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Watch For It

As The Jewish Press is about to go to press Tuesday evening, Hamas spokesmen are still declaring that they have no intention of adhering to a cease-fire. Whether Arafat was serious or not when he declared a cease-fire the other day, the bottom line is that none is in the immediate offing. Yet one gets the sense that the Palestinians are indeed inching towards an interruption of hostilities. Not because they have decided on peace, but rather because Arafat ? who plainly controls Palestinian events beyond the immediate short term ? has become convinced that he has run the string out on this phase of violent confrontation. As we have noted several times, when Arafat becomes convinced that he can no longer count on third party pressure on Israel to wring further concessions as a precondition to resuming negotiations, he will do what he has to do to get Israel back to the negotiating table ? it is his goal to renew the process of once again recycling unfulfilled promises in return for tangible Israeli concessions brought about, in turn, by fresh third party pressure on Israel.

Thus, following Prime Minister Sharon?s unilateral declaration of a cease-fire, the worldwide revulsion at the carnage last Friday night, and statements from Secretary of State Powell and other world leaders that the violence must stop unconditionally, Arafat can now be counted upon to drop his demand for an Israeli concession on the settlements as a precondition to stopping the violence.

So all things being equal, it is likely that there will soon be a resumption of negotiations. The violence will have ebbed. With a wink and a nod to Hamas and their ilk, Arafat will will have made some gesture at arresting recently released terrorists. And there will have been some lessening of the incitement. Prime Minister Sharon will have pronounced himself satisfied, and once again talks will be held.

But there is an important additional dimension to all of this that has so far escaped attention. Secretary Powell sent Arafat an unmistakable message this past Sunday when he spoke in unusually positive terms of former President Clinton?s coming this close to brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Arafat can now expect that there will be American pressure on Israel to pick up the resumed negotiations at the point they left off at Camp David ? despite Prime Minister Sharon?s vehement statements to the contrary ? which is what Arafat had in mind all along.

Push is soon going to come to shove and a chastened world ? including President Bush ? will move mountains to avoid going back to the abyss of the last eight months. All to the detriment of Israel.

At that point, it can be expected that the old divisions that wrecked our fractured Jewish community over Oslo will reassert themselves and the current unity occasioned by the Palestinian outrages can be expected to fade.

We pray Mr. Sharon is up to the coming test.

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