Arafat Sends a Message

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Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's outburst last week -- threatening to renew the intifada and warning Israel "our rifles are ready" -- seemed strange, given that the Knesset was debating a controversial land transfer to the Palestinian Authority. According to a senior aide, however, the chairman's remarks, to a gathering of his Fatah organization, were meant for local consumption only. Arafat, says the official, is furious with the groupís secretary-general, Marwan Barghouti, who has led an anticorruption campaign within Fatah that culminated in an anti-P.A. riot in Ramallah last month. The ferocious rhetoric, says the source, was aimed at rallying Fatah activists behind Arafat. When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to freeze the land transfer until Arafat recanted, the chairman, according to a confidant, regretted the remarks. It was U.S. special envoy Dennis Ross who suggested the wording of Arafatís retraction, a pledge to resolve conflicts "through negotiations but not through any other means." Netanyahu accepted; the Knesset voted yes.