Israel Report

August 2001         

An Audacious Response

By Evelyn Gordon
August 14, 2001
Palestinian Authority spokesmen have a point when they say the international community, the US in particular, is partly responsible for what the State Department termed Israel's "political escalation" in shutting down PA offices in Jerusalem last weekend. The only problem is that they got the reasoning wrong: The world's mistake was not excessive leniency toward Israel, but rather its unwarranted softness toward the PA after last Thursday's bombing in Jerusalem.

After the Dolphinarium bombing on June 1, the Western world was unusually firm - and unusually united - in informing PA Chairman Yasser Arafat that he must take steps to end the violence. This pressure forced Arafat to declare a cease-fire and allowed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to persuade Israelis that restraint offered a genuine chance of peace.

It would have been much harder to work such a trick this time, given both Arafat's utter failure to enforce the cease-fire and the international community's refusal to penalize him for this failure. Yet it might still have been possible had the world finally awoken to its responsibilities and either boycotted Arafat for his reluctance to fight terror or at least issued a credible threat of sanctions if he did not mend his ways.

Instead, the international community retreated even from June's verbal pressure. Even the US insisted on "even-handedness," urging both sides to show "restraint." Official US statements last Thursday leave the impression that Washington sees no moral difference between Palestinian efforts to kill Israeli children and Israeli efforts to kill Palestinian bomb-makers - both are equally reprehensible. This is equivalent to giving Arafat a green light to send more bombers: not only has he been assured that he will pay no international price for doing so, but he has also been promised that Israel will pay a price for attempting to respond.

The world's refusal to act left Israel with only two options: continue to absorb deadly attacks on its civilians in silence, or make the PA pay a price for such attacks itself. And since no government could accept the former option, Sharon chose the latter. Indeed, he stated explicitly that this was the purpose of the Orient House closure - it was a nonviolent way of making the PA realize that its refusal to fight terror entails a cost.

One has to admire the sheer audacity of the PA's response: It sent protests to the entire world charging that this move violates an explicit Israel commitment. This, of course, is true. In 1993, Israel gave Arafat a written promise to leave Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem alone. But this promise was part and parcel of an agreement under which the PA pledged to negotiate peacefully over a diplomatic solution to the conflict, arrest terrorists, disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and not turn its own armed forces against Israel - all commitments that it has violated repeatedly for the last eight years, and especially over the last 10 months. Given the PA's blatant violation of its side of the bargain, it takes enormous effrontery to claim that Israel's commitments should nevertheless be binding.

The PA has even repeatedly broken the bargain with respect to east Jerusalem. In exchange for Israel's promise to leave Palestinian institutions in the city alone, the PA pledged not to conduct any official activity in Jerusalem. Yet not only did the PA immediately make Orient House a center for official diplomatic activity, but it also introduced a massive police presence into Jerusalem. For the past eight years, PA police have routinely arrested and interrogated east Jerusalem residents - a clear violation of the promise to avoid official PA activity in the city.

Thus Orient House, far from being the symbol of "dialogue and reconciliation" that a State Department spokesman so inaptly termed it on Saturday, has in fact, for the past eight years been an outstanding symbol of the PA's failure to abide by signed agreements.

The truly amazing thing is that Israel turned a blind eye to these violations for eight years - just as it did to the PA's violations of all the security clauses of the agreements. Indeed, Friday's closure of PA institutions in Jerusalem is the first time Israel has ever indicated that its adherence to the Oslo Accords in any way depends on the PA observing its side of the bargain.

This should have been made clear eight years ago: had Israel insisted on compliance from the beginning, it is likely that the situation would never have degenerated as far as it has. And by now, it may well be too late.

But even today, the only hope of persuading Arafat to honor his agreements lies in making him realize that he has something to lose by violating them. And as such, the Orient House closure is not only welcome, but long overdue.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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