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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 00:51 GMT 01:51 UK
Analysis: Arafat's changed world
Yasser Arafat seen with senior Palestinian officials
By James Reynolds in Jerusalem

It is a new world here. For Yasser Arafat it is a world full of opportunities and full of dangers.

This world did not begin well for Mr Arafat. Shortly after the attacks on New York and Washington a small group of Palestinians was filmed celebrating in East Jerusalem.

Yasser Arafat symbolically donates blood in the aftermath of the attacks on the US
Mr Arafat made a show of donating blood
Pictures of these celebrations were broadcast round the world - giving the impression the entire Palestinian people was jubilant. These pictures did great damage to the Palestinian cause internationally.

Yasser Arafat and his officials were put on the backfoot. They made sure pictures of further celebrations were not seen.

They began an intense campaign to show that the Palestinian people condemned the attacks.

A campaign which involved Mr Arafat giving blood for the victims of the attacks against America.


At the same time Israel began a series of military incursions into Palestinian controlled areas. These incursions were condemned by the Palestinians. But the world's attention was focused elsewhere.

A soldier atop an armoured personnel carrier outside the West Bank town of Jenin where Israeli troops mounted an incursion on 15 September
Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas went largely unnoticed by the outside world
Then, the next step of the new world. In front of foreign ambassadors called to Gaza, Yasser Arafat repeated his intention to observe a ceasefire. He ordered his forces to act with maximum restraint.

His words were not new. But in this conflict, what you say is not as important as when you say it and who has told you to say it.

On this occasion, Mr Arafat was under intense pressure from the international community to fall into line.

With few other options available, he did so. And his international position rose. He was back in the fold.


Now the challenge. Yasser Arafat must make sure his forces observe the ceasefire. He must act against Islamic militant groups - and persuade them not to attack Israel. Leading Palestinians warn that this will be difficult.

"He is like a prisoner in Ramallah or Gaza," says Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian political activist.

"He cannot move army officers from one place to another. Physically he is doing his best."

The question now : will his best be good enough?

If the ceasefire holds, Yasser Arafat will meet Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for talks. And there is more.

Palestinians run for cover during clashes with Israeli troops
Talks are predicated on the ceasefire holding
The Palestinians want Yasser Arafat to be given an Oval Office meeting with President Bush. Such a meeting would do more than anything to restore Mr Arafat's standing in the international community.

If the ceasefire holds, this meeting may happen. If it doesn't, it won't.

These are defining moments for Yasser Arafat. He may remember Shakespeare's words from Julius Caesar:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

This is Yasser Arafat's tide. If the ceasefire holds, his international position will be strengthened. If the Palestinians break the ceasefire, he can expect real questions from the international community - and from the United States in particular.

See also:

16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Sharon calls off truce talks
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel plans buffer zone
12 Sep 01 | Middle East
Arafat fears new Israeli attacks
10 Sep 01 | Middle East
Israel's shock at Israeli bomber
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Mid-East chance of peace
13 Sep 01 | Middle East
Tension grips West Bank towns
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