Crisis in the Middle East

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Jerusalem Journal:
From Peace Process to Pieces…and Back Again? October 30, 2000

Israelis today are literally between a rock and a hard place. The violent outbreak has left them feeling angry and suspicious, and the continual warning of potential terrorism has succeeded in frightening the population. Streets are empty, tourists have sought alternative vacation spots and overwhelmingly, Israelis prefer to seek safe refuge at home. (The classic portrayal of the fearless Israeli who, even during the worst of times,
There are clear indications that, for his part, Arafat has made the strategic decision to promote and advocate violence
maintains his daily routine has been battered.)

The anger and frustration permeating Israeli society is the manifestation of the profound sense of confusion currently felt. Israelis had begun internalizing the imminent creation of a Palestinian State with the hope that it would, in turn, usher in a new era of regional peace and stability. Even the staunchest opponents of peace and the Oslo process knew that the majority of Israelis would have expressed their support for Palestinian statehood in a public referendum. But now they have to grapple with why their ostensible "partner", Yasser Arafat, has opted for violence instead of dialogue, and terrorism rather than education.

There are clear indications that, for his part, Arafat has made the strategic decision to promote and advocate violence.
Palestinian television and radio broadcasts are generously peppered with calls for "Jihad" (holy war) and hateful speeches targeting Jews, Israelis, and Americans.
He assumed that through conflict, Israel would compromise even further and make more generous proposals in order to "seal the deal." And indeed, more than ever, Israelis are keenly aware of the need for peace and yearn for its fruits. However, they now question whether Arafat embodies the sincerity and goodwill necessary to achieve peace. After all, saying "Prime Minister Barak can go to hell" at a press conference, combined with recent events conjures up images of the Arafat who once again seeks more and more "pieces" of land rather than genuine "peace".

Further undermining any confidence Israelis may have had regarding the intentions of the Palestinians is the ease with which scores of youth are so readily sacrificed for the publicity advantages of their national cause. Not old enough to remember the horrible memories of war or the Intifada, these teens fall victim to a constant bombardment of violent rhetoric and incitement emanating from mosques and schools. In addition, Palestinian television and radio broadcasts are generously peppered with calls for "Jihad" (holy war) and hateful speeches targeting Jews, Israelis, and Americans. Moreover, Arafat himself, during the seven years since the famous handshake with Former Prime Minister Rabin on the White House lawn, has yet to find at least one occasion to rid himself of his revolutionary uniform and don the suit of a statesman.

In the domestic political arena, Israelis are certainly not finding any respite. Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Barak after his "go for broke" bargaining style with the Palestinians failed. He is also facing criticism by those who argue that the Army has not responded harshly enough to the hostage taking in Lebanon by Hizbullah or the persistent gunfire emanating from Palestinian controlled areas. Looking to avoid early elections, Barak is courting the Likud and other right-wing parties who oppose the Oslo Accords, in an effort to form a National Unity Government. However, current Likud leaders, facing internal stability problems of their own, are reluctant to join a Barak coalition should it mean laying the groundwork for what appears to be the imminent comeback of Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A National Unity Government would also have far reaching implications. Barak could no longer move ahead with the Peace Process on the basis of the assumptions with which he was prepared to go to Camp David, even if he wanted to. It is quite likely that Arafat perceives this as the inevitable scenario that will play into his hands. Israel will be portrayed as the recalcitrant obstacle to peace and he will continue to score international brownie points that will lead to support for a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence and perhaps even to sanctions against Israel.

While Israeli attitudes will inevitably harden in the face of such hostility, Israel will still have to confront the immediate strategic implications. Is there the will or desire to maintain control in the territories in what is effectively a war of attrition? Ultimately, Israel will be forced to define lines of defense which it can effectively maintain and will inevitably have to take its own unilateral steps to this end. One obvious conclusion drawn from this violence is that the cost of maintaining isolated positions or holy sites in the midst of Palestinian population centers is virtually prohibitive. For all the importance of religious and national symbols, Israeli society’s priority is that of preserving human life. This will determine its strategic defense lines over the former.

The tactics Israel has to employ in order to protect itself against violence from within the Palestinian territories are relatively clear cut. However, the violence has also opened up a socially more complex Pandora’s box – that of Israel’s own Arab citizens. The rioting of the latter in parallel to that in the territories took Israelis far more by surprise. For some Israelis, these recent events heightened suspicion towards their fellow Arab citizens and called into question issues of allegiance and trust. Therefore, dealing with not only the manifestations of the problem, but with its causes is a far more complex matter. There have also been violent Jewish counterattacks on Arabs and Muslim shrines. Graffiti and posters decrying support for the ideas and policies of Rabbi Meir Kahane – something considered to have been a specter of the past – have become widespread again.

Above all, the mainstream of Israeli society is now plagued by the larger questions of "now what" and "how do we proceed?" There is little doubt that Israeli and Palestinian lives are intertwined and mutually dependent. Therefore, any peace agreement must be rooted in some process of reconciliation and cannot depend on complete separation as evidenced in a recent analysis of the ramifications of an Israeli unilateral declaration of separation published in the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot. The forecast was not encouraging – economically, agriculturally, or otherwise.

Internally, Israel’s future as a democracy depends critically upon rebuilding and improving the fabric of Jewish-Arab relations. Nevertheless, amidst the heavy cloud there are lights of hope for the future. Throughout the Festival of Sukkot, tabernacles of peace, bringing Israeli and Arab Jews together were set up throughout the country. Additional funds are being allocated by the relevant government ministries to the educational and social resources essential for repairing the damage and promoting a more hopeful vision.

Amongst the different national educational initiatives, the ADL Israel Office is involved at this very moment in bringing its educational skills and know how through the A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute, training key educators within the Israeli school system.

The day will come when such energies and skills will similarly have to be channeled into relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Jewish State. But in the meantime, Israel has to concentrate its resources on controlling a willful campaign of violence and preventing it from escalating to the point where the hope of peace is nothing more than a distant dream.



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