WITH the first anniversary of the start of the Arab-Israeli
peace talks in Madrid nearing, it is time to take stock of
developments up to this point in order to determine where the talks
might go from here. The most important change over the last year
was the election in Israel of a government genuinely committed to
the peace process.
Since forming his coalition government in mid-July, Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin has made a series of gestures to both the
Palestinians and Syria to spur the peace process.
These have included: 1) stopping new house construction in the
occupied territories; 2) ending government subsidies for the
purchase of Arab homes by Jewish groups in East Jerusalem; 3)
ending work on almost all intifadah bypass roads that were designed
to allow West Bank settlers to avoid Arab population centers; 4)
announcement of the early release of 800 imprisoned Palestinians;
5) cancellation of the Israeli government's expulsion order for 11
Palestinian activists; 6) agreement that Diaspora Palestinians
could participate in the multilateral talks on refugees and
regional economic cooperation (so long as they were not members of
the PLO); and 7) Israel's public willingness to consider a
withdrawal from part, if not all, of the Golan Heights.
These concessions, however, have not elicited similar
concessions from the Arab side. While Syria has vaguely promised
"total peace for a total withdrawal," it has not explained what
"total peace" means.
The Palestinians have not even gone that far. They continue to
cling to their initial bargaining position, which calls for an
elected legislature with complete control over all aspects of West
Bank and Gaza life except foreign policy.
This disparity in concessions has begun to cause serious
domestic problems for Mr. Rabin.
Opponents on the right of the Israeli political spectrum assert
that Rabin is giving away too much, while even members of the Labor
party who live on the Golan Heights have demonstrated angrily
against him, as have the West Bank and Gaza settlers unhappy with
shrinking government support for their settlements.
This, in turn, has begun to reinvigorate the Likud Party, still
in disarray after its poor showing in the June election.
Compounding Rabin's problems have been a resurgence of attacks on
Israel from Lebanon and a renewal of Palestinian rioting - linked
to a hunger strike by prisoners - which has led to an increase in
the number of attacks on Israeli civilians.
The right complains that it was Rabin's concessions to the
Palestinians that encouraged it to escalate the violence.
IF neither the Palestinians nor Syrians are willing to further
the peace process, what can be done to strengthen Rabin's political