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Analyst Michael Widlanski: 'Israeli Security Forces Decided Not To Arrest Palestinian Terror Cell In Tul Kerem Which Later Murdered Five Israelis In Tel Aviv Bombing; At The Time, Israel Did Not Want To Be Seen As Violating Current Lull'

At Cairo Meeting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Persuades Hamas and Islamic Jihad To Continue Current Timeout, While Pledging Not To Dismantle Terror Groups

Nightclub Bombing

This week, General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the chief of IDF Intelligence, declared that Israel is paying a very heavy price in trying to advance the current peace process with the Palestinians. The Intelligence commander did not elaborate? Dr Michael Widlanski, a Middle East analyst at the Rothberg School at Hebrew University, has apparently discovered what the intelligence chief meant. Widlanski tells IsraCast that Israeli security forces were aware of the dangerous terrorist cell in Tul Kerem that carried out the night-club bombing in Tel Aviv, but decided not to smash the ring for fear of upsetting the current lull with the Palestinians.

David Essing: Dr. Michael Widlanski, what is your take on what happened in Cairo, has the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas taken the process one step forward by getting the agreement from the terrorist organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and so forth, to continue with this lull in the attacks on Israel?

Michael Widlanski: I'm not sure David, where the proof is in the putting, you know everybody is using buzz words but they don't even know what they mean, words like Hudna, which means cease-fire, and Tahadia, which means cooling off period or lull, and frankly, we don't know what that means. People have been saying that the PLO, especially under Abbas, is going to bring down the violence and bring down the terrorism and Hamas and Jihad. And what we've seen so far is that he's bringing them on board as establishment parts of the Palestinian leadership, and they are regarding the lull or the cease-fire as a very temporary and very one-way affair where Israel doesn't run after them, but whenever they decide that they're ready, they can attack Israel.

David Essing: And at the same time, Mahmoud Abbas is not going to dismantle the terror organizations as has been demanded by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?

Michael Widlanski: Absolutely not, I have a very skeptical, cynical view of Mr. Abbas, or Dr. Abbas. I've been watching him for years and I've looked at secret documents that he's been involved with, he is called for an end to Palestinian violence against Palestinians, he's called for what he calls 'intifaudat a sallah', the end of Palestinian weapon anarchy. He wants people not to kill each other in the streets of Gaza. Well, that's good, that's fine and we can support that, but he also talks about unity of all the security services and the police and everything else, and he doesn't say, most of the time when he's talking in Arabic, that its because he doesn't want people to attack Israel or Israeli targets. He says its because it's for Palestinian interest and the Palestinians are keeping their options open, including the arms struggle, and the Intifada, whatever they call the Intifada, and they can open up these options at any time, if Israel doesn't move fast enough. Now David, I want you to know some other thing, people aren't focusing on this, but he's demanded the total release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli hands immediately. Now that's a very major demand, and it's also a major input of manpower for him and for the terrorists, if they don't want to complete the peace process peacefully.

David Essing: In effect, are we seeing then Israel running the risk of recycling the Oslo process, in other words as you say that the terrorist organizations are kept in tact by the Palestinian leadership to be used whenever they see it fit?

Michael Widlanski: In fact, its actually a worsening of the Oslo process, because as the weapon systems develop, and you get better and better explosives, and more and more weapons flowing from Lebanon and from the Egyptian desert into Israel, you're getting a very bad situation. Israel withdraws closer into the center of its own country, and somebody who has a Sam 7 missile, or somebody who has another shoulder launched weapon or even an RPG, can bring down helicopters and planes with great ease, and they can even lob mortors strategic targets in Ashdod and Ashkelon. That's a very serious situation and I'm scared about it.

David Essing: But on the other hand, would the Palestinian leadership with Mahmoud Abbas ever agree to condone this, because lets face it, the international community, and primarily president George W. Bush, has made very clear that the terrorism must stop, that if there's any return to the terrorism, the whole process will be put on hold?

Michael Widlanski: Well, Abbas is talking about a process of half a year, a year, two years, three years, he's looking for the long term future, he plans to serve as the Palestinian president for five years he says. George Bush is not going to be president for longer than another three and a half - four years. So he's looking to a situation where the Palestinians get a lot of their demands in the interim and then can press Israel and he can obviously have the right of plausible deniability - I didn't do it, somebody did it, it wasn't under my control, you see I've stopped most of the violence, most of the incitement. I wouldn't bet the whole house that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

David Essing: Well, the first stage of the roadmap process, and Prime Minister Sharon has been insisting upon this, is that the Palestinian leadership must dismantle the terrorist organizations. From what you've just said, do you think there is a possibility that Bush might back down and might agree, might accept the fact that there is a drop in the terrorism, so why press Mahmoud Abbas to go into some kind of civil war with the terrorist organizations by trying to dismantle them?

Michael Widlanski: My big problem is not so much with Bush, but with Sharon and Mofaz, because I think their talk has not been matched by actions. We know for example David, and you probably know this from your sources as well, that the recent blast in Tel-Aviv in which five people were killed, involved a cell coming out of Tul Kerem, which was slated to be arrested several days before the Tel-Aviv attack, and it wasn't arrested because the Israeli authorities believed that they shouldn't embarrass Mahmoud Abbas by arresting people before the talks on Cairo. That's a very severe price to pay for diplomacy.

David Essing: But does Sharon have any choice now, keeping in mind that lets face it, the US, and particulary after the Bush visit to Europe, is working more or less in tandem with the Europeans and the US, wants to go on this process as far as possible, so Sharon has to play ball, does he not?

Michael Widlanski: I think that the US is trying to show a happier face to Europe. There's no doubt about that. I don't necessarily think that Bush is turning into Chirac, or turning into a variation of any of the other European leaders. I think, however, that we're seeing Sharon pull-back on a lot of security demands and turning over Jericho, turning over several other cities, almost allowing the release of the PFLP leadership, and Fuad Shubaki, who's responsible both for the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, known as Gandi, and the Karin A operation. This was a terrible thing. And it didn't just slip through the radar, somebody allowed it to get on the plate of Mahmoud Abbas, and for him to go forward with it, and somebody is putting out stuff, that the Palestinians are beginning to agree with the idea of pulling back on what they call the right of return, Hackal Auda, well that's nonsense. We've heard about that in the Israeli media three-four days last week, tell me David, did you see any signs of it in Cairo? Of course not, it's a bunch of baloney.

David Essing: So you're not too optimistic about where we're going with this renewed process.

Michael Widlanski: I'm optimistic that we'll eventually get to peace but I'm realistic about where we are right now and with whom we are dealing.

David Essing

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