WHEN DID PEACE DIE?

(Commentary by Shimon Shiffer, Yediot Ahronot, May 24, 1998, p. 3)

Two days ago, Netanyahu arrived at a meeting with the leading diplomats serving in Israel, armed with a message: the current government is not responsible for the collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu used previously prepared data to support this message. The foreign diplomats were presented with pages on which were written figures intended to prove that the Netanyahu government has done better by the Palestinians than the Rabin-Peres government: more Palestinians working in Israel than in the past; growth in trade between the Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel, etc., etc..

Netanyahu sought to convince the foreign representatives that the peace with the Palestinians collapsed two years ago as a result of the bloody terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas in the streets of Israel. He - Netanyahu - has been trying for the past two years to repair the destroyed Oslo Accords.

But Netanyahu's words were not understood this way. He was presented as having announced the death now of the agreement with the Palestinians. The Prime Minister's Office tried over the weekend to correct this impression, and to explain that Netanyahu in fact intended to convey precisely the opposite message. The Prime Minister continues to hold to the implementation of the Oslo Accords, while intending to carry out the necessary improvements on them, spokesman Shai Bazak hurried to explain.

Netanyahu, in background talks held over the weekend, stressed that the late Yitzhak Rabin compared the Oslo Accords to a hole-filled Swiss cheese. In a closed forum, he explained that Rabin expressed to him great regret that he had prevented IDF officers from taking part in the secret negotiations in Oslo, and left the matter in the hands of a few of Peres' clerks, which led to grave errors when it came to implementing the accords.

This statement only added to the attack which Netanyahu found himself facing in the last few days: the Palestinians, Europeans, and the leaders of the Israeli opposition are holding him responsible for the death of peace, or at least for holding it in its current terminal state.

In addition, the leaders of the right, chief among them Ariel Sharon, are accusing him of making wide-ranging concessions in the talks with the Americans. Sharon is also accusing Netanyahu of concealing information from the government, and for the non-involvement of the ministers in the negotiations with the Americans. He intends to express his dissatisfaction in the Cabinet meeting today, as well as in various other forums.

It appears that the main support which Netanyahu has won is from the American Congress. Four delegations from the Senate and the House of Representatives have arrived this weekend in order to identify with Israel. Three hours after landing, the guests were received at Netanyahu's official residence.

A senior official in Jerusalem, who is not considered among Netanyahu's supporters, said last night that "Congress is sitting at Netanyahu's feet, waiting on his every word." The Administration in Washington has absorbed this fact well. President Clinton has already told his aides "Hold your fire, and change your tone with Netanyahu". In the next few days, Ross and his assistants will continue in their despairing efforts to find the formula that will bring Netanyahu closer to the moment of decision.

The Prime Minister leaves this evening for China. When his plane takes off at the conclusion of the visit, President Clinton will land there. Thus the question as to when the moment of decision regarding the implementation of the interim agreements with the Palestinians will arrive, remains unclear.

At the beginning of the 1960's, the late theater critic, Chaim Gamzu wrote a critique of the play "Sammy Will Die at Six". From his point of view, "He could die already at five". From the point of view of many of Netanyahu's critics, the peace with the Palestinians died on the 18 June, 1996, the day that Netanyahu came to power.


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