Experts See New Violence Brewing


Israelis and Palestinians may appear to be on the verge of a new peace process, but Israeli army generals and seasoned observers of the Palestinian scene predict a new round of fighting, perhaps as early as next fall, after Israel completes its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.

The generals point to continued weapons smuggling and other military preparations by Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, while the Palestinian watchers see signs of growing discontent and radicalization among the Palestinian public.

According to military intelligence estimates, if there is a new eruption of terrorism it will come from the West Bank and could include Kassam rockets being fired at towns and cities inside Israel proper.

Writing in the newspaper Yediot Achronot, military analyst Alex Fishman says the Israel Defense Forces’ central command, which is responsible for the West Bank, already is gearing up for a renewal of the intifada.

The thinking in army circles is that after the Israeli withdrawal the Palestinians will see Gaza as “liberated” but will view the West Bank, which still will have a strong Israeli military and settler presence, as “occupied,” Fishman reports.

According to the army assessment, the Palestinians will have an interest in keeping the peace in Gaza to show that they can run their own affairs. But the West Bank will be an entirely different story.

With dozens of Israeli settlements and army camps still in place, the Palestinians will argue that they are fighting to end the occupation there, just as, in their view, they did in Gaza. And they will adopt the same model — firing rockets at both military and civilian targets.

According to military intelligence, the Palestinians are making a major effort to obtain the materials they need to produce rockets in the West Bank, something that until now they have been able to do only in the Gaza Strip.

West Bank-based terrorists reportedly have placed large orders for weapons and explosives for the rockets from Bedouin smugglers. One of the routes to the West Bank would be from Egypt through Gaza; another would be directly from Jordan.

Moreover, army sources say, once the IDF withdraws from all West Bank cities, as it is set to do under the terms of the current lull, the Palestinians will be able to set up workshops and manufacture the rockets unhindered.

Fishman reports that the army sees the arms smuggling as a major threat and is doing all it can to block smugglers’ routes. He says it has established a special unit to this end and taken steps to enhance intelligence- gathering capabilities among the Bedouin.

Appearing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in late March, Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash confirmed that the Palestinian terrorists are trying to export technological know-how from Gaza to facilitate the manufacture of Kassam rockets in the West Bank.

Farkash added that despite a steep decline in current terrorist operations, the militias are enhancing their capabilities for future attacks. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also expressed concern.

During a visit to Washington, Mofaz said that Palestinians had smuggled Strella anti-aircraft rockets into the Gaza Strip, which he said “crosses a red line” for Israel. The Israeli fear is that if the Strellas are smuggled into the West Bank, they could be used against passenger planes taking off from Ben-Gurion Airport.

In addition, observers of the Palestinian scene report growing grass-roots frustration with the way the nascent peace process is developing. Israeli academics and Western diplomats whose work takes them into the West Bank note mounting popular discontent because ending the armed struggle so far has failed to change people’s everyday lives, as they had hoped it would.

Menachem Klein, a Bar Ilan University expert on the Palestinians, sees signs of growing radicalization, which he believes could erupt soon in violence. Klein notes that twice, within two weeks in March, jailed Palestinian militia leader Marwan Barghouti smuggled letters out from his prison cell calling for a return to armed struggle.

Three months ago, Barghouti backed Mahmoud Abbas’ candidacy for Palestinian Authority president, though Abbas’ entire campaign was based on ending the armed struggle. Klein argues that Barghouti, with his sharp political sense, would not have written the new letters unless he felt there was considerable support for the views expressed.

“The fact that Barghouti is calling for a return to the armed struggle shows that something very profound is happening on the Palestinian street,” Klein said.

Klein sees another expression of Palestinian radicalization in the way the secular Fatah Party and the fundamentalist Hamas movement, once divided by a huge ideological gulf, are growing closer. He notes that Hamas leaders are even calling for a “joint political program” — which might tame Hamas, but more likely would radicalize the entire Palestinian movement.

The bottom line for Klein is that he believes there is no way Israel and the Palestinians will be able to conduct a successful peace process. In his view, the two leaders already are conducting a “dialogue of the deaf.”

Abbas, he says, is only interested in negotiating a final peace deal, whereas Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — who believes the sides are too far apart on basic issues to strike a lasting deal — insists on long-term interim arrangements instead.

There is no possible meeting point, Klein says.

“I see a great danger of a blow-up. I don’t know when it will happen, but it’s almost inevitable. It’s in the DNA of the process,” he said.

Not all observers agree that the process is doomed to failure. But if there is to be any chance of success, the two sides must solve a more fundamental problem: how to synchronize the rhythm of mutual concessions even before peace negotiations begin.

For now, Israel is reluctant to hand additional West Bank cities to P.A. control until the Palestinians carry out promised security reforms, while the Palestinians are reluctant to make the reforms until Israel hands over the cities. The Palestinians also have not moved on promises to take weapons from wanted terrorists in the cities already turned over to their control.

In an editorial, the left-leaning newspaper Ha’aretz suggests that Israel take the initiative.

“[Israel] must, to the best of its ability, contribute to the process that Abu Mazen is having difficulty in carrying out,” it says, using Abbas’ nom de guerre. “Even if such assistance often entails security risks.”

In the meantime, leaders on both sides see no alternative but to contemplate the possibility of failure — a state of mind, pundits warn, that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report


Sharon Interview: Truth or Bluff?

It’s customary for Israeli prime ministers to express their wishes for peace on the eve of the major Jewish holidays. But with speculation rife about how the war in Iraq will affect the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, a mid-April interview with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — notable more for Sharon’s inflection than for any startlingly original messages — has thrown Israel’s political establishment into a frenzy.

After the initial furor, however, few on the left or right believed Sharon would be able to make significant progress toward peace with the Palestinians, because of the list of tough demands he is making.

The most controversial is Sharon’s new insistence that the Palestinians give up the "right of return" for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, even before negotiations begin based on the "road map" toward peace.

In the interview with the daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Sharon injected a new time element: He said after the war in Iraq, new opportunities had opened up for a settlement with the Palestinians and that agreement could be reached "faster than people think."

He also expressed moral and economic concerns related to continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I do not think we should rule over another people and run their lives," he declared. "I don’t think we have the strength for that. It’s a very heavy burden on the public, and it raises ethical problems and heavy economic problems."

For the first time, Sharon mentioned names of settlements that Israel might have to give up in a peace deal.

"Our whole history is bound up with some of these places: Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El," Sharon said. "And I know we will have to part with some of these places. There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history."

Some right-wingers threatened to leave the government over Sharon’s comments. Left-wingers said that if the right-wingers jump ship, they would consider joining.

Arye Eldad of the far-right National Union said his party’s executive would meet soon to table its red lines and then would present Sharon with a list of conditions for staying in the government.

"We intend to do all we can to stop Sharon from facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian state," Eldad said. "We will mobilize all the support we can in the government, the Knesset, public opinion at home and abroad. And if we have to leave the government to do so, we will."

Housing Minister Effi Eitam, leader of the hawkish National Religious Party (NRP), was less apprehensive.

Sharon’s statement was worrying, Eitam said, "because it is the first time he has talked about dismantling specific settlements like Shilo and Beit El."

Yet Eitam implied that nothing along those lines was likely to happen, precisely because of the hawkish composition of the Sharon government.

"Sharon chose to form a coalition with the NRP and National Union," he said, "and it’s obvious that the government in its present form will not part with Beit El and Shiloh."

Left-wingers questioned Sharon’s sincerity. The secretary-general of the Labor Party, Ophir Pines, accused Sharon of putting on "his familiar mask of moderation," trying to please the Americans after the war in Iraq.

"On the one hand, he backs the road map for peace with the Palestinians, while on the other he sends AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington] to Congress to lobby against it," Pines charged.

Legislators from the dovish Meretz Party were equally skeptical.

"For three years, we’ve been hearing about painful concessions — and it really is painful, because during all these years, not a single concession has been made," Meretz leader Yossi Sarid quipped.

Still, Labor leaders say they would be ready to join Sharon’s coalition if he is serious about making peace.

But, said Pines, "the litmus test of his seriousness will be dumping the hawkish right-wing parties, the National Union and the NRP, because as long as they are in the government, no progress will be possible."

Pundits don’t expect this to happen. In the speech, Sharon continued to insist on demands that the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will find difficult to meet.

Progress, Sharon said, "depends first and foremost on the Arabs."

The Palestinians, he said, would have to install a new leadership, fight terrorism, carry out reforms, stop incitement, dismantle terrorist organizations and "recognize the Jewish people’s right to a homeland and the existence of an independent Jewish state in the homeland of the Jewish people."

Moreover, Sharon intimated, before Israel even started implementing the road map, the Palestinians would have to give up the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Only that and recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state could provide the basis for an end to the conflict, he said.

Many Israelis feel the Palestinian insistence on the right of return — which could swamp Israel with millions of Arabs, ending Israel as a Jewish state — is code for the destruction of Israel.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned during an early-April visit to Israel that demanding a concession on the right of return from the outset would kill negotiations before they even start.

Some Israeli pundits agreed.

"Now Sharon is conditioning his agreement to Palestinian statehood on their giving up the ‘right of return,’ which even the moderate Palestinians see as their main bargaining chip in negotiations for a final settlement," Yediot Achronot’s veteran diplomatic analyst, Nahum Barnea, wrote. "Trying to make this a precondition is a sure way to torpedo the talks or the road map before they get under way."

Israel now is trying to get the "right of return first" idea incorporated in the road map.

Given Fischer’s reaction, the chances of success are probably nil. Yet, if the United States and the other players who helped draft the road map — Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — present the road map as is, Sharon probably will have trouble getting it through his right-leaning government.

That means that if Sharon is as serious as he says he is about peacemaking, he may have to consider shuffling the coalition deck somewhere down the road.

Indeed, on this score, his interview — and the reactions to it — might have been a taste of things to come.

World Briefs

Variety Comes Down on Egyptian

Variety, the daily newspaper covering the entertainment industry, admonished Egyptian television in a Nov. 13 editorial for running its 41-part series called “Horseman Without a Horse,” a series which is based on the anti-Semitic tract

“Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The series has not only come under fire from Jewish groups, but the U.S. government as well. Last week, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to condemn an anti-Semitic television program; the Bush administration also has urged Egypt to review the miniseries. This week the entertainment industry weekly jumped into the fray. “Leaders of the U.S. entertainment industry must come up with some sort of suitable admonition to Egyptian state television for running its 41-part series,” Variety Editor-in-Chief Peter Bart wrote. “The U.S. pumps some $2 billion a year in aid to Egypt and Hollywood dispatches a flow of movies and TV shows to that nation, which pretends to be one of the more enlightened centers of the Arab world,” he noted. “But if state-run television in Egypt effectively transforms itself into a prime time propaganda organ, it should hear about it from Hollywood. Loud and Clear.”

Israeli Army Moves Into Nablus

The Israeli army took control of the West Bank city of Nablus. Soldiers, heavy armor and helicopter gunships moved on Nablus early Wednesday morning after the army took control of Tulkarm and an adjacent refugee camp a day earlier. Operation Wheels in Motion is the biggest Israeli military operation in months, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israeli officials said the operation is focusing on Tulkarm and Nablus because the two cities have been linked to Sunday’s attack on a kibbutz in which five Israelis were killed. After taking control of Nablus, soldiers imposed a curfew and began house-to-house searches for terrorists. In a statement, the army said its operation also involves a crackdown on Bir Zeit north of Ramallah.

In another incident early Wednesday, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a suspected weapons-making workshop in downtown Gaza City. It was the second such strike on the site in two days. There were no reports of casualties.

Report: U.S. Puts Peacemaking On

The United States reportedly agreed to an Israeli request to put U.S. peacemaking efforts on hold until after Israel’s January elections. Agreement was reached Monday in Washington during a meeting between the head of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, Dov Weisglass, and the U.S. national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Netanyahu Pledge Angers Arafat

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat responded angrily to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that, if elected prime minister, he would expel Arafat. “Netanyahu has to remember that I am Yasser Arafat and that this is my land and the land of my great-great-grandfathers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dismantled 23 settlement outposts in the past month, according to Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Speaking before the Knesset on Wednesday, Mofaz also said three outposts are currently being evacuated and that the High Court of Justice will soon decide the fate of six others, Israel Radio reported. The IDF is currently investigating the status of 35 other settlement outposts.

Harvard Uninvites Controversial Poet

Harvard’s English department retracted an invitation to a poet who once said West Bank settlers should be “shot dead.” Following student complaints, the department chair, Lawrence Buell, issued a statement saying the reading had been canceled “by mutual consent of the poet and the English Department.” Buell also said he “sincerely regretted the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result” of the invitation to Tom Paulin, who lectures at Oxford University.

The invitation “had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin’s lifetime accomplishments as a poet,” the statement added. Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper earlier this year that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers should be “shot dead,” according to National Review Online. These settlers are “Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them,” he also was quoted as saying. “I can understand how suicide bombers feel.”

Former Bank Guard to be Naval Reservist

A former Swiss bank guard who rescued sensitive Holocaust-era documents from the shredder decided to become a reservist in the U.S. Navy. Christoph Meili moved to the United States after his actions at the bank in January 1997 brought him adulation from the U.S. Jewish community, but prompted death threats in his native Switzerland. Now living in California, Meili recently signed up to be a naval reservist a move that can again get him in hot water back in Switzerland.

A Swiss Foreign Ministry official said it is against the law for a Swiss citizen to serve in a foreign army without the government’s approval. As a result of his actions, Meili could face arrest upon his return to Switzerland. But this is apparently not a concern for Meili. “I will apply for U.S. citizenship very shortly, and therefore I am not afraid,” he told the Swiss daily Blick.

Six Egyptians Charged as Spies

Six people were arrested in Egypt on charges of spying for Israel. Egyptian officials said Wednesday that the six, operating under the cover of a travel agency, had spied for Israel in exchange for money, according to The Associated Press. Earlier this year, two other Egyptian nationals were found guilty of spying for Israel and sentenced to 10 years and 15 years in prison with hard labor. Israel has denied such allegations in the past.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.