Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bethlehem Bulletin: Month of Protest Leaves Palestinians with Little Faith in Peace Process

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bethlehem Bulletin: Month of Protest Leaves Palestinians with Little Faith in Peace Process

Article excerpt

Bethlehem Bulletin: Month of Protest Leaves Palestinians With Little Faith in Peace Process

Israel's decision to build a new Jewish settlement near Bethlehem that effectively completes a ring of settlements around Jerusalem served to plunge the peace process into further crisis and a cycle of violence that has so far cost the lives of at least eight Palestinians and three Israelis.

Daily West Bank street protests, where the traditional Palestinian ammunition consists of stones and the occasional Molotov cocktail, were put down with the Israeli army's traditional use of rubber-coated steel bullets, live rounds and tear gas. In addition to the deaths from gunfire, dozens of Palestinians were injured, some seriously, by the rubber bullets and hundreds were treated for tear gas inhalation.

As the month's violence intensified, so too did Israel's demand that the Palestinian Authority maintain control in the West Bank and Gaza in the absence of direct Israeli rule. Following an apparent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed three Israeli women, Israel turned up the pressure while accusing PA President Yasser Arafat of having given the "green light for terror."

Insisting that Palestinian violence and not controversial Jewish settlement building in the West Bank is the cause of the current crisis, Israel has disregarded its obligations under the Oslo agreements on the grounds that the PA is not fulfilling its commitment to control the violence.

This is despite the fact that several months prior to the current crisis, a U.S. congressional committee report lauded the PA for effectively controlling violence in the areas under its control which comprise about 5 percent of the West Bank and about 70 percent of the Gaza Strip. However, when Israel came under tremendous international criticism over its settlement policy, the U.S. joined with its ally in shifting the blame for last month's crisis toward the Palestinians and away from Israel.

"Rather than abandon their aggressive expansionist policies, [Israel] decided to stage a fight in another arena. The U.S., unfortunately, joined them in this new arena without noticing that the real fight was elsewhere," writes Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center.

Palestinians, meanwhile, point out that the definition of terror and violence seems not to include acts carried out by Israelis, such as the killing of an unarmed Palestinian in Hebron by two Jewish settlers, using Uzi machine guns.

Following that incident, which set off nearly two weeks of rioting and resulted in several more shooting deaths and numerous injuries of Palestinians, the divided city's Jewish settlers claimed the two armed men were attacked by the unarmed victim, Assam Arafeh. Eyewitnesses refuted the claims, saying the shooting followed an argument. The two Jewish settlers were released from custody after two days of questioning, and no charges were filed against them.

Several other incidents were reported during the month in which male Jewish settlers, all of whom can legally carry automatic weapons, shot and wounded Palestinians throughout the West Bank. The settlers justified their actions by saying they were shooting at stone throwers. In at least one case, both Israeli and Palestinian police investigators reported otherwise.

One of the most successful aspects of the peace accords, according to Israeli standards, has indeed been the ongoing military cooperation and intelligence sharing between the Palestinian and Israeli security forces. At the height of the month-long crisis, however, those contacts broke down along with all political negotiation.

According to Israeli media reports, the lapse in military contacts between the two sides was greatly lamented by Israeli security forces, who often attest to the effectiveness of the relationship with their Palestinian counterparts as a means of "controlling terrorism." By contrast, many Palestinians regard the contacts as tantamount to signing a pact with the devil, especially given that Palestinian methods of controlling terrorism greatly resemble those of Israel and therefore invoke bitter memories. …

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