In Jerusalem there are two prime ministers. One is the official one, Ariel Sharon, who has declared the Palestinian Authority a supporter of terror, and is striking with missiles. And on the other hand there is Shimon Peres, who is willing to talk with Arafat they speak over the phone, without the knowledge of Sharon. Peres said, according to sources, that if Arafat over the next 12 hours arrests many of those Israel wants held, Peres would do something for Arafat in return.
Peres wants the cease fire, but his main thinking is that if Israel wants the PA to do something, Israel needs to give them some political concession in return that will allow Arafat to tell his people that they gain something from a cease fire. Peres is saying that Israel needs to show willingness to give something, but Sharon is saying he won't give anything. He's not willing to give some political hope for the Palestinians, or to encourage them to fulfill the cease-fire. Right now, it seems from the Palestinian point of view that they're the only ones to make concessions and they're not getting anything. Peres is saying basically that Israel should offer something and show cease-fire is a way to return to negotiations. That's the big difference between the two.
And presumably Sharon's line has more public support…
Yes and no. The polls show that the majority of people want to strike the PA to establish some kind of calm, but they also want a peace process. More than 60 percent remain prepared to make all kinds of concessions for peace in terms of issues like settlements, but they don't believe it's going to happen. So Sharon has far more political support than Peres in a direct contest between the two, but the ideas of Peres still have some support there is still majority support in Israel for a peace process.
What was the objective of the military actions against the PA?
It's to send a message, nothing more. They are still bombing empty headquarters. And some will say it's contradictory to demand that Arafat take certain actions, but then bomb him immediately. But on the one hand Sharon wants him to act against terror, and on the other hand Sharon doesn't believe Arafat is going to do so. Sharon knows that only American pressure can change Arafat. Sharon, for internal reasons, had to do something. Bibi Netanyahu is breathing down is neck, and the people want revenge. He needs to do something, and the army is doing it. Not even Peres necessarily believes Arafat can deliver, but there's no alternative to Arafat. Without Arafat, it would be even worse. So we're in the same old situation.