Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Implementing the Peace Accords: A Jewish-American Peace Activist; Rabin May Lack the Courage to Make Peace

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Implementing the Peace Accords: A Jewish-American Peace Activist; Rabin May Lack the Courage to Make Peace

Article excerpt

Implementing the Peace Accords: A Jewish-American Peace Activist; Rabin May Lack the Courage to Make Peace

By Rachelle Marshall

To many Westerners the Middle East, with its desert landscapes and exotic customs, is a land of mystery. But nothing about the Middle East is as baffling as Israel's current policy toward peace negotiations with its neighbors. Analysts are churning out reams of commentary on that policy, but who can say what it actually is?

The agreement signed in Cairo by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on May 4 allows Palestinians to participate with Israel in policing and administering Gaza and the city of Jericho, and calls for future negotiation of a final peace settlement. Palestinian leaders, with little bargaining power, accepted these minimal terms but only as a first step toward achieving an independent state on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel, for its part, granted a degree of autonomy to the Palestinians but was able to postpone for up to two years negotiations on the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Jewish settlements. Both Arafat and Rabin face strong opposition to the agreement from hardliners within their own constituencies.

Rabin is aware that his re-election as prime minister depends on whether Israeli voters see net gains from the agreement in terms of their own security. This means that in order to justify the agreement to his own citizens he must secure the Palestinians' cooperation in making it work.

Why, then, does he defend the peace process with one breath and undercut it in the next? If he hopes to come to terms with Arafat, why does he call him "a master of survival and a builder of nothing"? How can he condemn the occupation one day by saying, "The blood that was spilled is because of our control of a foreign nation," and the next threaten to suspend the peace talks unless there's an end to the Palestinian attacks on Israelis? If, as prime minister, Rabin favors reconciliation with the Palestinians, why, as minister of defense, does he order the army to behave as if nothing had changed--to shoot Palestinian protestors with live ammunition, impose repeated curfews on Palestinian towns, demolish entire blocks of homes in the search for suspects, and send undercover agents disguised as Arabs to carry out execution-style killings of young Palestinians?

Why, if Rabin wants peace with Syria, does he launch an air attack on a training camp close to Syria's border, and call the attack, which killed upward of 45 sleeping teenage boys, "a signal to Syria"? Such acts seem calculated to stiffen opposition to the peace agreement and provoke continued violence.

Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv and a longtime peace advocate, describes the Rabin government as "hobbled by its own ambivalence." Like the cat that stands in the open doorway on a freezing night unwilling to stay in or go out, Rabin lacks the courage to follow through on the peace process he helped set in motion, and as a result may doom it to fail. Polls show that 63 percent of Israelis now oppose negotiations that could lead to expanded selfrule for the Palestinians, and Palestinian support for the current peace agreement has shrunk to less than 40 percent. The reason seems clear; mutual trust is the vital glue of any agreement, and Rabin's contradictory messages are eroding trust on both sides.

The withdrawal of Israeli troops from parts of Gaza and Jericho should have been an occasion for convincing Israelis and Palestinians that the ongoing peace process would lessen tensions between both sides. Instead, celebrations of the withdrawal were marred by the iron-fist tactics of the army, retaliation by Palestinians, and ultimatums by Israeli officials. On May 8, for instance, the army suddenly set up roadblocks around Jericho and declared it a closed area "for no apparent reason," according to The New York Times. …

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