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Date: Wed, 8 Mar 1995 14:39:54 -0500 (EST)
From: ODIN <odin@shadow.net>
Subject: PNEWS:[Mar8]-ISRAEL/News & Views
Message-ID: <Pine.SUN.3.91.950308143644.11424A-100000@anshar.shadow.net>

To the Breaking Point

Editorial comment by Adam Keller, Other Israel,
Issue No. 65, February-March 1995

Tel-Aviv, 17 February, 1995—On December 10, 1994, Rabin, Peres and Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Israelis as well as Palestinians were watching the televised proceedings in a mood of pent-up anger, turning into cold indifference. The other Oslo ceremony, which had started the whole thing, seemed ages ago. In the intervening year and half the Middle East had seen too many peace spectacles without real content, too many hopes turned to ashes.

The Palestinians had expected Oslo to put an end to Israeli occupation and domination. Israeli soldiers were indeed removed from the streets of Gaza—but only to bar the way for Palestinian workers who want to enter Israel, and to maintain the still-intact settler enclaves occupying a full third of the overcrowded Strip's scarce land.

On the West Bank the occupation remains in full force, with the promised Palestinian elections and redeployment of Israeli forces receding into an ever more hazy and uncertain future. Some aspects of the occupation—such as travel restrictions, land confiscations and settlement construction—have actually increased. The expected prisoner release did not come about; instead, thousands of new prisoners fill the prison camps, and the Shabak interrogators have gotten a more free hand in the use of moderate physical force.

For Israelis, the Oslo Agreement was supposed to mean, first and foremost, an end to terrorism. This was explicitly promised by Rabin and Peres, in speeches on the Knesset floor which they now would like to be forgotten. Instead, no less than 127 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks since Oslo—more than double the number in the preceding period, as the right-wing opposition incessantly points out. In Israeli nightmares the suicide bomber has come to replace the knife-wielding Palestinian of the early 1990s. Israeli bus companies reported a significant fall in the use of public transportation, the fearsome bombers' main target.

Yet only a few Israelis would admit to a connection between this nemesis and the growing Palestinian frustration and bitter- ness. As depicted on Israeli TV and in the mass-circulation papers, suicide bombers are just monsters, born of religious fanaticism and of unreasoning, reasonless hatred.

A year and a half after the Oslo Declaration of Principles—often dubbed peace agreement though it never claimed to be that—the Israeli-Palestinian war is as hotly on as at any time in the past decades. And on both sides, the leaderships which committed themselves to Oslo are steadily weakening.

Even were Arafat willing to try an all-out confrontation with the Islamic opposition—which Rabin is hard pressing him to do—the outcome would be far from certain. The bloody events of last November clearly demonstrated the enormous popular support of Hamas. Since then, several more months of misery and deterioration further swelled the Islamic movements' support, often for reasons having little connection with religious motives. (A recent survey indicates some support for Hamas even among Christian Palestinians.)

On the Israeli side, opinion polls are crystal clear: were elections to be held now, Likud leader Netanyahu would emerge as the winner. A bare two years after being regarded as the Labor Party's savior and main electoral asset, Rabin is increasingly considered a liability and deserted by opportunists who flock to his would-be successors.

For his predicament, Rabin has mainly himself to thank. A Nobel Prize winner, hailed throughout the world as the great peacemaker, he has done more to undermine the Oslo Agreement than any terrorist could: Endlessly dragging his feet over the implementation of Oslo, arrogantly discarding and trampling upon time-tables explicitly set out in the agreement, and enacting ever-new Confidence-Destroying Measures—the latest being the accelerated creation of a closed ring of settlements around Jerusalem, on confiscated Palestinian land.

As this issue goes into print, a new Rabin-Arafat summit has taken place at Erez Checkpoint—the latest in a series of last efforts to shore up the collapsing peace process. Afterwards, it was announced that 15,000 hungry Palestinian workers would be graciously allowed to go back to being overworked and underpaid in Israel. (A bare three years ago, some 120,000 Palestinians worked in Israel on a regular base—a period which the Palestinians, in retrospect, regard as a lost Golden Age.) The Erez summit also produced the announcement that intensive negotiations are henceforth to take place towards the full implementation of Oslo.

Given the experience of the past year and half, one can't help being a bit sceptical about such promises. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Rabin will seize what is probably the very last chance, not only to redeem the promise of peace, but also to save his skin—and his party.