Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Report from Jerusalem

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Report from Jerusalem

Article excerpt

Report From Jerusalem

The Israeli who claims to have spent more hours with the Mitchell Commission than anyone else in Israel commented the day after the release of the Commission's report that "it would be a clever move for [President George W.] Bush to assign [George] Mitchell" as special Middle East envoy. Alon Liel, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry under the Barak and transition governments, said that U.S. Ambassador to Jordan William J. Burns, whom Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated as special Mideast envoy, would have to start from scratch. Former U.S. Senator Mitchell, on the other hand, the Israeli said, has a reputation as a peacemaker in Ireland, and has the opportunity to operate on behalf of the whole international community--the U.S., U.N., and Europe. The Mitchell Report was tough on Israel on settlements, Liel noted, and tough on the Palestinians on violence.

Meanwhile, on the ground in the Middle East, while news reports convey the image of Israelis and Palestinians living in a state of siege, the hustle and bustle of everyday life for the most part goes on unimpeded--with the exception of the long lines in which Palestinians must wait at Israeli checkpoints to enter Jerusalem and Israeli-controlled areas. The heavy traffic on the modern expressways on the outskirts of Tel Aviv resembles busy metropolitan expressways in the United States. The frequent honking of horns and close calls of cars maneuvering the narrow streets of the Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem resemble Arab cities in other Middle Eastern countries.

Nonetheless, there is an air of despair in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, the territories it occupied after the 1967 Six-Days War. Although on the surface things may appear normal--and most of the time, in most places, bombs are not exploding, shots are not fired, bulldozers are not destroying, and rockets and artillery are not being launched--nevertheless, these hostilities are occurring in exponentially greater numbers than they were prior to Sept. 28, 2000.

From 1993 to September 2000, there were 700 shootings recorded; since October there have been more than 10,000, according to an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman. As of June 4, the death toll since the start of what the Palestinians call the second intifada has been 484 Palestinians and 108 Israelis, according to the Associated Press.

The economic toll has been devastating, and hits the Palestinians harder because they are more dependent on Israel than vice versa. Prior to last October, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. Their wages supported 1 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. Now, according to the IDF spokesman, there are fewer than 50,000 Palestinians working in the Jewish state. Trade between Israel and the PA dropped from an average of $2.5 billion per year to close to $1.5 billion per year. Mohammed Zriam, a Gaza taxi driver, used to earn 4,000 Israeli shekels ($1,000) monthly driving passengers to Israel. Now, confined to the 25-mile-long, 5-mile-wide Gaza Strip, he is lucky to eke out 1,000 shekels ($250) a month.

Beginning in 1994, when Israel began ceding control of parts of the occupied territories to the PA, Israeli and Palestinian security personnel worked together out of District Coordinating Offices (DCOs) set up throughout the territories and at the entrance to Palestinian cities. Joint Palestinian-Israeli patrols of one Israeli and one Palestinian jeep operated out of the DCOs. "For six or seven years we [Palestinians and Israelis] were working [together] beautifully," said Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer based in East Jerusalem.

"For six or seven years there were no shootings--but there was violence by bulldozers," said Kuttab, a member of the New York bar who headed the Palestinian negotiating team's legal committee which hammered out the 1994 Cairo Agreement, detailing how the PA would move into Gaza and the West Bank city of Jericho. …

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