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Arafat too had a special incentive for the concession that he made. He is eager to attend a summit of Arab leaders in Beirut later this month so that he can show he remains relevant on the world stage. But since December, the Israelis have kept him pinned inside the West Bank city of Ramallah, demanding the arrest of all suspects in the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. With the detention of the final fugitive, Majdi Rimawi, Sharon has lost much of his justification for confining Arafat to Ramallah, but he will have to convince right-wingers in his Cabinet before lifting the blockade.
Even before Rimawi's arrest, Arafat was recalibrating his strategy. Aides tell TIME he was disturbed by a March 2 suicide bombing in Jerusalem by activists of his own Fatah organization. The attack struck a community--the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem's poor central district--that is relatively moderate in its view of relations with the Palestinians. The bomb wiped out a family, the Nehmads--two parents and their two children, a nephew and two cousins.
Arafat called his "battlefield leadership," the men who run Fatah's part in the Palestinian uprising, to his Ramallah office the next day. According to sources who were present, he told the Fatah leaders that he wanted no more suicide bombings inside Israel because they harm the image of the Palestinians internationally and harden the will of Israelis against him. Angrily, Arafat told the group that the people who carried out the Jerusalem operation were "collaborators serving the strategy of Sharon to show that every Palestinian is a terrorist." He then interrupted the meeting to call an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem who had met him several times. "We will punish those who did this," Arafat told him.
Maybe he will. But Fatah leaders say the Palestinian chief has no plans to punish anyone who attacks soldiers and settlers in the Palestinian territories--the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It's an unpleasant distinction, but as the Fatah leaders see it, suicide bombings within Israel look like damnable terrorism to the outside world, while West Bank shootings cast the Palestinians as guerrillas waging a war against a foreign occupation. "Fatah is free to fight settlers and the army at any place in the West Bank but not inside the Green Line," says a senior Fatah official, referring to the unofficial border separating Israel proper from the Palestinian territories. Says Nabil Shaath, a minister in Arafat's Cabinet: "No one on earth could blame us for attacking the soldiers and the settlers."
Not quite. The Palestinians have attracted considerable condemnation worldwide for doing just that. But even if Shaath were right, the week proved Arafat incapable of enforcing the new rules he had set forth. In the days after his pronouncement, 17 Israelis were killed and some 120 injured in five separate attacks within Israel proper, including the suicide bombing Saturday of a Jerusalem restaurant near the Prime Minister's residence. Three of the assaults were claimed by militant Islamic groups over which Arafat has little control, and two were claimed by al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Fatah group.