After five days of the worst Arab-Israeli violence in half a
decade, the underlying source of the Palestinians' frustration is
coming into focus: the peace deal that Israelis and Americans have
implored them to accept.
The continuing unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, say
Palestinian and Israeli analysts, shows that many Palestinians would
prefer to live without a deal than live with the one now under
Israeli right-wing leader Ariel Sharon's visit to Jerusalem's Old
City last Thursday did indeed provoke some Palestinians. And as
some Israeli observers have said, the visit may well have been a
convenient justification for some "controlled violence" that would
pressure the Israeli government in the peace talks.
But orchestrated or spontaneous, the fire underneath the riots
and shooting battles is a growing frustration with the deal that
the peace process has yielded.
Standing in the midst of a tumultuous Gaza City demonstration, a
Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights activist named Eyad Serraj
speaks loudly into his cellphone to make himself heard. "The people
are very frustrated and very angry," he says, "because of
disillusionment with the peace process first of all, and the Sharon
visit, and the cold-blooded killing of innocent people, especially
As of late yesterday afternoon, 37 people had died in the
disturbances that have followed Sharon's visit to the sacred
compound that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble
Sanctuary. Last week one Israeli soldier also was killed in a bomb
attack in Gaza, and another died after he was shot by a Palestinian
The youngest victim was a toddler killed when her family's car
was raked with gunfire near the West Bank village of Qusra, east of
Nablus, on Sunday night. The shooting follows that of 12-year-old
Mohammed al-Durra, whose death in a Palestinian-Israeli firefight
in Gaza on Saturday was filmed and broadcast around the world, and
may further anger Palestinians already upset about the severity of
the Israeli response.
But apart from violence begetting new violence, the driving force
behind the conflict is the peace process and how many Palestinians
feel it has produced little.
"The fundamental demand of the people was to be respected, and
they don't feel respected in the sense that their rights are not
being regained," says Dr. Serraj. First among these rights is the
"right of return" - the Palestinian demand that they be allowed to
return to homes from which they fled or were forced to flee during
the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1948 and 1967.
Israel is willing to acknowledge this right, but only to a
limited degree that would vastly disappoint Palestinian
expectations. In other areas, according to the popular
understanding of the peace deal that was discussed in earnest at
Camp David in July and that has been fitfully pursued ever since,
Palestinians feel that they are not getting what they should.
Israeli negotiators have apparently discussed returning as much
as 90 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control, reserving
the remainder to accommodate Israeli settlements. That is
unacceptable to Rima Tarazi, the president of the General Union of
Palestinian Women, who says that "with settlements there can be no
And the future of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians
want as their capital, is perhaps the core of the issue, at least
symbolically. Again, Israelis have indicated a willingness to cede
some parts of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City - seized in
the 1967 Arab-Israeli war - to the Palestinian authority, but
nowhere near all of it.
At best, as US officials have indicated, the city will have to be