Thursday, Aug 22, 2002
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By Atul Aneja
Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, Israel's overall commander in the West Bank was expected to meet the Palestinian General, Haj Ismail Jabber, later this evening to look at the execution of the recent "Gaza and Bethlehem first plan" which called for the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from these areas. The Palestinian forces had been repositioned in these territories and are expected to maintain calm there. The "Gaza and Bethlehem first" plan has been greeted with some optimism here, though analysts are conscious that a fresh spurt of violence can easily derail it.
According to observers, a new round of fighting can be triggered either by the extremist Palestinian group, Hamas, or by the Israeli government, in case it decides to persist with its punitive campaign in the Palestinian territories. But there is slim hope that the Hamas, despite its formal rejection of this new deal, may hold fire.
Diplomatic sources point out that the Hamas, given its standing among the Palestinians, is eventually seeking an accommodation in the Arab political horizon. Consequently, it has been involved in "national unity" negotiations with Yasser Arafat's Fatah, to emerge as one of the key|Palestinian representatives on the negotiating table. Given its interest in a rapprochement with the secular Fatah, it has, while denouncing the "Gaza and Bethlehem first" plan, said that it would not clash with the Palestinian Authority.
The PA has, on its part, carefully negotiated the new plan with the Israelis, in a manner that would avoid a confrontation with the Hamas inside the territories.
Without committing itself to a crackdown, the PA has only agreed to maintain `calm' in the territories. In other words, instead of isolating and encouraging it to turn violent, analysts feel that the PA may have arrived at an understanding with key sections within the Hamas to keep the lid on the violence in the territories while ensuring that Israeli forces begin their pullouts. These possible gains can, however, be easily lost, if the Israeli coalition persists with punishing the Hamas. That would, given the recent success of the Hamas in taking the battle to the Israeli camp, spur it to retaliate even more fiercely. But with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon's popularity dipping and his strong arm methods against Palestinian extremists not working, the chances are that a truce, however short lived, might emerge.
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