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To Help US, Israel Sticks with Ceasefire Efforts - 2001-09-21

Israel's security cabinet, the top officials dealing with security issues, has decided to stick with the latest ceasefire efforts with the Palestinians, despite the fatal shooting of a Jewish settler in the West Bank on Thursday. An Israeli official says the government does not want to take any action that might jeopardize efforts by the United States to forge an international alliance against terrorism.

Israel's security cabinet reviewed the situation following Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call on Palestinians to observe a strict ceasefire.

No decisions were taken despite assessments from Israeli military officials that Mr. Arafat is not doing enough to enforce a truce. They note a Jewish settler in the West Bank was killed Thursday in a drive-by killing.

But Israeli officials say they are reluctant to risk scrapping attempts to establish a ceasefire by resorting to military retaliation for fear that could damage U.S. government efforts to forge an international coalition against terrorism.

Middle East experts think it is not likely that moderate Arab nations would join such an alliance, if Israel, which receives military aid from the United States, is also seen to be aggressively confronting Palestinians.

Zalman Shoval is an advisor on foreign policy to Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Mr. Shoval says it is the Israeli government's view that Mr. Arafat is using violence to further his political aims.

But for the time being, Mr. Shoval says Israel will not risk damaging its relations with the United States through any aggressive actions against Palestinians. "Arafat is no less a terrorist than Osama bin Laden, although his enemies may be different, his aims may be different," Mr. Shoval said. "Certainly there is no difference from the point of view of morality or the means employed and so on and so forth. And this is Israel's position certainly under the present government. But we do not want to create any difficulty for the United States, even if it is virtual difficulty, even if it is just a subterfuge on the part of these so-called moderate Arab states. We will not put up any difficulty or obstacle on the way to creating this coalition."

Meanwhile, Mr. Arafat has told a meeting of factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) he is serious about observing a ceasefire.

He pledged to arrest violators of the truce and has also threatened Palestinian police commanders with dismissal, if they fail to halt attacks against Israelis.

Despite such assurances, the Israeli cabinet has left open a decision on when its foreign minister, Shimon Peres should meet with Mr. Arafat.

U.S. government officials have urged both sides to allow the meeting to go ahead, but Israel has demanded 48 hours of quiet before any talks can be held.