September/October 2000

No Rejoicing

(October 18) - Any cessation of violence is a virtue, but it is still too early to rejoice over the cease-fire resolutions reached at Sharm e-Sheikh yesterday. After all, the summit was a direct result of this month's clashes in the territories, evidence of a Palestinian belligerence that has many believing the peace process is moribund, if not dead. Israel must now be persuaded that the latest set of negotiations has produced a total turnaround, rather than just another set of palliative measures.

In summarizing the summit, US President Bill Clinton relied heavily on diplomatic platitudes, saying that "we must all do our part" for peace and "restoring law and order." He spoke obliquely of creating a joint committee to investigate the recent clashes and, most ambitiously, to explore their root causes. Though Clinton's mediation efforts were welcome as always, the even-handedness of his address was alarming.

Enough with equivocation: It is the Palestinians, not Israel that must now prove their desire for peace. This must be immediate and comprehensive, demonstrated by the Palestinian leadership, security apparatus, and the majority of the populace. If not, then all that was achieved at Sharm was a temporary truce.

Law and order need not be "restored" in Israel, for it was never lacking. However, it must be instituted in the Palestinian Authority, which is run with a convenient mix of autocracy and anarchy. PA Chairman Yasser Arafat still insists, for example, on disavowing attacks by Hamas and the Fatah Tanzim, when curbing these groups is well within his capacity. The Palestinian Police has also been boosted into a paramilitary force that features prominently in gunfights with the IDF but is oddly unable to control murderous mobs, such as the one that lynched two IDF reservists at a Ramallah police station last week.

The Oslo agreement limits Palestinian forces to 30,000 firearms, of which only 245 may be heavy machine guns, but the Tanzim alone is estimated to possess 70,000 firearms. The Palestinians have also illegally amassed rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weaponry. Israel and the US mistakenly turned a blind eye toward this growing arsenal so as not to disrupt the peace process, a mistake paid for in blood this month. Whatever oversight mechanism set up as a result of the Sharm summit must ensure this is rectified.

Another Oslo stipulation - that wanted terrorists be arrested and prosecuted by the PA - was rendered fatuous by Arafat's release of scores of Hamas prisoners in response the flare-up of violence with Israel. Although the PA is trying to reverse the move, some of the terrorists may still manage to make use of their impromptu furlough and carry out attacks on Israelis. Lest this sound the death knell for Arafat's authority as a responsible leader, he should similarly submit his justice system to international oversight. Given the human-rights violations and corruption rife in the PA, such intervention is much needed anyway.

But of course, the most potent Palestinian terrorism is a result of the grassroots hatred of Israel fostered by an entire infrastructure of anti-Zionist and antisemitic incitement. Given that this propaganda poisons an entire people, especially the young generation exposed to the skewed historicity of the PA schoolbooks, it is arguably the most pressing problem to address. The inclusion of an anti-incitement clause in the Sharm resolutions is encouraging, likely the direct outcome of the new press team accompanying Israel's delegation to the talks. Now this must be pursued to the full, with the air strike against the Ramallah radio and TV station following the lynchings acting as a reminder of how Israel will handle future phenomena of official mass vitriol.

So far, Arafat has been reticent about the Sharm summit achievements, and the continued clashes in the territories are discouraging. Arafat's record of breaking pledges and cease-fires also fails to inspire confidence. Saturday's Arab summit in Cairo provides an opportunity for the Arab states who say they back the peace process to make it abundantly clear to Arafat that they will not support his past behavior, which has only served to inflame the entire region.

© Jerusalem Post 2000

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