Army wants to kill Arafat, says PeresBy Inigo Gilmore in Jerusalem (Filed: 01/10/2001)
ISRAEL'S foreign minister, Shimon Peres, is accusing senior army officers of plotting to kill the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
The extraordinary accusation is contained in an interview to be published today in Yediot Ahronoth, a leading Israeli daily, excerpts of which were leaked yesterday.
In the interview, Mr Peres, accuses the army of a mud-slinging campaign to undermine him and said the deputy chief of staff, Maj-Gen Moshe Yaalon, does not understand "Palestinian distress". He said Maj-Gen Yaalon would like physically to eliminate Mr Arafat.
"Let's suppose we take him out, what will happen then?" Mr Peres is quoted as saying. "Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah will come instead. Arafat accepts Israel's existence. He wants to speak to us and wants to be accepted in the West. They will want to establish a single state between Iraq and the Mediterranean."
For some time now Mr Peres has privately accused the "trigger happy" Israeli military of undermining his efforts to bring about a ceasefire with the Palestinians and return to negotiations.
Mr Arafat has been more forthright. During a visit to Egypt yesterday he said an agreement he reached with Mr Peres last week reaffirming a previous ceasefire was being intentionally undermined by Israeli political and military officials.
"Despite my political meeting with Peres, there is a deliberate escalation from military leaders and some political leaders on all fronts," Mr Arafat said in Cairo.
The increasingly acrimonious political dispute has erupted into open warfare as Mr Peres, the cabinet's leading dove, attempts to appeal directly to the Israeli public and America for support in securing a lasting ceasefire with the Palestinians.
The latest row stems from Israeli military actions around the time of Mr Peres's meeting with Mr Arafat and in the days since. At least 12 Palestinians have been killed and more than 150 wounded since last Wednesday's talks.
The upsurge in violence has prompted angry criticism from American officials, who have called on the Israelis to avoid "provocative" incursions into Palestinian territory and other inflammatory actions.
"One gets the feeling that the army can't live with a ceasefire and is not prepared to accept that control is in the political echelon's hands," a Foreign Ministry official said.
The unusually strident language reflects broader tensions within the Israeli cabinet over efforts to bring about a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a year since the latest Palestinian uprising began.
Right-wing ministers are attempting to create a broad-based front against Mr Peres's "imaginary political initiatives", and supporters of the foreign minister suggest that senior army generals have lined up behind them.
Palestinian leaders have complained that it is impossible to secure a ceasefire because of "provocations" by the Israeli military. The killing of Palestinian demonstrators since Wednesday has led to accusations from the Israeli Left that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is not committed to the ceasefire.
"Otherwise it is impossible to explain the especially large number killed and wounded on the Palestinian side," said Yossi Sarid, the opposition leader.
Yossi Melman, a leading military analyst, said: "In the past I would not believe there was anything wrong with the military and they would act according to political instructions. Now it seems there is room for interpretation and maybe they have their own agenda to put obstacles in the way of Mr Peres.
"Since the ceasefire was called they should have been far more cautious."
The Americans have been exerting strong pressure on both sides to curb the violence and restore calm as they attempt to win the co-operation of Arab states in their war on terrorism.
Mr Sharon is caught between the hardline Right, the mainstay of his support, who favour a military solution to the intifada, and appeasing America. Part of the Israeli government sees the attacks in America as a chance to bury the intifada, Mr Arafat's "terrorist" regime and perhaps the Palestinian leader as well. Mr Sharon regularly compares Mr Arafat to Osama bin Laden.
The security cabinet has given the Palestinian Authority until Tuesday night to prove that it is attempting to uphold the ceasefire. Officials said that if it had not begun to take action against terrorism, the government would resume its policy of "initiated actions".
At the cabinet meeting, Uzi Landau, a Right-wing hawk, said Mr Peres had caused serious damage by meeting Mr Arafat. He said the meeting had "blurred the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys" and had impaired the defence forces' "preventative power".