Israel Wary of Arafat Overtures

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel expressed its skepticism about Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's call for an end to violence -- but said that it would give the new PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his government a chance to combat terror.

The Palestinian Legislative Council was meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday to approve Qureia's new government.

Both Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Arafat will maintain control over the security forces as head of a National Security Council. They also doubt that the new prime minister will be able to combat terror adequately under him.

Speaking to the PLC on Wednesday, Arafat accused Israel of waging a "criminal war" against the Palestinians but called on the Israeli people to believe him that he really wants peace.
"We do not deny the right of the Israeli people to live in security side by side with the Palestinian people also living in their own independent state," Arafat said.

Arafat charged that the Israeli government "spreads lies" about the Palestinians that they don't want peace. "I want to talk here to the Israeli people to say in public and in Arabic that this is not true," Arafat said.

(Israel and the international community have long charged that Arafat gives one message to the West in English but transmits an entirely different message to his own people in Arabic.)

"Instead of total destruction of our people and land, the time has come between us and you Israelis, and listen to me Israelis, to get out of this cycle of destructive war," he said.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel no longer trusted Arafat's promises.

"We have heard Chairman Arafat say so many things in the past and he didn't even implement one of his commitments or his promises in the past," Shalom told reporters in Jerusalem prior to a meeting with visiting Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda.

"After he signed the Oslo Accords, he sent a letter to the Norwegian Prime Minister, he said then that he will never use again the tool of terrorism and violence against Israel in order to achieve his aims or his goals.

"And since then he brought all the phenomena of suicide bombers. He was involved with all the terrorist attacks that were carried out here in Israel," Shalom said.

As part of the signing of the Oslo Accords - named for the Norwegian capital in which they were clandestinely conceived - Arafat exchanged letters with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak.

He also supplied a letter to the Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst saying that in light of the signing of the accords, "the PLO encourages and calls upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to take part in the steps leading to the normalization of life, rejecting violence and terrorism, contributing to peace stability and participating actively in shaping reconstruction, economic development and cooperation."

Nevertheless, Shalom said that Israel was willing to give Qureia a chance to see if he would move toward peace.

"We are looking forward to see if the new Palestinian government is moving toward peace," he said. "If they will be serious about it, they will find us as a real partner for peace."

Qureia, who has had trouble forming a government, called for a complete halt to violence and resumption of peace talks with Israel based on the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

"It is not acceptable to any of us to see the chaos of weapons and shelling among the public," Qureia told the PLC. He said he was pressing "our Palestinian people and all Palestinian forces and factions to stop all kinds of mutual violence.""