A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto
15 Elul 5760
September 15, 2000
Issue number 290
Friday September 22 9:45pm
Katzele of Bet El will speak at an Oneg Shabbat at BAYT.
Another Summit Appears off the Agenda
The United States has quietly shelved the prospect of another summit between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli and U.S. officials said President Bill Clinton reached this conclusion after separate meetings last week with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The officials said Clinton found that neither Middle East leader had budged in his position since the Camp David summit in July. "The meetings were a disaster," a U.S. diplomatic source said. "Both sides were entrenched in their positions and there seems to be no point to move on." The source said Clinton even scrapped a plan to bring Arafat and Barak together for a meeting in New York last week during the United Nations millennium celebrations. Clinton, the source said, saw no point to such a three-way session given the gap in Israeli and Palestinian positions. "At this point, it seems that there won't be anything significant for the remainder of the Clinton administration," the source said. "Let's just say that the president is deeply disappointed." Israeli officials said Clinton was dismayed that Arafat refused to consider any compromise on the Temple Mount. The officials quoted Clinton as saying that he told Arafat that Israel cannot concede on sovereignty over the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. "After the last meeting between Arafat and Clinton, and after we heard the answers Clinton got from Arafat, I'm much less optimistic," Barak's chief aide, Danny Yatom, said.
Arab diplomatic sources said at one point Arafat left a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York. The sources said Ms. Albright kept referring to the Al Aksa as the Temple Mount, the name used by Israel. At first, Arafat interrupted Ms. Albright and said the proper name is the "Al Aqsa mosque." When the U.S. secretary repeated the term "Temple Mount," Arafat left the session. In the end, Clinton was called to reconcile Arafat and Ms. Albright. Barak returned from New York on late Monday. Arafat flew to Egypt on Monday night and held a two-hour discussion with President Hosni Mubarak. U.S. officials said Clinton was upset at Arafat. But they said the president also appeared to have expected more from Barak. They said Barak appeared eager to portray Arafat as intransigent rather than seek to maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian leader. On Tuesday, the Israeli Haaretz daily reported that Barak is now willing to consider proposals to internationalize the Temple Mount. Later, Barak's office denied the report. Western diplomatic sources said the failure of Clinton's meetings will probably delay plans by the president to announce a strategic upgrade of relations between Washington and Jerusalem. The upgrade was to include additional U.S. defense funding and technology sharing. PA minister and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat said that so far there are no new initiatives to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians. But he remained optimistic that an agreement can be achieved during the next four weeks of talks.
"We hope that we can conclude an agreement this year and with that we can have our own state by agreement," Erekat said. "The key to peace is Jerusalem; the key to peace is the capital of the two states; the key to peace is the open city concept." (Middle East Newsline Sep 12)
P.A. Threatens Jerusalem Arabs
The Palestinian Authority is resorting to threats against the Arabs of Jerusalem. Feisal Husseini, the PA's man in Jerusalem, told the Al Ayam newspaper that the PA will confiscate the property of whoever requests Israeli citizenship. "He will lose his place among the Palestinian people," Husseini said. "The days of the Israeli conquest in eastern Jerusalem are numbered." Zohair Chamdan, a civic leader in the Jerusalem village Tzur Baher, has been circulating a petition in his village calling for a referendum to decide whether it will come under Palestinian control or remain Israeli. "The PA must know that we live in a democracy, and the majority will decide where we want to live in the future," Chamdan told Arutz-7 day. (arutzsheva.org Sep 3)
Israeli-Arab Cells Uncovered
The General Security Service has uncovered two major Israeli-Arab cells planning violence against Israeli targets. Some 45 Israeli-Arabs were arrested, most of them from the city of Um el-Fahm, in what is known as the Triangle, between Hadera and Afula. Northern Police Chief Alik Ron said that this was the biggest Israeli-Arab cell uncovered in over ten years, and that it has ties with the Islamic Movement. The group had targeted Palestinians "collaborators" with Israel. Some of the cell members are accused of setting fire to the barber-shop of a suspected collaborator, trained with home-made weapons, and posted hundreds of posters threatening to murder collaborators if they do not reveal themselves within a month. Yediot Acharonot Arab-affairs commentator Roni Shaked wrote Wednesday, "The organizing [into cells] of dozens of people planning to harm national security is no longer 'wild weeds...' It is most definitely a worrisome phenomenon. Again these are Islamic Movement members and again in Um el-Fahm... It is doubly worrisome because this was not a Hamas or Islamic Jihad initiative, but rather a home-grown initiative from among Israeli-Arabs."
In a related story, the police will investigate Arab MK Muhammad Barakeh for "incitement against the State and policemen in front of large crowds." Barakeh said in response that Ron is an "anti-Arab racist," but Ron was backed by Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk, who called him an "excellent officer, who is not a racist against Arabs." Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein gave his approval this afternoon for the opening of the police investigation against Barakeh. This past May, hundreds of Israeli-Arabs rioted and clashed violently with police in the northern city of Shfar'am, and in other places, waving PLO flags and throwing stones. Shfar'am Mayor Orsan Yassin told Arutz-7 at the time, "We here in Shfar'am are really moderates; the rioters were mostly students brought here by MKs Mohammed Barakeh and Issam Mahoul." Speaking at a rally in the PA city of Kalkilye last November, Barakeh said that Israel is attempting to carry out "ethnic cleansing like Nazi Germany," and that killings are the "truth of the truth of the Zionist idea." (arutzsheva.org Sep 13)
With the dimming of the lights on the Palestinian-negotiations stage, attention now turns to the domestic political front. The Likud now admits that it cannot find the 61st Knesset vote to topple the government; David and Maxim Levy apparently refuse to support a no-confidence motion sponsored by their former party, the Likud. On the other hand, the opposition feels it can garner support for the dissolution of the Knesset and for new elections. Likud Knesset faction head Ruby Rivlin expressed confidence Tuesday: "The government has until Jan. 1 to pass a budget, but it will not be able to do so, because Barak has no majority in the Knesset. The previous year's budget is then allowed to run for three months, but if by Mar. 31, Barak still does not have a budget, this automatically means new elections." Barak sees the situation a bit differently. Admitting that he has no Knesset majority for his concessions to the Palestinians, he now plans to try to form a minority, secular government. It would contain 50 MKs - One Israel (24), Meretz (10), Shinui (6), Center (6), and two smaller parties - and rely on the outside support of the 10 Arab MKs. He may not enjoy as wide left-wing support as he presumes, however, as leading left-wing politicians have recently publicly criticized what they perceive as his contradictory policies on religious-secular issues. MK Ran Cohen (Meretz), for instance, said Tuesday that "Barak promises a civil revolution on the one hand, but enacts the Tal Committee recommendations [allowing military exemptions for yeshiva students] on the other. What is this?!" His party colleague MK Zahava Gal'on said that Meretz would have to consider carefully whether to support Barak's "policy of zigzags." Labor party officials are concerned on another front, as well: Internal polls show that if elections were held today, the party would receive only 20 Knesset seats. Labor, in its current format of One Israel, won 26 seats in last year's election; it won 34 seats in the 1996 election, and between 39 and 47 seats in the previous four elections. Meretz and Shinui stand to gain the most from the drop in support for Labor.
Danny Naveh explained to Arutz-7 Sunday why his party will not join a national unity government: "Barak had a chance a year and a half ago, when he took office, and again before the Camp David summit, to base his leadership on a broad national consensus, but he preferred not to do so. He has failed in everything he has done, and every week he comes up with something new that entangles the country even deeper... At a time like this, when most of the nation has no trust in him, the only alternative is not to join with him in national unity, but to replace him in new elections." Naveh said, "We are very fearful of the type of agreement Barak is still planning to bring, based on the concessions that he is offering. All of us of course want peace, but it is still quite likely that the Barak's agreement with the Palestinians will not bring peace, but will rather lead only to a weaker Israel, without half of Jerusalem, most of Yesha, the Jordan Valley, and more." (arutzsheva.org Sep 11,13)
CNN and the Temple Mount
Does CNN have a hidden agenda - or is there another explanation for the absence of the words "Temple Mount" when referring to the location of the Holy Temple? In its latest articles on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, CNN.com has described the Jewish People's holiest site as "a site in East Jerusalem sacred to Moslems and Jews" and "a sensitive mosque compound in Jerusalem's walled Old City." Both stories mentioned the Moslem name of the site - al Haram al-Sharif - but "Temple Mount" appeared nowhere. The last mention of the Temple Mount that is currently accessible on a CNN news story is from Sept. 8: "Sites sacred to the world's religions are located in the Old City of Jerusalem, including the area called Temple Mount by the Israelis and al Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, by Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs." During last week's United Nations Millennium Conference, Prime Minister Barak said, "When young Jesus walked in Jerusalem, he did not see any mosques or churches - he saw only the Jewish Holy Temple." (arutzsheva.org Sep 13)
A new wave of construction has taken over Yesha - at least according to Peace Now. Basing himself on Housing Ministry statistics, Peace Now leader and Meretz MK Mosi Raz claims that more homes have been built in Judea and Samaria during the 16 months of the Barak government than during the last two years of the Netanyahu government. The first half of the year 2000 registered 1,067 building starts, as opposed to 545 during the same period last year, Raz claimed. Yesha Council officials dispute the figures and their significance. The Council notes that most of the new construction is taking place in areas that will remain under Israeli sovereignty if an agreement with the Palestinians is signed. Efrat Mayor Eitan Golan told Arutz-7, "Not only is it a bit early to rejoice - there is no joy at all. The statistics take into account all sorts of requests for building permits, but the facts on the ground are that during this year there have been only 60 building starts in Efrat, while last year there were 160. We have hundreds of outstanding requests for new building that have not been answered." (A7 Sep 12)
Happy 20th to Kokhav Hashachar
The Binyamin-region town of Kokhav HaShachar celebrated its 20th birthday Monday with the donation of a new Torah Scroll. Prof. Binyamin and Miriam Gross, parents and grandparents of Kokhav HaShachar residents, made the gift in honor of the occasion and their own 50th wedding anniversary. Resident Yehoshua Friedman, reviewing the town's history for Root and Branch Association, writes that the site of Kokhav - northeast of Jerusalem, overlooking the Jordan Valley, Jericho, and the east bank of the Jordan River - began as a military Nachal outpost in 1975. The area was considered of strategic value because of its history of Israeli pursuit of PLO terrorists in the years following the Six Day War. Originally slated as a Kibbutz of the United Kibbutz Movement, the would-be settlers soon lost interest in permanently settling in the "occupied territories," and a religiously-observant group from Gush Emunim's Amanah settlement movement ended up being the one to establish Kokhav HaShachar as a civilian settlement. In September 1980, nine families moved into temporary quarters in difficult conditions, with generator-supplied electricity, no paved road, no bus service, no connection to main water pipes, and with the closest grocery store 17 kilometers away in Ofrah. Today, Kokhav HaShachar boasts close to 200 families. (arutzsheva.org Sep 12)
American Victims Demand Extradition to U.S.
Forty-four American victims of Palestinian Arab violence have called upon U.S. President Clinton to demand the extradition of terrorist Abu-Honod to the United States, in light of what they called the "lenient sentence" given him by a PA court. Abu-Honod, who is responsible for the deaths of three American citizens, 19 Israelis, and the wounding of many others, recently gave himself up to the PA after being wounded in a shootout with Israeli soldiers. He was sentenced there to 12 years in prison - not for murder, but for "harming Palestinian interests." The victims' statement said they were "outraged" by the sentence, and that the terrorist should have been charged with mass murder. Given PA policies, they wrote, "there is reason to doubt that Abu-Honod will remain in prison even for the period of his sentence." Abu-Honod was responsible for the murder of David Boim outside Beit El in 1996, the Machane Yehuda marketplace and the Ben Yehuda street bombings in July and August 1997. (arutzsheva.org Sep 12)
The left-wing religious Zionist organization Meimad - which joined Ehud Barak's One Israel before last year's elections - received a "hehksher" (certificate of kashrut) from Labor MK Ophir Pines today. He said Monday that all the planned changes in the religious-secular status quo in the country must be coordinated with the Meimad movement. "Meimad represents the progressive and moderate stream in the religious-Zionist public," Pines said, "and the limits to which we advance in this area must be the limits of consensus with Meimad. Otherwise, we will not be able to translate the beautiful words into reality." Yesterday, Meimad representatives threatened to quit the government because of Barak's planned changes in the religious status quo. Meeting with American-Jewish leaders in New York yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Barak backtracked a bit on his pledge to bring about major changes in the religious status quo. "We will not force [this program] on anyone - we will achieve it via dialogue," he said, and noted that he had no intention of offending the religious public. The Prime Minister said, however, that he would like to solve the problems of "a million Russian immigrants, most of whom do not own a car, but who would like to travel to the beach or elsewhere on the Sabbath." He also mentioned the problems of religious marriages and El Al no-Sabbath flights. (arutzsheva.org Sep 11)
Arabs Hear Sneh
A cement block was hurled by Arab residents of Hevron Sunday afternoon at the car of a Jewish woman, while she was driving in the center of the city. She was not hurt, but Hevron Jewish leaders charge that remarks such as those made earlier Sunday by Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh lend legitimacy to Arab violence against Jews, and called on him to resign. Sneh, visiting Hevron, said that he does not wish to generalize, but "that some of Hevron's Jews are responsible for the increased tensions here." Jewish Community leader Noam Arnon refused to meet with Sneh afterwards, explaining, "There is no reason to meet a man who spouts lies about Hevron's Jewish Community [even] while standing in front of our homes. He seems to have his facts mixed up. This summer, Hevron resident were attacked time and time again. Our women were molested, both physically and verbally. Marbles and other objects were shot at us by Arabs using slingshots. It is our legitimate right to defend ourselves, and to publicly protest this serious deterioration of security..." (arutzsheva.org Sep 11)
Palestinians Threaten - And Teach - Violence
"If the thieving Israelis continue holding on to our lands, another intifada awaits them - and worse things as well," said PA secretary Abed El-Rahman today in a symposium in Gaza. Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reports that the atmosphere in the Palestinian media hints of imminent war. Incitement to violence and hatred against Israel and Israelis is becoming increasingly common, and IDF soldiers are portrayed as murderers and rapists. Israel continues to appear on children's television shows only as "Greater Palestine" - a woman announcer points to a map featuring cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, and Tiberias, and says, "Look how beautiful is our land of Palestine" - and settlers are termed "dogs." Old clips encouraging street uprisings have been rebroadcast. PMW also reports that Arab Knesset Member Abdel Malek Dahamshe appeared on PA television several days ago to say that between the Israelis and Palestinians now reigns a "cease-fire agreement," and not "peace." (arutzsheva.org Sep 7)
Rehovot City Council Overruled
Correspondent Jonathan Rosenblum reports in The Jerusalem Post on what seems to be a case of anti-hareidi sentiment gone wild in the court system. Last week, Supreme Court Justices Dalia Dorner, Dorit Beinish, and Tova Strasberg-Cohen ruled that that the allocation by the city of Rehovot of a plot of land to the Lev L'Achim Jewish outreach organization was "unreasonable." This, despite the fact that the allocation was approved by the Rehovot city council's allocations committee, the Interior Ministry, and subsequently ratified - twice! - by the full city council. Classes and lectures sponsored by Lev L'Achim draw over 1,000 people every week in the mixed secular/religious town of Rehovot and environs. "Soon after construction began on the outreach center in early 1999," reports Rosenblum, "[former Meretz member] Ornan Yekutieli and [MK] Yossi Paritzky of Shinui began to organize neighborhood residents against the project. Residents were falsely told that the building would be a shelter for Jewish girls married to Arab men, and would thus bring Arabs and drugs into the neighborhood. When the municipality refused a request by some residents... to halt construction on the outreach center, a group of 18 neighborhood residents, joined by Am Hofshi and the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center, petitioned the High Court of Justice." The ball was then passed back and forth as follows: The Court demanded Interior Ministry approval; this was received. The Court then demanded that the Rehovot city council "reconsider its decision;" the council voted 11-3 to approve it. The Court then demanded an absolute majority of the full city council; the council obliged by voting 17-3 in favor of the project. The Court, faced with this dead end, took the obvious course: It ordered a stop to all construction on the center, and, Rosenblum reports, fined the city of Rehovot 25,000 shekels in court costs "for not getting the hint: No land for religious community centers. Other municipalities considering allocating land to religious institutions will not miss the point." (A7 Sep 7)
Secular Revolution in the Radio
After more than 60 years, Voice of Israel Radio has canceled its daily Torah-chapter broadcasts. HaTzofeh's Chani Luz reports that Prime Minister Barak's "secular revolution" has apparently already begun at the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as other Jewish programming has been canceled as well: the Friday afternoon "Kabbalat Shabbat" program, which has been broadcast for over 60 consecutive years, and the traditional Selichot [Penitential] prayers during the months of Elul prior to the High Holidays. Although contacted for a response several times over the past few days, the IBA spokesman has refused to comment on the matter. (arutzsheva.org Sep 7)
Yesha Youth Remain in Yesha
The tradition is being successfully passed on in Yesha. An in-depth study of children who grew up in Binyamin and Samaria (Shomron), carried out by researchers in the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, shows that 67.2% of children who grew up in Shomron and Binyamin continue to live in Yesha or the Golan. An even higher figure - 71.5% - say that regardless of where they live now, they have decided that they want to live in the Shomron in the future; only 6.5% do not want to live there, and the rest are undecided. The top reasons cited by those wishing to live in the area were "to strengthen the settlement enterprise," and "quality education for the children." On the other hand, the least significant reasons for those who do not want to stay included "fear of a drop in property value" and "security concerns." According to researcher Dr. Miriam Billig, "This proves that despite the region's uncertain political future, the percentage of those who are drawn to this area is higher than we anticipated." (A7 Sep 6)
Older Brother Saves Family
Almost-15-year-old Yitzchak Dadon saved eight lives Monday - those of his own brothers and sisters. His father, Rafael Dadon of Bnei Brak, told Arutz-7 what happened: "At around 2:45 in the afternoon - I was not home, and my wife was hospitalized [unconnected to these events] - the kids were doing their homework, when suddenly they smelled fire. Yitzchak then saw that in one of the rooms, a fire had started, and was burning pretty wildly. He didn't lose his wits, but began taking each of the children outside one by one. The older ones were able to go by themselves, but the littler ones he carried out; first one, then he went back up [to the 2nd-floor apartment] to get the next one, and so on, until they were all out. He later tried to put out the fire, but could not succeed." When asked to explain how his son was able to act so heroically, he said, "Thank G-d, he grew up in a house of Torah, and we are used to taking things stoically and with faith... On the other hand, he is still young, and in fact later last night, he broke down and cried..." Nothing remained of the house, and the family is currently living with friends and relatives. "We are left with all our children, thank G-d, but with none of our property." He explained that he was not in a financial position to insure his home. (arutzsheva.org Sep 12)
"I don't feel we have to [remove any settlements in Judea and Samaria]. Removing the settlements on the Golan is essential and I accept it. However, what is important is the issue of sovereignty. Once a Palestinian state is established on most of the land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, some settlements will stay under Palestinian sovereignty and the settlers will say: We want to stay under Palestinian sovereignty. So why should we-the Jews and the Arabs- tell them: You are banned from continuing to live there? The area of all the settlements totals 1.5 percent. So what would happen if these settlements stayed under Palestinian sovereignty, of course, if the settlers agreed to be subject to the Palestinian law, assuming that we do not want to get to the point of a real confrontation with the settlers. I believe that the population of all settlements, which will stay under Palestinian sovereignty in the context of the permanent solution, will move to live under Israeli sovereignty. Anyone who wants to accept Palestinian sovereignty and live under it can stay."
- Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, in an interview with the Arab newspaper Kull al-Arab in his office in Jerusalem on September 5, in response to the question "Concerning the issue of settlements in the occupied territories, are you for removing these settlements?"
Go Ahead: Let Arafat Declare His State By Douglas Feith
Imagine that Yasir Arafat does the dread deed and unilaterally declares Palestine's independence on September 13. Israeli and American officials say it would be a catastrophe. Why? Not because the Palestinians would have their own state. Such a state may lead to disaster, but Israeli and U.S. officials assumed that risk in 1993, when the Oslo process began. No, the catastrophe would be that the declaration was unilateral, rather than part of a peace agreement in which Arafat formally proclaimed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over.
But why is such an agreement so important? For seven years now, Israel has again and again transferred land and authority to the Palestinians and has received in return Arafat's promises to make peace, disarm terrorist groups, renounce threats of violence, cease anti-Israel propaganda, and the like. And again and again the Palestinian Authority chairman has violated those promises. To believe that Arafat would fulfill his next promise--the promise of a "final settlement"--is an ideological exercise grounded in neither history nor reason.
In fact, it misconstrues not only the Palestinians' understanding of Oslo but also Israel's. The Israeli leaders who launched and sustained Oslo understood that peace would be, at best, a by-product of the negotiations. For them, Oslo's paramount purpose was "ending the occupation"--allowing Israel to relinquish control of the populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They hoped for peace, but they didn't require it. They wanted out, whether or not the Palestine Liberation Organization transformed itself into a neighborly government that upheld its commitments. Israeli officials had political reasons for calling their policy of unilateral withdrawal a "peace process," but maintaining that fiction has been costly, and now, after the failure at Camp David, its abandonment would be a sensible stride into a post-Oslo world.
Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister when the Oslo process began, didn't start out as a unilateralist, though he and his Labor Party had long favored relinquishing parts of the territories. Permanent control over millions of West Bank and Gaza Arabs, Rabin argued, would threaten Israel's status as a democratic and Jewish state. But Rabin said he would yield that control only to a responsible, non-terrorist Arab leader who would first assure Israel of peace and security in return. Labor for years imagined that leader would be King Hussein of Jordan, but by the late '80s the king had formally renounced that role. Rabin then fixed his hopes on the non-PLO Palestinian leadership participating in the so-called Madrid-process talks, which began after the 1991 Gulf war. Under no circumstances, Rabin vowed repeatedly during his 1992 election campaign, would Israel deal with a terrorist organization committed to Israel's destruction, like the PLO.
For many Israelis, weary of intifada violence and decades of Arab hostility and war, Rabin's idea that Israel could unburden itself of the territories and get paid for doing so--in the form of a lasting peace agreement with non-PLO interlocutors--was irresistible: the national security equivalent of a free lunch. The model for such a land-for-peace deal was Israel's agreement with Egypt. In November 1977, Anwar Sadat had flown to the Knesset and announced an end to war between the two countries. The parties then negotiated for more than a year and signed their treaty in March 1979. Israeli withdrawals from the Sinai desert began only then--after the Arab side had publicly, formally, comprehensively, and credibly agreed to peace.
But, contrary to Rabin's predictions, the Palestinian Madrid-process negotiators were unwilling to play the Sadat role. After Rabin's election, a year passed in unproductive talks. Exasperated and embarrassed, Rabin feared that a diplomatic deadlock would hand Likud the next election and risk Israel's permanent entrenchment in the West Bank and Gaza.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Israeli chiefly responsible for what were then still-secret and only semiofficial talks with the PLO in Oslo, filled the policy vacuum. In the summer of 1993, he persuaded Rabin to initiate Israeli withdrawals without any Palestinian renunciation of the conflict and to transfer the land to the PLO, which Rabin still viewed as a terrorist organization. Rabin and Peres's land-before-peace policy regarding Arafat inverted the sequence of the Egyptian-Israeli diplomacy. Indeed, Israel's whole point was to withdraw whether the Palestinians offered peace or not.
In late August 1993, Rabin agreed to the first Oslo accord, known as the Declaration of Principles (DOP). Israel promised to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank city of Jericho and to transfer specified "powers and responsibilities" to the Palestinians. The Palestinian side undertook to establish a governing authority, hold elections, create a police force, enact laws, and organize various official boards and banks and administrations. Absent from the DOP were any provisions requiring the Palestinians to halt the violence or end the conflict. That is, the DOP addressed land but not peace.
Nevertheless, Israeli leaders understood that they could command more domestic support if their concessions to the PLO were seen not simply as unilateral withdrawals but as necessary steps in a mutual peacemaking process. And, when they finally received the peace promises they sought from the PLO--in side letters to the accord sealed on September 13, 1993, with that famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House South Lawn--Israeli officials adjusted their story. They stopped saying DOP withdrawals would occur without regard to Palestinian peace promises and began claiming instead that Israel's concessions hinged on peace. They warned that if the Palestinian Authority failed to suppress terrorism, limit its arms, transfer terror suspects to Israel for prosecution, amend the PLO Covenant, and generally perform its obligations, Israel would not only stop the process but reverse it. Rabin thus wrapped his radical new policy in the rhetoric of a familiar old one, dressing up Oslo to look like land-for-peace.
But Arafat grasped from the start that Israel would not actually condition its withdrawals on his keeping his word. Accordingly, the Palestinian Authority has systematically violated the Oslo accords. It maintains security forces larger and more heavily equipped than permitted, and it refuses to use those forces to fulfill the PA's obligations to disarm terrorist groups and hand over suspects to Israel. In fact, the PA has not honored even one of the numerous Israeli requests for such transfers. Nor has the PA fulfilled its most basic commitment: to promote peace by refraining from anti-Israel propaganda. In schoolbooks, official maps, TV broadcasts, summer camps for teenage boys, and speech after speech by its top leaders, the PA delegitimates Israel, preaches hostility, praises anti-Israel violence, and otherwise reaffirms the "armed struggle." Arafat continually invokes the 1974 PLO strategy of dismantling Israel in stages. On several occasions, the PA has organized mass violence against Israel, and PA forces have twice fired their Israel provided weapons at Israeli soldiers, in September 1996 and again this May.
In response, Israel sometimes threatens to call off the process. But, true to the logic of unilateralism, those threats time and again prove empty. Indeed, Israeli officials have generally played down the violations lest they undermine domestic support for Oslo and disappoint the many Israelis who have invested great hopes in the peace process. On occasion, Israeli officials have even actively defended the PA from pressure--for instance, lobbying to stop pro-Israel members of Congress from tying U.S. aid to PA compliance.
Nor did Benjamin Netanyahu--Rabin and Peres's Likud successor, who made Oslo's lack of reciprocity a centerpiece of his 1996 campaign for prime minister--insist on transforming Oslo from a process of unilateral Israeli withdrawals into an authentically reciprocal arrangement. He talked frequently about PA violations and delayed Israeli withdrawals in protest, but he remained unwilling to prick the Oslo bubble--to insist, once and for all, on PA compliance. He made additional agreements (Hebron and Wye) and implemented withdrawals thereunder, despite a long list of unremedied PA violations. He could not bring himself to admit to his public that Oslo's promise of peace was mere window dressing and that Israel's only realistic ambition in the process was to redraw the lines behind which it would continue to defend itself against unregenerate antagonists.
Seven years ago, Rabin embraced Oslo to give himself freedom of action. But instead Oslo has put the Israeli government on an accelerating treadmill, requiring it to run faster and faster, making bigger and bigger concessions to the Palestinians, to preserve the appearance of cooperation with Arafat and to prevent a return to open conflict, which would be more dangerous now because the PA has 40,000-plus men under arms. Israelis once regarded peace with Arafat and the PLO with almost universal skepticism. But leaders like Rabin and Ehud Barak, former chiefs of staff reputed to be smart and tough-minded, have done much to neutralize that skepticism. In doing so, they outsmarted themselves. To win public support for withdrawals, they asserted for years that Oslo would produce peace. They used their personal credibility to persuade much of the public not only that Arafat would end the conflict but that Israel "has no alternative to peace." Thus, Israeli officials put themselves in a box, with Arafat holding the key.
At Camp David last month, Arafat showed how costly a "final settlement" agreement would be. It is hard to overstate how extraordinary the concessions Barak offered were. According to the most credible reports, they included approximately 90 percent of the West Bank, recognition of a new sovereign Palestinian state therein, the absorption into Israel of 100,000 Palestinian refugees, the abandonment of various Jewish settlements, and, most astonishingly, the division of Jerusalem, with the Palestinians to have sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods outside the Old City walls and more limited "control" over Muslim and Christian sections of the Old City--including the Temple Mount.
Yet Arafat refused the offer. Among his chief reasons was Israel's refusal to acknowledge a Palestinian "right of return"--that is, an Israeli duty to receive millions of Palestinians within the pre-1967 boundaries. Even leaders of Israel's peace camp voice amazement at the turn of events. After Camp David's failure, eminent Israeli novelist Amos Oz wrote in The New York Times that the Palestinians "insist on their `right of return,' when we all very well know that around here `right of return' is an Arab euphemism for the liquidation of Israel." The self-described "peace activist" says it is unclear, even at this late date in the peace process, whether the Palestinians want peace or want to "massacre [the Israelis] and throw them in the ocean."
Barak insists that the concessions Israel offered at Camp David are now null and void. But peace-process logic does not allow for such nullification. Before the meeting, it was conventional wisdom, even among many of Israel's opponents, that under no circumstances would the Jewish state compromise its exclusive sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem. This idea--which had become a powerful national asset--has now been negated. New Israeli-Palestinian talks will begin where Barak left off last month.
The refusal of Israeli leaders to label Oslo accurately as a process of unilateral Israeli withdrawal does not mean there are no arguments for such a policy. The lack of civil and political rights for West Bank and Gaza Arabs was a distressing moral dilemma. Ruling that large Arab population drew on Israel's financial and military resources and divided the country politically. Now that it has delivered into the PA's hands towns and villages containing nearly 100 percent of those Arabs, maybe Israel, though smaller, will be happier--less isolated in the world, with better morale and with a Jewish voting majority safe from drastic dilution.
Unilateral withdrawal, however, also has its drawbacks: it may endanger Israel militarily and force the country into a hair-trigger defense posture. An independent, revanchist "ministate" in the territories could destabilize Jordan as well as Israel; harbor terrorists; ally with rogue states such as Iran, Syria, and Iraq; and import hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to camps threateningly positioned on the border with Israel. Also, unilateral withdrawal (especially in light of Israel's retreat from Lebanon) looks like running away, which may embolden Israel's enemies, undermining deterrence and making war more likely.
But Israel has never hashed out these arguments, because for seven years its leaders have refused to acknowledge that unilateral withdrawal has been national policy. And, now that Israel has already quit so much territory, the debate would be academic.
But appreciating Oslo's unilateralism helps clarify the decisions U.S. and Israeli officials now face. Would the United States and Israel be better served by assuaging Arafat to get his signature on a "final settlement" agreement with Israel--or not? All things being equal, it would be better if the Palestinian side renounced the conflict with Israel formally and promised to keep the peace--better still if the PA were to keep that promise. But all things are not equal, for Arafat is demanding a lot for his consent to a "final settlement." So the real choice before Israel and the United States is this: Should they pay the PA--with East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, the "right of return," and billions of dollars of aid--to declare independence within the framework of yet another agreement that, history tells us, the Palestinians won't fulfill and Israel won't enforce?
Alternatively, Israel could set its borders on its own, making any additional withdrawals openly and honestly unilateral. Israelis would know that the conflict continues, but Oslo's core notion--that Israel can itself end the conflict through reasonable concessions--would be usefully discredited. Arafat would declare an independent state, and, as Israel has already given the Palestinians the key elements of statehood (population, land, self-government), it couldn't stop him. But neither Israel nor the United States would be required to recognize such a state or give it aid.
The Palestinians might someday produce a leadership willing to make peace in good faith. Until then, Israel would have to warn the new state that it will retaliate against acts--or threats--of violence. But Israel does this already, and it would have to continue to do so even if it bought Arafat's signature on a "final settlement."
To acknowledge that Oslo has failed in its declared purpose--and that its essence has from the beginning been Israeli withdrawal, not bilateral peace--is to invite charges that one opposes peace. Which is why political leaders tend not to say it. Peace, as any decent person knows, is valuable and worth paying for. But illusions of peace, like those Oslo has promoted among Israelis and Americans for the last seven years, are not valuable at all. In fact, they're worth paying to avoid.
The writer served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense and as a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council staff. (The New Republic Sep 11)