The rise of Arab fundamentalism comes at a time when Israel has been engaged in comprehensive peace negotiations with its Arab neighbors. Because of Israel's history, it sees itself as the primary target of the fundamentalists and follows developments with understandable concern.
Since coming to power in 1992, the Israeli Labor government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has committed itself to dual policy goals: pursuing peace talks with Israel's Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians, while cracking down hard on terrorism at home. Under Rabin, Israel has softened its position on key points, opening the possibility of territorial concessions on the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and some of the West Bank.
The new approach marks a break with 15 years of conservative Likud policy, which could be summed up as no return to pre-1967 borders, no yielding on the strategic Golan Heights - which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 - and no negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization. What remains nonnegotiable is Jerusalem.
The Rabin government's position reflects the view that peace guarantees, in return for territorial concessions, will bolster Israel's security rather than undermine it.
Since the first round of peace negotiations took place in Madrid in 1991, there have been many attempts by fundamentalist groups to derail them. In July, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah (Party Of God) group in Lebanon, which fanatically opposes any accommodation with Israel, repeatedly attacked kibbutzim in northern Israel with Katyusha rockets, in one week alone firing more than 200. Fearing that retaliation might derail the peace process, Israel initially hesitated, then answered with massive air, sea and artillery strikes from its security zone in southern Lebanon, displacing half a million civilians.
The barrage also was intended to dissuade Syria, which controls most of Lebanon, from allowing such attacks as part of an attempt to win Israeli concessions at the negotiating table. The Israeli counterstrikes stopped July 31 after a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.
While contending with the threat of groups in Lebanon sponsored by Syria and Iran, Israel has also had to deal with the activities of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, whose views are close to those of Hezbollah. Hamas was formed right after the 1987 start of the Palestinian uprising known as the intifada and quickly became the main competitor of the PLO in the Israeli-held territories. In large part, Hamas draws its popularity from the PLO's failure to deliver on its promise of an independent Palestine. Hamas refuses to negotiate with Israel and accuses the PLO of selling out to the West. Its leaders preach the doctrine of jihad, or holy war.
Initially tolerated by the Israelis, who saw a tactical advantage in having Hamas act as a spoiler for the PLO, the group was allowed to set up shop in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The strategy backfired when Hamas-inspired terrorist activities started multiplying and Israel suffered a public relations setback when it deported 400 extremists to Lebanon last year; it recently reached a deal to accept them back. …