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PERSPECTIVE: FOUR MORE YEARS ...

THE APPOINTMENT OF Madeleine Albright as US Secretary of State is said to signify that Bill Clinton sees no reason to alter his Middle East policy, and that Washington's approach to the "peace process" will continue along the path it has followed since 1992.

Only the naive or uninformed would believe this to be good news for Israel. America has certainly seen much fruit from the political investment it poured into this region over these past four years. But exactly what has happened along the Warren Christopher-paved road travelled by Arabs and Jews needs to be assessed.

To those who see in the Oslo Accords the dawning of a new world order, America's "guidance" of the process succeeded in breaking down decades-old taboos and cracking the walls of implacable Arab-Israeli hatred. Israel was led to recognise the PLO, and the PLO agreed in writing to renounce violence. Peace treaties and accords were signed under the smiling gaze of the US leader. Hundreds of Arab prisoners were set free. An Arab police force was trained and armed to ensure the peaceful transition of power. Large areas of land were handed over. The Palestinian Arabs voted for their president and signs of doves and olive branches were everywhere to be seen, as numerous states established diplomatic ties with Israel.

Today the Palestinian flag flies over scores of towns and villages from Jenin to Jericho to Gaza. The PLO's new parliament sits just outside Jerusalem. President Yasser Arafat flies in and out of the capitals of the world as a head of state, and Nobel peace prizes awarded by an approving international community glitter on the shelves behind Jewish and Arab leaders.

But there is another side, a side which has less to do with signing ceremonies, photo opportunities, and the distribution of gold medallions on global TV, than with the lives and the continuing safe existence of the Jewish people.

To those who see in the "peace process" a concerted worldwide effort to strip the Jews of their national identity and God-given heritage, these four years have seen the land under Israeli control shrink rapidly, and along with it Israel's security.

US support for the land-for-peace formula has fed Arab anticipation of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and of the imminent establishment of a Palestinian state with half of Jerusalem as its capital.

While Israel upheld its agreement to recognise and deal with the PLO, Arafat and his lieutenants fuelled the fires of conflict, threating violence when and where Israel would not agree to their demands, and publicly praising the Arabs who murdered Jews - before and after the accords were signed. (Imagine the world's reaction if, shortly after Arafat lauded the "martyr" Yihye Ayyash for killing tens of Jews in his "glorious battle for Palestine", a Jewish leader had praised Baruch Goldstein for killing tens of Arabs in Hebron in his "desperate desire to defend Israel".)

The "free and fair" Palestinian elections were anything but. Observers turned their heads as Arafat's intimidation and autocratic decrees ensured his "democratic" win.

The "peace process" has cost the Israeli people an enormous amount. As Israel was prodded and deceived into making concession after concession, a wedge was driven between those who regarded democracy as more important than their Jewish faith, and those who placed their belief in God and the Bible above all else. These "years of peace" saw more Israelis die at the hands of Arabs than in any similar period since 1948, and an environment was created in which an Israeli prime minister could be murdered by a Jew.

As 1997 begins, many are hoping Clinton will have as much "success" in the Middle East during his second term of office as he did during his first. Many others are praying that not only will the process not proceed even one more step, but that it will actually be turned back.

For if the second Clinton administration manages to cover as much ground as the first one did, then by the time the US president and his new secretary of state leave office, Israel, too, could be no more.

Stan Goodenough

Back to Middle East Digest - January 1997
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