'U.S. Believes Tenet Can Push Arafat to Make Arrests'

  • Share
  • Read Later
TIME.com: By sending CIA Director George Tenet to broker Israeli-Palestinian security talks, is the Bush administration now getting more involved in the conflict than it had intended to?

Massimo Calabresi: Well, first you have to understand that this is not a push for a peace deal. It's not a push for anything more than sustaining a tenuous cease fire. My impression of the Tenet visit is that the administration believes he stands a chance of persuading Arafat to take the next step — for the cease fire to hold, Arafat has to rearrest some of these Hamas and Islamic Jihad guys that have been released by the Palestinian Authority over the past nine months. Tenet's role in the past has been coordinating information on security issues, including terrorism, and he has an intimate knowledge of the security situation there. My impression is that the administration is hoping that he can play a role in persuading Arafat to do what he has to do to make the cease fire work.

But the Palestinians are saying in order to make the cease fire work, they need to see signs that their political demands are going to be addressed. Presumably Arafat will be reluctant to start arresting Hamas people when he has very little to show Palestinians for declaring the cease fire…

I'm a little skeptical of these extraordinary limits he supposedly faces on his power. But obviously there are nonetheless significant splits in his ranks, and some real limits on his power. If he needs political cover, he might get it in the form of some Israeli concession on the issue of settlements, although the Bush administration is being quite vague on the timing of a settlement freeze. Such a freeze is proposed by the Mitchell Report, but the administration is being a little coy on whether it believes the settlement freeze needs to come before a resumption of talks.

Would the Bush administration pressure the Israelis to adopt the settlement freeze?

The administration has not shown a proclivity to do that. The Mitchell Report has said things about freezing settlement expansion, but the administration has been vague about those. It's a marked contrast with the first Bush administration, where Secretary of State James Baker and President Bush-senior were at one point very outspoken about the settlements. This time, though, it looks like the hawks and Sharon supporters are still dominant in Washington.