Yasir Arafat has turned into an old softie:

The Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, acted overnight to put some 20 militants under detention at his battered West Bank compound, as part of a potential deal with Israel. But the detainees, though loyal to Mr. Arafat, refused today to be sent to jail, creating a standoff, Palestinians said.

Kamel Ghanem, one of those being held, said the detainees were caught up in a dispute between Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

“We are being detained right now, but we are refusing to go to jail,” Mr. Ghanem, a leader of the militant Aksa Martyrs Brigades, said in an interview on a mobile phone.

The strange episode appeared to reflect divisions among the Palestinian leadership over how to handle negotiations with Israel. Mr. Abbas and members of his cabinet are the ones meeting with the Israelis, who have shunned Mr. Arafat. However, Mr. Arafat has insisted that he have the final say on any negotiations.

Some Palestinians offered an alternative explanation. They said that there were no divisions but that Mr. Arafat was handling this difficult action because the militants were more likely to heed him than Mr. Abbas, who is weak politically.

If people you arrest get to pick whether to go to jail, I’d hate to see someone who is weak.

(Hat tip: Brad DeLong)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.