permitted television camera crews to enter the victims’ homes and film the blood-soaked mattresses and floors.
According to an initial inquiry, the fact the attackers wore Israeli army
uniforms confused settlement residents and troops who encountered them — and contributed to the tragic outcome of the attack.
In another development, Israeli officials said the IDF foiled Palestinian plans to explode a bomb beneath a Tel Aviv-area high-rise.
The attack was one of several the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was planning to carry out soon, the officials said.
Acting on intelligence information, Israeli troops entered the West Bank town of Kalkilya over the weekend, arresting several militants belonging to the group.
The head of the Popular Front in Kalkilya, Ra’ad Nazal, was killed in exchanges of gunfire.
Israel says Nazal was responsible for dispatching suicide bombers to Israel, including the terrorist who killed three teen-agers in a February attack in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.
During the Kalkilya operation, troops discovered a car bomb as well as three labs containing bombs, explosive belts and grenades.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.