Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Clinton Is the Key to Peace in the Middle East
An Israeli visitor, a mid-level government official offers the following scenario that might cure the conflicts in Israel that arose since the election victory of the conservative Likud Party and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Labor Party, resulting in the government backing away from Israel's withdrawals from the West Bank and the expansion of the limited Palestinian rule in such territories, as agreed by the PLO and the Labor government in the 1993 Oslo treaty. My source maintains that President Clinton is a hero in Israel, and if he were to run for office, 90% of both Labor nad Likud supporters would vote for him. If he were to apply pressure with Netanyahu to complete the current Phase B of the Oslo peace agreement that was being implemented by the Labor government, serious peace talks would resume. Clinton's pressure would also help in the negotiations with Yassir Arafat, President of the Palestinian authority, the rulers of Egypt and Jordan, who supported the Labor government, and the Moslem countries that had changed to a neutral stance while Israel was seriously implementing the Oslo treaty.
Netanyahu is not as rabid as the right-wing secular religious members of his Likud coalition, and might be able to use the fulcrum of Clinton's pressure with his party-mates to at least perform some symbolic acts of compromise that would show his govenment as continuing the talks in good faith.
Before the elections Clinton did not tackle Netanyahu, for fear of losing Jewish backers in the U.S. Now he will be free to pressure the government coalition. US money and support in the UN and world-wide is an important psychological weapon in keeping Israeli morale up while surrounded by hundreds of millions of Moslems. A threat of diminished support coupled with an honorable plan that would not result in a loss of face for Netanyahu and Israel might sway the Prime Minister.
Phase B of the Oslo agreement involves transfering control in key Arab towns, and the last town on the schedule is Hebron in Judea, a holy place for both Jews and Moslems. Its Cave of Machpelah (the Arab name is Ibrahimye Mosque) is the burial site of the three Patriarchs Abraham (Ibrahim), Isaac and Jacob, who are also Prophets in the Muslim religion, and their spouses, the Matriarchs. Hebron is also the place where in 1929 67 Jews were slaughtered by Arabs, and the sanctuary over the Cave is where the Brooklyn immigrant Dr. Baruch Goldstein shot up and killed over 20 Arabs while they were at prayer during the Ramadan, in February of 1994, in the mad notion that he could renew the war between Jews and Arabs and stop the peace movement.
About 100,000 Arabs and 450 Israeli settlers live inside Hebron town. The settlers' rights were guaranteed by the Oslo pact and accepted by Yassir Arafat as well as by the then Prime Minister Yithzak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The crux of the present negotiations is the control of traffic in the Hebron area. The discussions are bogged down in minutia that are extremely significant to the parties. One issue is patrolling of two roads (less than 10 miles) by joint Israeli and PA police patrols in separate cars - this is accepted, but currently Israel wants the patrols extended about 200 feet into adjoining side roads, the distance at which rock throwers can operate, to enable "hot pursuit." Next, the armament of the PA police; the number and percent of rifles vs. handguns is at stake, as is the availability of tractor gear vs. tires for the PA police patrol cars. The road under discussion leads from the militant Israeli Kiryat Arba settlement of 20,000 inhabitants ouside of Hebron, through a passage between mountains to the in-town enclave of the 450, then on to the Cave on the outskirts of Hebron, located on the main Jerusalem highway. Army patrols on the road are extremely vulnerable to snipers from the hills; the soldiers are unnecessarily exposed; the 450 settlers, half of them American (as are the Kiryat Arba inhabitants) endanger their children for a principle, amid an Arab population still chafing from the Goldstein murders. The Arabs see the "hot pursuit" as an unwarranted addition to the Oslo agreements, and the Jews view the arms issues in a like fashion. This is where Clinton can come in and break the logjam.
The issues are significant. In both Israeli and PA eyes rifles transform the police into an army, as do tank-like tracks on the cars. Members of the uncompromising far right faction of the Likud coalition want to bog down the disputes, in the expectation that they would stall. This could lead to resumption of war, and withdrawal of the aspects of independence granted to the Palestinian Authority in Oslo pact phases A and B. That was the objective of the provocateurs Goldstein and Yigal Amir (who killed Rabin). Now the atmosphere has grown more tense because early in November the extremist Infrastructure Minister Gen. Ariel Sharon announced a plan to move 100,000 new Israeli settlers into the West Bank, which Netanyahu claims to be only a proposal, to be studied by the government. Arafat has hemanded that new settlements be frozen (that also impacts the sales of some Israeli residences already built on the West Bank), before the Hebron issues are resolved.
It may well be that the threat of new settlements is to create a playing card for Israel in the impending Phase C negotiations. The fear is that it will provoke a bloody large-scale war.
Arafat, who is an opportunist with a long-term objective of a Palestinian State, is eager to continue talks which will give him West Bank territories targeted in the Oslo agreements, and is holding down the Arab militants. He sees that it is easier to acquire territory through negotiations than war: Phase C of the talks, to come after Phase B (Hebron) is concluded, determines the disposition of the land of the West Bank ("occupied territories"); decides on the degree of Palestinian rule of the West Bank; establishes the final relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Phase C also involves the fate of Jerusalem, to be decided by the year 2000. It is the spiritual home of Judaism and the 3rd most holy city of Islam. For Jews, both Peres and Netanyahu, the thought of dividing Jerusalem is blasphemy.
(For reference, the completed phases aof the 1993 Oslo agreement are Phase A, which gave the PA Jericho and the Gaza Strip, free, world's most highly populated 30 x 5 miles, with 800,000 inhabitants, and Phase B, which to date transferred control in key West Bank towns to the Palestinians.
Even those who mistrust and hate Arafat recognize that today he is a definite advocate of peace, not because the tiger has changed his stripes but for palpably evident selfish reasons. Even when he talks "struggle, fight, jihad" in the camps and implores refugees to have 12 children, it is recognized as rhetoric by Israelis and shrugged off. He has to show anger among his adherents, to overcome the stigma of being an Israeli and American puppet, as he is seen by Arab militants.
While seeking a compromise, both Jews and Arabs must beware of the destroyers of peace on both sides. Another Goldstein or Amir might next attack the obvious high-profile target, Yassir Arafat, and cause another breakup, bringing Hamas and Hebzollah back on war status. He is the most likely target for the enemies of peace on the Arab side too. There is some serious concern among Israelis about providing all-around protection for him against potential provocateurs from both sides. The same concerns apply also when he visits America and Europe. His selfish objectives are transparent; his need for Western support, in view of his loss of Soviet and Saudi contributions, is palpable; he has no alternative but to be the emissary for peace - and, as such, be exposed. Terrorists/provocateurs can assume many identities, there are those who will go to jail for life to serve a principle.
Israel is a country of 4.5 million Jews, half a million Arab citizens, flanked by 1 and 3/4 million Palestinians under Israeli control, and surrounded by over 100 million inimical Moslems, including millions of Palestinian refugees. It has not been at peace since its establishment in 1947. In response to attacks in 1948, 1956 and 1967 it occupied Egypt's Sinai Strip, Lebanon's Golan Heights and Jordan's West Bank (Samaria and Judea), and over the years 150,000 Israeli settlers built some 50 settlements in the West Bank territories, rightly or wrongly. That is where the trouble lies. A peaceful settlemet may be un its way, if the enemies of peace can be held back. Similarly, a peaceful settlement may be possible in Golan Heights, another hotly disputed area triple the size of Gaza, barring no disturbances. President Clinton may be the most important player. Let us hope that he will do the right thing. We may not be able to stop the trouble in Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda, or Cambodia, Somalia and former Yugoslavia, but in the MIddle East we have a better chance, without seending in the troops.
OMIT: [The Israeli visitor was accosted in an electronics store by a salesman, immigrant fom Tel Aviv, who loudly denounced the Israeli Laborites for "giving away Jewish lands." When the visitor mildly replied that he and his family lived in Israel and had to worry about peace, while this man was hiding in New York, they almost came to blows. The salesman stalked away indignantly when the visitor asked about the last time when the salesman had fulfilled his Israeli army reserve obligation (Israelis serve yearly until age 50, and remain on call until age 75 - except some Orthodox religious sects, who do not serve).]