The U.S. Lends a Hand as Israel Revives Old Hostilities

By Marshall, Rachelle | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 1997 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Lends a Hand as Israel Revives Old Hostilities


Marshall, Rachelle, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The U.S. Lends a Hand As Israel Revives Old Hostilities

In the first 14 months after Binyamin Netanyahu became Israel's prime minister, relations between Israel and the Arabs plunged from a high of wary trustfulness to street battles between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers, culminating in two suicide bombings in Jerusalem on July 30 that killed 15 people (including the two bombers) and wounded more than a hundred. Although Yasser Arafat immediately condemned the bombing as an "attack against the peace," Netanyahu blamed him for not stopping terrorism, disregarding the fact that Israeli security forces had been unable to do so and that Palestinian police had raided a Hamas bomb factory in Beit Sahour the week before.

As usual, Israel punished all Palestinians for the crime by sealing the borders of the West Bank and Gaza and sending thousands of Palestinian workers home without pay. In addition, the government said it would send troops into Palestinian cities at will, jam Palestinian radio broadcasts, and freeze transfers of tax funds owed to the Palestinian Authority. The announcement was a declaration of war, according to one of Arafat's aides.

The terrorist attack in Jerusalem succeeded only in causing excruciating suffering to the victims and their families, and bringing increased hardship and insecurity to all Palestinians. But however irrational, the bombing was a direct outgrowth of the mounting rage and helplessness Palestinians feel as Israel violates its agreements and continues to rob them of their land. As the hopes raised by Oslo fade, many believe they have nothing left to lose.

Despite the failed policies of the Netanyahu government, the Clinton administration and Congress remain steadfast in their loyalty to Israel, preferring to jeopardize Middle East peace rather than risk their campaign chests and political careers by offending the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

Washington gives more than financial support to the Jewish state. As if Israeli leaders were not capable of sabotaging the peace process by themselves, the House stepped in to help on June 11 by voting 406 to 17 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital, and a week later the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to allocate $100 million to move the American Embassy to the Holy City. The two actions directly contravened U.N. resolutions declaring East Jerusalem to be occupied territory, and nullified provisions of the Oslo agreement calling for Jerusalem's final status to he determined through negotiations. (See list of representatives who voted NO on the House resolution on next page.)

The House resolution inflamed an already explosive situation. Palestinians had for months protested Israel's continuing expansion of settlements. In many areas of the West Bank and Gaza, settlers under the protection of Israeli soldiers have simply begun bulldozing nearby Palestinian lands and claiming them as their own. While international attention focuses on Israel's decision to build 6,500 housing units on Jabal Abu Ghneim, construction of housing and new roads elsewhere in the occupied territories is proceeding rapidly. Last May alone Israel confiscated more than 7,000 acres of Palestinian land on the West Bank for the expansion of settlements and roads, according to a U.N. Observer Mission report.

The most volatile site of Palestinian resentment is Hebron, where thousands of Israeli troops guard the 450 ultranationalist Jews who occupy the heart of the city. Equally militant Israelis live in settlements in the surrounding hills. Backed by the army, the settlers constantly harass the people of Hebron, attacking them in the streets, smashing their cars, vandalizing their homes and shops. Children and the elderly are frequent victims. A 75-year-old Palestinian woman recently assaulted near her home was barely saved by passersby from serious injury. In July settlers again raided the Yakubiyeh Girls School, breaking furniture, pouring acid on children's desks, and plastering posters saying "Hebron is our city, the Arabs are dogs. …

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