NOTES BUT NO HARMONY

(Op-Ed originally appeared in the 5 August edition of The Jerusalem Post)
If Dennis Ross plans to move the situation with the Palestinians along by drafting another note, he might as well stay home.

Under Oslo, Israel has been trading "land for paper." And Ross's paper is gilt-edged.

His Note For The Record in January, summarizing the Netanyahu-Arafat meeting that hammered out the Hebron agreement, states in unequivocal language that the Palestinian Authority is to act "immediately and in parallel" to revise the Palestinian Covenant, fight terror, prevent incitement, punish and extradite terrorists, confiscate illegal firearms, reduce the size of the PA police to its legal limits and pull its illegal activities out of Jerusalem.

Ross's note didn't add any new Arafat obligations to Oslo; it simply catalogued some whose observance was long overdue.

The Ross note cost Israel dearly: We agreed to forfeit, supposedly for the last time, the principle of reciprocity.

Last January Israel pulled out from most of Hebron, jeopardizing Israeli security within the city. And we did it before the PA honored any of its undertakings. But there was the Ross note, which the premier heralded as the crowning achievement of his administration.

Since then, Arafat has treated the note like the agreements themselves, with impunity.

And what has Ross done? Basically nothing.

The Clinton administration continues reciting the "friends of peace-enemies of peace" mantra as if there were two Arafats: one who smiles in photo opportunities with US officials, and his shady double who calls for jihad, praises terrorist murderers, and whose government is actively engaged in terror.

President Clinton has called on Arafat to fight terror, but Clinton himself has yet to demonstrate that he is really serious about Palestinian compliance with the accords. The periodic compliance reports required by the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act have been a conspicuous and embarrassing whitewash.

Some argued that the MEPFA forced Clinton to lie, since conceding PA violations meant cutting off US funding to Arafat. But with the MEPFA expiring, Clinton isn't showing any more inclination to tell the Palestinian compliance story like it is.

And while America pays, at best, lip service to gross Palestinian violations which threaten Israel, the US consul-general in Jerusalem, Edward Abingdon, has been quite vocal in his criticism of Israeli policy, as was ambassador Indyk.

Clinton's call for Arafat to fight terror is itself disingenuous, like asking the Mafia to fight crime. The terrorist squad Israel captured last month wasn't Hamas, it was Palestinian police under the orders of Arafat's police chief. Could Ghazi Jabali have been operating behind Arafat's back? The notion is laughable. Arafat's police are equipped with unregistered, illegal weapons to make it harder to trace terrorist activities back to the PA.

The relationship between the PA and Hamas is far from contentious. As the Prime Minister's Office recently reported, more than 150 members of Hamas and the extremist PFLP hold key positions in the Palestinian Police.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when Israel warned Arafat about the Hamas bomb factory in Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem, Arafat did nothing for three months. He closed the factory down when he thought the well-publicized move might sweeten the bad smell of the captured PA police terror squad.

In July, Israel blew up four tunnels connecting the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of the Rafiah border town that the PA was using to smuggle illegal weapons in and wanted terrorists out. With an eye toward military confrontation, a practical Arafat has also been busy building bunkers, sniper positions and weapons factories.

Paradoxically, Clinton's ambivalent attitude to Palestinian compliance undermines whatever desire Arafat may have to rectify the situation. Why should he take serious steps today when tomorrow he can trade paper promises for further Israeli concessions?

"Prime minister Rabin has told me he is prepared to take risks for peace," said Clinton at a joint press conference in March 1993. "I have told him that our role is to help minimize those risks."

So far the president hasn't kept his part of the bargain - but Ross's visit here at week's end provides him with an opportunity to change that.

Ross's Note For The Record states Arafat's "immediate" obligations. If the Clinton administration is serious about Oslo, now's the time to have Ross translate American words into action.

It's the only way to a possible peace. Otherwise the Ross trip will be worse than a waste of time.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director
IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)

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