Israel Report

August 2001         



Back to Oslo, Not Camp David

By Yosef Goell - August 6, 2001
We have to admit that no matter how many casualties we cause the Israelis, we will not be able to win the war against them," the official Palestinian Authority news agency, WAFA, said in an editorial at the end of last week.

"Only by political means shall we be able to achieve our goals, by the use of rocks to fight the Israelis, on the roadblocks and in the settlements, not inside Israel and not using firearms."

There should be no mistake: this trial balloon does not automatically presage an immediate end to the 10-month-old Palestinian return to massive anti-Israel violence. But coupled with other statements in recent days by some Palestinian leaders, it may well mark the hesitant return of parts of that leadership to some form of sanity and the ushering in of a new, diplomatic, phase in the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.

The WAFA editorial and the other Palestinian trial balloons are not the result of a sudden eruption of pacific sentiments among the PA leadership and a readiness to arrive at a mutual understanding with Israel. In all likelihood, the motive is more a frantic reaction to the success of the latest Israeli tactic of responding to the Palestinian mortar shellings, suicide bombers and indiscriminate shooting of Israeli civilians, with the pinpoint targeting of Palestinian terrorist leaders.

The shooting is not yet over, but Palestinian leaders are beginning to run scared. Israeli pressure, of the sort that clearly works, should not be lifted prematurely. I would assume that a real change will occur only after at least one or two Palestinian leaders - one rung higher in the hierarchy than the ones recently dispatched - will be successfully targeted to join their murderous underlings, to drive home the lesson of the unavoidable price of continued Palestinian violence.

The murderous genie let out of the bottle last September at Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's command will not be put back into that bottle so easily. Even if Arafat does give the order - which is far from certain - it will take some time, and in all likelihood the shedding of a sizable dose of Palestinian blood in internecine confrontations to return to the situation prior to last September.

In preparing for that new phase, it is essential that Israel emphasize that it is not returning to where it left off at last July's Camp David summit, at which Arafat rejected prime minister Ehud Barak's munificent but irresponsible offers, but to "square one," which means a renegotiation of the original Oslo Accords.

Even after the trauma of the past 10 months, the bulk of Israeli public opinion, which now believes that those agreements were misconceived, remains committed to some form of agreement with the Palestinians for a division of the country and an end to the Israeli occupation forced upon us by the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian aggression of June 1967.

The Oslo Accords were based, on the Israeli side, on the suspension of three decades of profound distrust of Arafat and his henchmen in the belief that, in their own self-interest, they would be willing and able to guarantee the personal and collective security from Palestinian and Arab belligerence that Israelis demanded as a quid pro quo for territorial compromise. It is in that sense that the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke of Oslo as a calculated risk, although he then went on to ignore his own justified suspicions.

The main effect of the Palestinian violence of the past 10 months has been to shatter that thin patina of trust in the intentions of the Palestinian leadership and populace. That in itself, however, should not preclude a readiness to return to negotiations, with the essential precondition that we are fully aware that we are negotiating with an enemy, not with a committed partner for peace.

Preparations for such a resumption of negotiations must be laid now in the main arena which will determine their outcome: American public opinion and political opinion. No effort should be spared in mobilizing the best minds and tongues in Israel to blacken Arafat's and the Palestinians' images in that and other world arenas. We must press home the message that a peace-loving, but non-suicidal Israel, is prepared to negotiate a deal with an enemy that has not changed its basic hostility to Israel's very existence, both for our own self-interest and out of consideration for America's interest in a stable Middle East.

In recent months there has been a debate between the Sharon and Peres camps in the cabinet as to whether Israel should launch such a hasbara campaign to delegitimize Arafat. We must learn to be sufficiently flexible to persevere in undermining Arafat's standing at the same time that we are negotiating with him.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post


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