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Last Monday night, activists from the Tanzim militia tried to storm the Bethlehem headquarters of Palestinian Intelligence. They wanted to lynch Nawawra, who had been arrested earlier that day after Palestinian Intelligence became suspicious of him. The next day, two of Nawawra's distant relatives went to visit him in jail. They tried to smuggle in a pistol, intending to kill him to protect their clan's honor. They failed, but they needn't worry too much. Nawawra will be tried before the State Security Court this week. Sources close to the court tell TIME that Nawawra has confessed and will be sentenced to death. The execution will probably be carried out quickly, as soon as Arafat gives his approval.
Arafat will be under pressure to do so to satisfy the public outcry over collaborators whose work has helped Israel cramp the style of Palestinian fighters. But Amin Medani, chief technical adviser in the Gaza office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, argues that Israel's hits could lead to a situation in which rival Palestinian gangs can accuse anyone of collaboration as an excuse to rub someone out. That might prompt a nightmare mixture of killings and retributions that could only make an already chaotic situation worse. "It's not acceptable to have mob justice," says Medani.
It's not the first time Israel has used assassinations. After Israeli athletes were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mossad hit squads tracked down in Europe and Lebanon members of the Black September terrorist group responsible. But they also mistook a Moroccan waiter for the terrorist group's kingpin and assassinated him in Norway in 1973. Last week Prime Minister Barak, under pressure to halt the violence before Israel's Feb. 6 elections, defended the current hits in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Committee members say Barak told them, "We're at war. A state facing a terrorist threat has to wage a struggle." Palestinian Cabinet minister Hassan Assfour calls it the "true criminal face of the Israeli government."
None of this makes it any easier for President Bill Clinton in his desperate quest to pull the two sides together. Two weeks ago, Clinton laid out for the Israelis and Palestinians a set of parameters for restarting talks. Israel gave a guarded "yes, but." Diplomatic sources say that last weekend the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Ron Schlicher, called Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeineh to say the White House didn't require a definitive answer on tricky questions like the right of return for refugees or the status of Jerusalem, only another "yes, but." After Arafat's three hours of talks with Clinton Wednesday, Palestinian officials say his answer is "la'am"--a conjoining of the Arabic words na'am, yes, and la, no. Israeli diplomats tell TIME it won't be possible to put together a true peace deal by the end of Clinton's term on Jan. 20. However, they reckon there's a fifty-fifty chance that negotiators could agree to a symbolic statement that would let Clinton bow out gracefully and set a more hopeful tone for the new Administration. Without that, there's sure to be more work for the hit squads.
--With reporting by Jamil Hamad/Bethlehem and Aharon Klein/Tel Aviv