By Evelyn Gordon
June, 19 2001
- Ever since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a US-brokered cease-fire last week, the international community has been optimistically declaring that this creates a "window of opportunity" for reaching a permanent agreement. Yet the Palestinians' response to the truce to date casts serious doubt on this claim - not only because of what it says about the cease-fire's prospects, but even more for what it says about the value of any agreement they might sign in the future.
To begin with, the Palestinian Authority has been lying ceaselessly about what the cease-fire entails. Last Thursday, for instance, Palestinian Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nabil Amr declared that the PA is not really obligated to arrest terrorists involved in attacks against Israelis over the last eight months, because the US accepted the PA's reservations on this issue.
Similarly, Jibril Rajoub, the head of the PA's Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, insisted on Saturday that the collection of illegal weapons in the territories is not part of the deal. Indeed, most Palestinian spokesmen have even denied that any written agreement exists: they say the cease-fire is merely a series of verbal understandings.
Needless to say, a written document does exist, and the clauses that Amr and Rajoub deny appear explicitly in it. One states: "The PA will move immediately to apprehend, question and incarcerate terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza." Another states: "Palestinian and Israeli security officials will make a concerted effort to locate and confiscate illegal weaponsÉ in areas under their respective control."
The question, then, is what the PA gains by lying. After all, it can hardly hope to convince either Israel or the US, both of which have copies of the document.
The obvious answer is that these lies are directed toward its own people - which in turn indicates two things. First, the PA has no intention of trying to implement the parts of the document it dislikes; if it did, the Palestinians would quickly catch on to the lie. Second, the PA is unwilling to try to convince its public of the need for potentially unpopular measures. Yet these are the two most important components of any agreement: willingness to abide by its terms, and willingness to try to sell even the unpleasant aspects to the public, since no agreement can survive for long without popular support.
If the PA is unwilling to undertake these two tasks, what conceivable use could any agreement with it be?
A second troubling item is PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's explanation for why he refuses to arrest terrorists. In a letter to CIA chief George Tenet, who brokered the truce, Arafat explained that while he can arrest those who violate the cease-fire, he cannot arrest people for acts committed before the cease-fire was declared. This might seem reasonable, until one remembers that no less than five signed agreements between Israel and the PA were in effect prior to the cease-fire - Oslo, Cairo, Oslo-2, Hebron and Wye - and the PA explicitly promised to end violence against Israel in every one of them.
Thus the terrorists who acted before the cease-fire was declared were as guilty of violating an explicit PA commitment as those who have acted since.
That Arafat thinks otherwise has enormous implications: it means that as far as he is concerned, the promises he made in those other agreements had no validity. It is only his latest promise of non-violence that is valid - and that, too, will remain valid for precisely as long as he chooses, and no longer.
But if Arafat views any commitment he signs as being in effect only so long as it happens to suit him, what is the point of signing any agreement with him at all?
A final disturbing factor is the repeated statements by Palestinian leaders that they cannot persuade their people to end the violence unless they can show that it produced diplomatic gains. In other words, they must be rewarded for launching the violence - despite the fact that it violated all their signed commitments, and despite the fact that it came in response to an Israeli negotiating proposal that met 95 percent of their demands.
But if this is the Palestinian attitude toward a peace agreement - that it not only leaves them free to resume violence at any moment, but that they then deserve to be rewarded for that breach - what is the use of such an agreement?
The Palestinian response so far offers little hope that the cease-fire will last. Even more, however, it provides a grim warning as to what Israel can expect should it sign a final-status agreement - and an excellent argument for why, as long as the current Palestinian leadership is in place, Israel should refrain from signing such an agreement.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post