Spurt in Violence Catches Peacemakers off Guard

Article excerpt

In three months the hope for peace that brought Palestinian and Israeli leaders to Camp David has unraveled into bloody battles in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and now a terrorist attack in Yemen, from which American sailors will come home in body bags.

A Palestinian mob's murder-mutilation of three Israeli soldiers followed by a retaliatory Israeli attack on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's home left longtime Middle East watchers asking how the promise of peace could so quickly turn into open warfare.

Some pointed to Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May, a move they said was interpreted by Arab militants as a signal of weakness in Israel.

"There is no question that there were some on the Arab side, extremists, who after the withdrawal from Lebanon said the lesson learned is that guerrilla warfare is the way to go rather than negotiations," said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor at the University of Maryland.

"After Camp David did not materialize, it was obvious we were running on borrowed time," he said.

Another reason that the peace process unraveled so quickly is that the move from slow, detailed, incremental negotiations over seven years moved too quickly to the highly divisive issues of Jerusalem and refugees without proper preparation for the compromises both sides would have to make, said analyst Richard Haass of the Brookings Institution.

"The talks did not succeed at Camp David because what was being put to Palestinian leader Arafat was too much, too soon," Mr. Haass said.

"He had never prepared his own people for compromise and no one had ever prepared the Arab world to support compromise. It was an overly ambitious negotiation for which the ground had not been prepared," he added. …