Arafat Is a Traitor: The Palestinian Leader Finally Persuades Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Call off Their Suicide Bombers and Stop Shelling Jewish Settlements. but Lasting Peace Seems No Closer. Israel Remains Suspicious, and Palestinian Hard-Liners Battle Their Own Police in the Streets of Gaza, Angrier Than Ever

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Hammer

For two days, emissaries from Yasir Arafat shuttled in and out of a modest compound on a back alley in Gaza City. Arafat, who was penned up by Israeli tanks in his own headquarters on the West Bank, needed help from Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the radical Hamas movement. Under intense international pressure, Arafat was urging Hamas to stop its suicide bombings inside Israel and its mortar attacks on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. And unlike a similar arrangement hashed out with Hamas in secret in 1996, this time Arafat wanted the terms of the stand-down to be announced in public. The negotiations with Yassin, a deaf and paralyzed cleric, went on as Arafat's police rounded up militants and skirmished with Hamas supporters in the streets of Gaza. Finally Yassin weakly nodded his consent. Hamas announced "the halting of martyrdom operations inside the occupied lands of 1948 and the halting of the firing of mortar shells until further notice." Islamic Jihad, the other main terror group, said it, too, would suspend attacks "for the national interest."

It was a victory Arafat desperately needed. Since a wave of suicide bombings killed 25 Israelis in Jerusalem and Haifa in early December, the Palestinian leader has been under mounting pressure to quell the Islamic radicals--or face the dismantling of his Palestinian Authority, and his own possible destruction. Yet while Yassin's capitulation put a few patches on Arafat's credibility as a peacemaker, the ceasefire was dangerously circumscribed. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas refused to rule out attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza. "We will fight against Israel inside the occupied territories," Sheik Hassan Yousef, a Hamas spokesman in Ramallah, told NEWSWEEK. "We have the right to defend ourselves in our land." Some members of the Israeli government dismissed the Hamas communique as a cynical ploy. "What's positive? That they stop terror activities in one place, but keep murdering women and children somewhere else?" said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Arafat's biggest challenge may be quelling the rage of the Islamic militants, frustrated by 15 months of futile struggle and enraged by the arrests of more than 200 radicals in recent weeks. After the release of the Hamas communique, new clashes between the militants and police turned into the worst incidence of Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence in years. In northern Gaza, thousands of angry locals gathered in the Jabalya refugee camp to attend the funeral of a 17-year-old boy slain by Palestinian police during a sweep of militants the day before. …