FULL COMPLIANCE

The PA gets more of Eretz Israel. Israel gets the same old Palestinian promises

The weeks after the October 23 signing of the Wye River Memorandum saw the Israelis and Palestinian Authority face up to a range of commitments, meant to move the long-stalled Oslo process along.

Each side quickly accused the other of violating its obligations, as laid out in the US-brokered agreement, while both claimed themselves to be complying.

In some cases, differences arose over the two sides' interpretation of the agreement. In particular, the question of the amendment of the Palestinian charter generated much debate. Israel understood the memorandum to stipulate that the full Palestine National Council convene to cancel legally the articles in the charter calling for Israel's destruction (as demanded by the charter itself). But the PA saw it differently, and a number of senior officials proclaimed publicly that PNC and PLO members would gather "only to listen to President Bill Clinton" who will address the planned December gathering (see page six for more on the charter).

PM Binyamin Netanyahu on several occasions suspended movement on implementing Wye, each time citing a specific PA commitment he said had yet to be honoured: assurances on the legal amendment of the charter; providing a document detailing its intended plan to combat violence; the arrest of 30 named suspected terrorists, 12 of whom Israel said were serving members of the PA police; and the commitment to end incitement (flouted by Arafat himself in a speech threatening violence if the Palestinians did not get their own way in negotiations over Jerusalem).

When the cabinet finally did approve the agreement, ministers agreed that they would need to meet and ratify each step of the process, and that each move would be contingent on PA compliance up to that point. In mid-November, by a narrow margin, the cabinet approved the hand-over of another 500 square kilometres of Samaria.

The PA accused Netanyahu of using any pretext he could find to hold up the agreement, although the prime minister had made it clear from the start that, this time, he would insist on full reciprocity: One PA step, followed by an Israeli step, and so on.

Media coverage of the diplomatic and verbal battle over Wye compliance leaned heavily in favour of the PA. Netanyahu was repeatedly accused in news reports of bringing up "new" issues.

Widely overlooked in the media was the fact that the Wye agreement does not supercede, but rather incorporates and extends prior agreements. The demands Netanyahu made of the PA were simply that it honour its commitments made years earlier--in the Oslo Accords, and again in the Hebron Protocol.

Even-handedness, US-style

The stance of the Americans, cast in the role of Wye "referee", was closely watched.

Writing in the Boston Globe on Oct 29, Jeff Jacoby predicted problems resulting from Israel's agreement to allow the US to be the sole judge of Palestinian compliance:

"The administration that couldn't stand up to Saddam Hussein, that had no idea India was about to go nuclear, that was stunned when North Korea launched a missile over Japan, and that has lurched from empty threat to empty threat in Kosovo is now going to crack down on Arafat's violations?" he asked.

Concern among Oslo opponents did not relate only to perceptions that America's foreign policy has been muddled in recent years. An even greater fear was that the US would demonstrate a pro-PA bias. So desperate was the White House for a diplomatic success, the thinking went, that US officials would bend over backwards to ensure the world believed that Wye was working, and working well.

The concerns seemed well-founded. The State Department was quick to announce that the PA was indeed keeping its side of the deal, as each Israeli protest to the contrary was received.

Eventually, only after some determined Israeli urging, did the US scold Arafat for telling his followers "our guns are ready" if anyone tried to block Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. But Washington demonstrated a serious disregard for fair play by simultaneously criticising Netanyahu's decision to hold back Wye implementation temporarily because of the remarks--thus equating the blatant violation (Arafat's incitement) with the justifiable response (suspension of implementation until Arafat retracted).

The US also criticised Israel's decision to move ahead with the Har Homa housing project in Jerusalem; the expansion of the Jewish community of Kiryat Arba near Hebron; and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon's urging of Israelis to seize control of empty hilltops in Judea-Samaria to ensure continued Jewish control.

Like previous agreements, Wye had the two sides agree to refrain from any step that would change the status of the disputed territories. But while Israel interpreted this as covering the Palestinians' oft-repeated plan to declare an independent state next May, the PA and US saw it as referring to Jewish settlement building. Israel's position continues to be that the natural growth of existing settlements does not affect the status of Judea-Samaria, and is an acceptable--even desirable--phenomenon.

America's stance did not go unnoticed in Jerusalem. A source in Netanyahu's office said on November 13: "It does not seem right that the Americans would condemn our building at Har Homa--which we maintain is not even related to the Wye accord--and then remain silent in the face of Arafat's clear violations of the agreement."


A NICELY BALANCED ACCORD?

As of the end of November, Israel had delivered tangible assets to the PA: 500 square kilometres of land, 250 prisoners and an important symbol of sovereignty--an international airport. Just look what Israel got from the PA in return:


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