In Arafat's Place 

A partisan of the Palestinians makes a special pleading.

For the international peace observers, myself among them, currently holed up within Arafat's presidential compound, it is not Israeli but U.S. actions that have us guessing.

Inside the pockmarked building surrounded by tanks and snipers, there is one question on everyone's mind: Is Secretary of State Colin Powell bringing with him the real or the fake list of demands for an Israeli withdrawal? If it's the fake list, which asks only for a pullback from areas recently occupied by Israel, then we might as well sit tight.

But if Powell is bringing the real list, requiring a withdrawal to the U.N.-recognized 1967 borders, then we might actually be going somewhere toward peace.

For the time being, no one here is moving. We are pinned down by the violations of international law that seem to be hitting us from all sides. The settlements, on the other hand, are moving fast -- 34 new ones have been constructed in this year alone.

Maybe Powell will freeze and dismantle those and unfreeze the food shipments that Israel keeps blocking from the Palestinian territories. He can also instruct Israel to turn the water back on without which the lives of 120,000 residents of the Palestinian city of Ramallah are currently in danger.

Powell may also want to look into the growing reports of Israeli troops raiding hospitals and firing on ambulances and journalists. These are grave breaches of international convention.

The recent experience of Boston Globe Middle East correspondent Anthony Shadid is hardly uncommon. First, he was shot while in a zone under full Israeli control. The area was quiet and there was no crossfire in which to be caught. Shadid was wearing the required signs on his back and front indicating that he was with the official press as he walked away from an interview in our building.

Soon after Shadid arrived at the hospital, Israeli troops raided it with machine guns drawn. He was subsequently transferred for further medical treatment, and his ambulance came under fire by Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint.

If he chooses, Powell has a chance to put some value back in the Fourth Geneva Convention, the founding legal document of international human-rights law. Right now, that document is worth barely more than the Argentinian peso.

Those of us inside the presidential compound need help desperately. But not half as much as those on the outside who are facing the full brunt of the mass roundups and house-to-house raids. The situation cannot deteriorate much further. Medical supplies have run out. Food is scarce.

Nothing short of a U.S. demand for a full withdrawal to the 1967 U.N.-recognized borders will succeed in restoring calm and opening the way for peace negotiations. Only then can there be discussion of the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees. The U.S. is uniquely positioned to exert the necessary pressure, since it sends over a billion dollars of arms and aid to Israel yearly.

It is not just the Palestinians and foreigners within the compound or the majority of the international community who have been calling for a full withdrawal. Even sectors within the Israeli military have put forward this option as the only chance for peace and security forthe Israeli people. In a formal "Letter of Refusal" to Sharon, several hundred Israeli soldiers, most with combat experience, advocated a full withdrawal and have stated their unwillingness to serve in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

But Sharon does not want to listen. hopefully, Colin Powell will. In the meantime, we in the compound are left biding our time and guessing at their plans.

Neta Golan, an Israeli citizen, is among the 40 international observers occupying Arafat's besieged office. This commentary was co-written with Ian Urbina, an associate editor of the Washington-based advocacy journal Middle East Report.



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