By Matt Rees/ Ramallah, with Jamil Hamad/ Bethlehem and Aharon Klein/Jerusalem
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been free from the Israeli siege on his headquarters for one month long enough, arguably, to demonstrate whether he is sincere this time about cracking down on Palestinian terrorists. In the current environment, though, it seems Arafat's desires, whatever they may be, are not enough. His security forces were so battered by recent Israeli military incursions that they are almost completely ineffectual, according to Arafat's senior aides. "Our capability is zero," Jibril Rajoub, head of preventive security in the West Bank, told Time. "Our motivation also is zero." In today's climate, Palestinian commanders are loath to be seen doing the Israelis' bidding by arresting militants. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Arafat's Fatah organization, has claimed responsibility for three of the nine fatal terrorist attacks on Israelis since Arafat was freed. Palestinian cabinet ministers say Arafat has no incentive to stop paying Brigades activists because they will only turn to new paymasters in the radical Islamic group Hamas, Fatah's rival. "We look at them as would-be members," says a senior Hamas official. Close aides to Arafat doubt that the Palestinian leader actually wants the terror attacks to stop, since the Israeli retaliations that inevitably follow deflect attention from his pledges to reform his corrupt and dictatorial government. Arafat last week signed a long-delayed Basic Law, a kind of pre-state constitution, but in private he's avoiding committing himself to a date for the elections he has promised. "This man doesn't want to change," says an Arafat aide. Meanwhile, Israeli military officials say they have given up on him as a partner in containing terrorism. "To count on Arafat to bring security was a joke, and it will continue to be a joke," says an Israeli army officer.