WORLD

A FRAGILE PEACE

VIOLENCE THREATENS THE LANDMARK ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ACCORD

December 13 1993
WORLD

A FRAGILE PEACE

VIOLENCE THREATENS THE LANDMARK ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ACCORD

December 13 1993

A FRAGILE PEACE

WORLD

VIOLENCE THREATENS THE LANDMARK ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ACCORD

They are killers, and they are not yet ready to stop killing. Squinting against the noon hour sun streaming through slatted windows into the safe house where they slept, four Palestinian men in their 20s fingered their Kalashnikov rifles and pistols and explained why they plan to continue shooting Israeli soldiers. “The occupiers are still hunting us,” said Zaid El-Hassanat, one of 70 Fatah Hawks, the militant wing of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. “At first we had orders from Arafat to stop the intifadeh [uprising], and we tried it. But if Israel really wanted peace, they would not be killing us.” Zaid rolled his gold watch around his wrist as he listed the Palestinian militants killed or captured by Israeli security forces in recent days. “Even if Arafat asks us to stop, we know better,” he said. ‘When you live the life of a militant, you know what you have to do to survive.”

Arafat may be “holy” to the Palestinian national cause, as Zaid and the other Hawks still insist. But the PLO chairman remains in exile, and he spent much of last week jetting to foreign capitals to solicit funds for the coming experiment in Palestinian self-rule. The

ASSIGNMENT

W L BRUCE WALLACE IN GAZA

Hawks, on the other hand, live in the squalor of Gaza’s towns and refugee camps, where 720,000 Palestinians have yet to taste any of the promised fruits of peace. Their patience is wearing thin. In the Gaza Strip, violence and the reflexive hatreds it promotes have muted the euphoria that greeted the Sept. 13 signing of a landmark agreement between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak

Rabin, which is aimed at turning over parts of Israel’s occupied territories to PLO rule. The accord was supposed to begin taking effect on Dec. 13 with the start of an Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho. Instead, after Israeli security forces killed three leading Palestinian militants in five days and captured another, Gaza again turned into a war zone.

Throughout the territory, children hurled stones at Israeli soldiers and burned tires that sent choking black smoke over the streets. Their older brothers fired aging guns and threw gasoline bombs. And just like the worst days of the intifadeh, the casualties were tragically high on both sides. On a highway in the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen murdered two Jewish civilians, provoking another violent backlash from Israeli settlers living there, who have vowed to set up vigilante groups to ensure their own safety.

The six-year-old intifadeh had succeeded in driving the Israelis to the negotiating table, replacing a dialogue of stones and bullets with diplomacy. But across the bargaining table in Egypt last week, the talking, too, hit a wall. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to agree on several crucial points: the size of the PLO enclave around Jericho; which side will monitor the sensitive border crossings between the new PLO-controlled zones and neighboring Egypt and Jordan; and how the Israelis will provide security for the Jewish settlements inside or near the Palestinian areas. PLO threats that the whole

agreement could unravel, and suggestions by Rabin that the Dec. 13 deadline could be postponed, had some of the hallmarks of negotiating postures. Most observers still expected solutions to be found. But the differences, ignored when the original agreement in principle was signed in Washington three months ago, are wide. In the absence of agreement, and with armed extremists on both sides still attacking the other, support for the accord has dropped significantly—and mistrust has replaced hope.

The most recent explosion of violence began after Israeli security forces killed two leading members of Hamas, an extremist Muslim terror network that remains the leading Palestinian opponent of the peace accord. Israel’s decision to pursue its most wanted terrorists on the eve of peace was a calculated risk. “It was now or never,” said one Israeli government official in describing the decision to hunt down the notorious killers. But almost all Palestinians were enraged when an Israeli raid on a Fatah Hawk hideout in a Gaza refugee camp resulted in the accidental killing of 25year-old Ahmed Abu Rish, a Hawk who had turned in his weapon just days earli-

er under an amnesty offered by Israel. Even Rabin appeared distressed when aides told him of the killing. The Palestinian response was harder: three days of riots that matched the height of the intifadeh's intensity.

The upsurge in violence may have unsettled Rabin and turned some Israelis against the peace process. But it presented an enormous political problem for Arafat, whose support among Palestinians depends on his

The road to peace

SEPTEMBER 13, 1993 At a Washington ceremony, Israel and the PLO sign the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government.

OCTOBER 13

The accord goes into force. Committees are formed to discuss such issues as security, economic development, water rights and communications. Within two months, the parties are to reach agreement on withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Jericho area and the Gaza Strip.

DECEMBER 13 Israelis scheduled to begin withdrawal.

APRIL 13, 1994 Israeli withdrawal to be completed. Palestinian self-rule begins a five-year transition period, during which Palestinians assume responsibility for collecting taxes and administering police, schools and hospitals.

JULY 13

Elections for a ruling Palestinian Council to be held. Israeli civil administration will be dissolved.

ability to deliver a visible peace dividend: economic improvements and an end to the iron-fisted Israeli presence in PLO-controlled territories. “Arafat artificially raised expectations about the peace agreement at first,” said Ghessan Khatib, a Palestinian political leader in Gaza who has been critical of the accord endorsed by the Tunis-based PLO leadership. “But there has been no change in daily life.” He added: “The Palestinian leadership does not live here, and they are insensitive to the feelings of the Palestinians who do. Support for Arafat is falling.”

Still, Arafat remains Israel’s best hedge

against the growing strength of Hamas, the fundamentalist group that is subsidized by Iran and, according to to some Israeli officials, by Saudi princes seeking revenge on Arafat for his proIraq stand during the 1991 Gulf War. More radical than the PLO and violently opposed to any accommodation with Israel, Hamas presents a greater threat to Israeli security than a partnership with Arafat, however risky. With its outside funding, Hamas has found support among young, poor Palestinians, providing an alternate network of money and patronage to the PLO. Indeed, it is money, not guns, that may determine which Palestinian faction finally controls the emerging Palestinian state, whatever form it takes.

Despite the lost momentum from last week’s bloody clashes, the peace process will be difficult to derail. The fact that the PLO and Israel have recognized each other’s existence and legitimacy has fundamentally altered the relationship between them. “There is a blessed fatigue on both sides which provided for a greater realization that the other is not going to go away,” said prominent Israeli writer and peace activist Amos Oz. “There will be sound and fury ahead, more blood-

shed, more terrible pictures on television. But we will never have to do the first handshake for the second time.” It is a compelling and hopeful prophecy. But last week belonged to the Middle East of history, to the young fugitives brandishing Kalashnikovs and the boyish Israeli soldier in Gaza who, when asked about the accidental killing of PLO fighter Abu Rish, said simply with a shrug: “He had to die.” □