Vote Generates Mix of Hope, Wariness


 

Edna Bar-Or wants to be optimistic about the prospects for peace after this week’s Palestinian elections, but like many Israelis, she is not sure she can.

“I very much hope it will bring good,” said Bar-Or, 55, surrounded by stacks of laundry and hangers full of pressed shirts at her dry cleaning shop. “I want to be optimistic, but I don’t think anyone knows what will be.

Israelis followed news of the Palestinian Authority elections Sunday, pausing to listen to radio and television news broadcasts and to read newspaper front pages plastered with large photographs of Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen. Yasser Arafat’s former deputy won the vote by 62 percent and will become the next president of the Palestinian Authority.

The low-key, silver-haired Abbas, who has repeatedly spoken out against the armed struggle of the intifada, appears to be a leader Israel might be able to negotiate with. Abbas’ moderate comments give Israelis a measure of hope that his election could be a historic turning point, but they know an uphill effort lies ahead for Abbas.

“I’m not jealous of him at all; he has so many problems to handle,” Bar-Or said.

Israelis, like the Palestinians, are keenly aware of the tall order that lies ahead for Abbas: uniting security forces to crack down on extremist Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, renewing peace efforts with Israel in an effort to achieve the Palestinian goal of independent statehood and instituting reforms to quash corruption within the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials said it was in Israel’s interest for the Palestinian elections to go as smoothly as possible. Army bulldozers removed roadblocks throughout the West Bank to ease freedom of movement for voters, and international observers said movement was relatively unfettered.

The army also stopped operations across the West Bank with the exception of the villages in the area where an Israeli soldier was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting and four others were wounded over the weekend.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel hoped for a smooth election process “so that starting from tomorrow, the new Palestinian leadership will be able to do what it is required to do.”

Shalom said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio, “I think that the leader who is elected will have to wage a genuine struggle against terror immediately,” adding that Israel expects a “new, different Palestinian leadership that will be prepared to move in the direction of peace.”

But some Israelis remained unmoved by the potential for change following the death of Arafat two months ago.

“Do you really think these elections will mean something?” asked David Weinberg, a Tel Aviv lawyer as he walked past the memorial marking the spot where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was slain in 1995. “Anyone with half a brain can see this is the same group of terrorists. Maybe some people see change, but Abu Mazen says he will start talking; he is not saying he will actually do anything.”

Weinberg also said he had little faith in the new Israeli unity government set to take power this week.

“I only see more of the same continuing, and maybe even worse things to come,” he said.

Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya, doesn’t expect Abbas to be able to make a breakthrough peace deal with Israel. Karmon views Abbas as an ideologue like Arafat, who will not press for major changes.

“I think only a younger leadership that grew up in the West Bank and Gaza will be able to reach a compromise with Israel,” Karmon said.

But Abbas could be a partner to short-term progress in such moves as a coordinated Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to Karmon.

Israel also will have to take stronger action against Hezbollah, which is carrying out an increasing number of anti-Israel attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Karmon added, if Abbas is to have a chance of helping forge a more peaceful period.

David Ohana, a professor of Israeli history at Ben-Gurion University, sees in Abbas a Palestinian leader with whom Israelis finally can imagine negotiating.

“Arafat was a myth and Israelis could not speak with myths,” Ohana said. “Arafat symbolized the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in black and white, so it was easy not to see the gray.

“The most important thing about Abu Mazen,” he added, is that “he is not a picture or myth but he is a human being.”

Abbas also dresses like a European leader, and looks like someone who could be a neighbor, he said.

Ohana said Israelis are about to face the first challenge.

“I think this is a test case for us first of all, not the Palestinians. If we want to solve the problems, we have here an opportunity,” he said.

Afu Badawi, 48, an Israeli Arab from Nazareth, works at a falafel stand making pita bread. Working the pita dough, his hands covered with flour, he said Abbas will have to make some tough choices if he wants to succeed.

“He needs to do the right thing for his people, to focus on rights, the economy and make sure everything is free of corruption,” Badawi said. “Otherwise, he will just be a continuation of Arafat.”

Golan Shiri, 30, who works at a different falafel restaurant, is skeptical that Abbas will be able to do anything at all.

“Abu Mazen can want to make changes all he wants, but does that mean he will really be able to make a difference?” Shiri said. “It’s not so much up to him. It’s the warlords who really control things, not the officials.”

Shlomo Tenami, a 58-year-old office clerk, also has little hope that an Abbas victory will lead to a revolution in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

“I hope, but I don’t have a lot of hope, because we have tried so many times before,” Tenami said. “Every time we give them land the violence just continues.”

 

Israel Distrusts Syria Peace Talks Proposal


Under strong pressure from Washington to pull Syrian forces out of Lebanon and prevent cross-border terror against U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq, Syria’s President Bashar Assad has again been talking about a readiness for peace with Israel.

The Israeli establishment, however, is skeptical. Officials close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say Assad is only trying to impress the Americans and is not ready to meet Israel’s condition for renewed peace talks — stopping Palestinian terror groups based in Damascus or the Hezbollah based in Lebanon from orchestrating suicide attacks against Israelis in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper.

They accuse Assad of playing a dangerous double game: talking peace while backing terror.

Assad’s peace talk came after the U.N. Security Council recently urged him to withdraw Syrian soldiers from Lebanon and just before the United States threatened to impose stronger economic sanctions on Syria if it failed to do so.

American Middle East envoy William Burns, in a two-hour meeting with Assad in Damascus over last weekend, also warned the Syrian leader of dire consequences if he failed to crack down on terror launched from Syrian soil against U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The Syrian president’s latest peace overtures were sounded in a meeting earlier this month that he initiated with Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Edward Gabriel, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco.

Assad told his American guests that peace with Israel remained a strategic goal and that he was ready to restart negotiations at any time without preconditions. He said his main demand was for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines, but that he was ready to negotiate over where those lines actually ran.

He said nothing about restarting talks from the point previous negotiations broke down, a longstanding Syrian demand rejected by Israel. He also did not link progress on the Syrian track with resolution of the Palestinian issue.

All this was carefully calculated to appeal to an Israeli audience. Even dovish Israelis, ready to trade the strategic Golan Heights for peace with Syria, want the border along the 1948 armistice line, a few hundred yards from the Sea of Galilee, and not on the line much closer to the water, a line that the Syrian army created through a series of encroachments between 1948 and 1967.

Moreover, the Sharon government is insisting on resuming peace talks from scratch. In his meeting with Indyk and Gabriel, Assad intimated that he would now be willing to consider these two key Israeli demands.

Assad added that he realized that Sharon was now preoccupied with his plan to disengage from the Palestinians. But as soon as the Israeli leader was ready for negotiations, Assad said he would be ready to take him up on the matter.

Indyk relayed the gist of Assad’s presentation to Terje Larsen, the special U.N. Middle East envoy. Impressed, Larsen initiated an interview on Israel TV and declared: "I would grab Assad’s offer with both hands."

Indyk, who now heads the Saban Center for Middle Eastern Policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington, and was deeply involved in previous Israeli-Syrian peace efforts, was more circumspect. He said it was clear that Assad’s main aim was to improve Syrian ties with the United States, and that any peacemaking with Israel would be primarily a means to that end.

However, in an interview with Nahum Barnea in the Yediot Achronot daily newspaper, Indyk argued that whatever Assad’s motivation, Israel had much to gain by engaging in peace talks with Syria.

Once in a process with Israel, Assad would have to clamp down on terror, Indyk suggested. He added that in the absence of a Palestinian peace partner, talking to Assad would show that Israel could hold a dialogue with a credible Arab interlocutor and thereby enhance its image in the Arab world and Europe.

The Israeli response has been wary. The chief of Israel’s military intelligence, Aharon "Farkash" Ze’evi, said that given the situation in Iraq and the emergence of regional power centers in Iran and Turkey, he doubted whether Syria would stop backing Palestinian terror in the near future.

A few days before Assad’s peace overtures, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz blamed Damascus for the twin suicide bus bombings in Beersheba on Sept. 1. He warned that Israel would not tolerate a situation in which Syria hosted and backed terrorist leaders who were drawing up plans and giving orders for terror against Israelis.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage even suggested in an interview with Egyptian TV last week that Syria bore "some responsibility" for the attack, given its support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Rather than making peace, Mofaz intimated that the two countries could soon find themselves locked in combat. Speaking to foreign correspondents a few days after Assad’s overtures, Justice Minster Yosef "Tommy" Lapid made it clear that before any peace talks could start, Israel wanted to see tangible signs of Syrian good faith: "If the Syrians stop the terror, we will not refuse to sit down with them."

Assad, however, clearly sees Syrian support for terror as a powerful bargaining chip. He is not prepared to give it up without a substantial quid pro quo. He made it plain to Indyk that he was ready to put Syrian backing for Hezbollah and its hosting of the rejectionist Palestinian organizations on the table, but that he would not stop his support for terror as a precondition for talks.

So, for now, the possibility of talks between Israel and Syria seems to be stymied by a new version of the old "after you" syndrome.

In the Rabin era, Israel insisted that Syria first normalize relations, while Syria demanded that Israel first withdraw. Now Israel is saying first stop supporting terror, and Syria is saying first start talking peace.

On the Israeli side, analysts say, the reasons for lack of movement on the Syrian front go deeper. Sharon is not ready to contemplate withdrawal from Golan while under massive public pressure over his planned withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank. He has shown no sign of being convinced of the wisdom of withdrawing from the Golan under any circumstances.

There is another snag, too. Syria is no longer in a position to promise to deliver peace with the entire Arab world as Assad’s father could, when he negotiated with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak more than four years ago.

What will Sharon do if, in response to international pressure, Syria starts withdrawing a substantial number of its 17,000 troops in Lebanon and loosening its bonds with Palestinian terror? Will Israel then, by engaging Assad, be able to engender a process that leads to a further fall in Syrian support for terror and eventually, to a peace both sides can benefit from?

If Assad can show that he is genuine, Sharon may be the one under international pressure and facing an offer he cannot refuse.

Alliance Backs Hotel Workers’ Pay Fight


"I’ve been working at the Century Plaza for three years. I’ve had only a 44-cent raise, and I have two children. It’s hard to support a family with this salary," hotel worker Sonya Lopez told a crowd in Roxbury Park at the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s (PJA) Aug. 8 event, "Justice in the Park," to educate groups on the hotel workers’ position.

Since their extended contract expired June 1, unionized workers at nine Los Angeles hotels have been embroiled in a struggle with hotel management over new terms. Aside from a battle over wages and other benefits, the main sticking point between the two groups is the length of the contract.

Most of the workers are low-wage earners, starting at about $11 an hour, and many are recent immigrants.

"These are people who are part of the working poor in Los Angeles," said Daniel Sokatch, PJA executive director. "These are folks who are one step away from poverty, sliding down the slippery slope, the abyss of being the true poor."

PJA organized the "Justice in the Park" event to bring together Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Workmen’s Circle, Sholem Community and the Jewish Labor Committee. "[At] PJA, we see it as our role both to be the Jewish voice in the economic justice community, and the economic justice voice in the Jewish community," Sokatch said.

After 16 negotiating sessions, the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union, Local 11 and the Los Angeles Hotel Council, which represents nine hotels, have no more meetings scheduled. The hotels involved are the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles, Hyatt West Hollywood, Westin Century Plaza, St. Regis, Sheraton Universal, Wilshire Grand, Millennium Biltmore, Regent Beverly Wilshire and Westin Bonaventure.

"On July 1, the union took a vote, rejecting our last, best and final offer," said Fred Muir, representing the Hotel Council.

"There have not been any major points of agreement thus far on any substantive issue," said David Koff, a union representative. He said that the hotels’ final offer was rejected by 92 percent of the workers on July 1. "The parties are far apart."

On July 2, the hotels officially declared an impasse, Muir said, which, in the absence of a contract, allowed management to enact a $10-a-week co-pay for healthcare without the union’s consent.

Family healthcare had previously been provided free to employees.

But even more than wages or healthcare costs, the one major sore point for management, Muir said, is the union’s insistence on a two-year contract. The hotels want a five- or six-year contract.

"Look at all the time and expense and unhappiness and uncertainty we’re going through right now with a contract negotiation," Muir said. "We don’t want to do this again in two years. It’s not good for us or our workers, and it’s not good for the L.A. economy."

But renegotiating in 2006 is very important for the union, because hotel workers’ contracts in cities around the nation are expiring, and unions want to band together to improve their bargaining positions.

"Over the last decade, the employers have consolidated into several large national and multinational corporations, [while] the workers have remained more or less local entities," Koff said. "The hotel workers want to be able to all negotiate with all those chains at the same time." He pointed out that the grocery workers’ recent struggle demonstrated management’s divide-and-conquer policy, and that multinational corporations’ deep pockets usually let them win out. "If they’re negotiating in one part of the country, they’re still doing business as usual in the rest of the country," Koff said.

Although several of the Los Angeles hotels are part of multinational corporations, the council will not accept a two-year contract.

"We consider it a local issue," Muir said.

He noted that hotels are willing to reinstate free healthcare for workers, as long as they accept a five-year contract.

After eight months of steady work at a hotel, worker Lester Obado said he’s received a raise of only 23 cents. "A lot of my co-workers tell me, ‘You’re young; you can find another job.’ I could do that," Obado told the crowd of more than 100 people at the event. "But no. I’m staying, and I’m going to fight for my job."

Sokatch believes that "Jewish history, tradition and ethics" support workers’ rights.

"We were immigrants to this country who came and took these kinds of jobs, and we realized the American dream through hard work, education and organizing in the labor movement," he said. "But hard work no longer guarantees that you can come out of the ranks of the working poor and into the middle and upper classes in America," Sokatch said of today’s economy. "These people are in this precarious position that one thing going wrong in their lives, a sick child, a broken car, an increase in healthcare, can tumble the entire house of cards."

At "Justice in the Park," Jewish community leaders broke the crowd into small groups to discuss how Jewish tradition and belief can be instructive in the hotel dispute. Educators like Aryeh Cohen, chair of rabbinic studies at the University of Judaism, and Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life at USC, among others, led the small discussions.

There is no sign of a strike yet, and workers are continuing to work without a contract. However, Koff said, "the union will step up actions in the streets, working with the community and to make the employers realize that it’s in their best interest to be responsive to what the workers have told them."

"What we’re hoping is that the Jewish community will make a statement," Sokatch said. "That they will say to the owners, ‘We like your hotels, [but our] notion of what is kosher goes beyond how your kitchens are kept — it goes to the way you treat the people who work there.’"

Turmoil Could Bring Chance for Progress


Few doubt that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan has the potential to become a watershed event in Middle Eastern politics, and it already is causing major upheavals in both internal Israeli and Palestinian politics.

Sharon is being forced to widen his coalition to ensure a parliamentary and Cabinet majority for the plan, while on the Palestinian side, the impending Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip has triggered an unprecedented challenge to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s authority, as well as demands for a new style of governance.

It’s not yet clear what kind of coalition Sharon will form, nor how the violence and confusion among the Palestinians will play out. However, if Sharon is able to build a strong coalition and if a new, more pragmatic Palestinian government emerges from the present chaos, the current turmoil could be a prelude to a significant breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Sharon’s coalition negotiations, though, are going to be very tricky. Given the widespread opposition in his own Likud Party to the plan for Israeli disengagement from the Palestinians, Sharon needs to bring in the pro-disengagement Labor Party to ensure approval for his plan in the Cabinet and Knesset.

Ideally, Sharon would like to build a secular coalition with the center-right Likud, center-left Labor and centrist Shinui Party, which would command over 70 seats in the 120-member Knesset and see eye-to-eye on a disengagement agenda.

But Sharon’s Likud opponents argue that such a coalition would lead to policies too accommodating toward the Palestinians and to a dilution of the Likud’s conservative economic policy, which is pulling Israel out of its recession. Worse, they maintain, if Sharon forms a coalition with only Likud, Labor and Shinui, it will be perceived as too middle-class and Ashkenazi, and the Likud would lose at least half of its working-class Sephardi constituency in the next elections.

“We would drop from 40 to around 20 Knesset seats,” said Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who is considered something of a political savant in the Likud. But Shalom is also part of the problem. He’s concerned that if Labor joins the government, he might lose the Foreign Ministry to Labor leader Shimon Peres.

So far, Sharon is not making any promises, but he will be very wary of taking on Shalom in the Likud Central Committee. The foreign minister wields tremendous clout in that forum, which he intends to display at a huge rally scheduled July 25. Moreover, if he believes Sharon isn’t treating him right, Shalom is intimating that he’s ready to form an alliance with his old enemy, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Such an alliance could seriously threaten Sharon’s hold on power in the party and the government, if the policy and personal differences lead to a showdown.

That’s why Sharon has been forced into opening coalition talks with two ultra-Orthodox parties, the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism bloc and the Sephardi Shas Party. Together they have 16 seats in the Knesset and could replace Shinui — which now has 14 seats — to form a stable government with Likud and Labor. That would allow Sharon to be generous to Labor with Shinui’s portfolios. Peres could be given a special peace portfolio rather than the Foreign Ministry, and the Likud would be able to keep its working-class voters.

But that would be less than ideal for Sharon. The ultra-Orthodox parties, which tend to the right, could undermine the disengagement plan or threaten to undermine it unless they get concessions on religious issues or bigger budgets for religious institutions.

Sharon would like to see the ultra-Orthodox balanced by the staunchly secular Shinui — but each side refuses to sit in a coalition with the other.

To get more support for a coalition with Labor and Shinui, with or without the ultra-Orthodox, Sharon is warning Likud rebels that if they don’t support him, the inevitable result will be new elections, which could cost many of them their Knesset seats.

To solve the Shalom problem, pundits believe Sharon will leave him at the Foreign Ministry and offer Peres, in addition to the special portfolio, a “forum-of-two” mechanism, whereby the two elder statesmen would make key decisions together, regardless of whether Shinui, the Orthodox parties or both wind up in the coalition.

Sharon and Peres, though, take very different views of the current chaos on the Palestinian side. Sharon said the chaos highlights the fact that there is no Palestinian partner, and that Israel has no choice but to take unilateral action.

Peres said the chaos shows the danger of pulling out of the Gaza Strip without talking to Palestinians, who are in a position to maintain law and order, about a transition of power.

The indications on the ground are that Israel has virtually won the intifada: More and more Palestinians are questioning its rationale and acknowledging its failure to bring any political gains. Indeed, this sense of failure is the mainspring behind the growing criticism of Arafat.

The question now is whether Sharon, by building a new coalition and pushing his disengagement plan through, can turn Israel’s advantage on the ground into political coin.


Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

The Drawbacks of the Proposed Pullback


The targeted killing of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin and the
“open season” that Israel has declared against Hamas leaders and those of other
Palestinian terrorist organizations must be viewed as part
of a larger Israeli policy designed to achieve a number of objectives.

One of the major objectives is to create more favorable
conditions for Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the
dismantling of the settlements there. The assassination of Yassin was designed
to weaken Hamas over the long-term and was also designed to prevent
Palestinians from coming to the conclusion that Israel was withdrawing under
fire from the Gaza Strip (thanks to the efforts of Hamas and other terrorist
organizations) and thus make it possible to avoid the kind of blow to Israeli
deterrence that occurred in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from southern
Lebanon in May 2000.

It is highly doubtful, however, that Israel will be able to
enjoy the longer-term benefits of this and future key assassinations should it
implement Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s separation plan. This is because this
anticipated pullback, far from decreasing the number of future terrorist
attacks, will actually increase it.

Sharon’s separation plan is designed to minimize the
financial and human costs involved in maintaining direct Israeli control over
enclaves within heavily populated Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip (and in
some of the West Bank), as well as to provide more easily defensible lines that
can be held by fewer troops.

One of the increasingly serious problems that Israel has
faced over the nearly four years of open conflict with the Palestinians has
been how to maintain troop levels high enough to cope with security threats on
the part of Palestinian terrorists, while, at the same time, not undermining
the system of military reserves from which much of the additional troop
strength is taken.

The fence network already in place in Gaza and being built
in the West Bank includes a sophisticated system of cameras and other high-tech
devices designed to detect movement — thus enabling the Israel Defense Forces
to station fewer troops at fewer points along the fence in order to achieve
what would previously have required far larger deployments.

While the idea of pulling back the Israeli army and
dismantling Israeli settlements located in the heart of Palestinian-populated
areas in the Gaza Strip is, in and of itself, a necessary step in the context
of a future peace settlement, it becomes a catastrophic mistake in the absence
of such a peace settlement. And this, for three primary reasons.

Firstly, any pullback of the Israeli army and dismantling of
Israeli settlements in the context of an ongoing Palestinian campaign of
terrorism against Israel offers the Palestinians both a moral and a practical
victory. Yasser Arafat’s strategy of encouraging terrorism against Israel as a
means to “force Israel’s hand” will be vindicated, because he will be achieving
a long-standing and major goal — the “ending of the occupation” over part of
land claimed by the Palestinians, as well as the dismantling of some of the
hated Israeli settlements.

Handing Arafat such a victory will only encourage him — and
those who share his view that terrorism is a legitimate tool to be used to
achieve national goals — to continue to believe that negotiations with Israel
and concessions to it, in the context of a peace process, are not necessary.
Why should Palestinians negotiate and make compromises when sticking to a
policy of promoting terrorist violence eventually produces Israeli concessions
without any comparable Palestinian concessions?

The prime minister of Israel is thus sending the
Palestinians a clear message that violence and terrorism pay and that Israel
does not have the resolve, in the long run, to defend its interests and to
stand firm against terrorism. In practice, the main benefactor of this in the
Gaza Strip will be Hamas, and thus Israel will be inadvertently handing these
intractable enemies of Israel a victory.

Secondly, this anticipated pullback, far from decreasing the
number of future terrorist attacks will actually increase it. This is because
Israel’s policy of surrounding Palestinian cities with army roadblocks and
entering the heart of Palestinian cities from time to time on search and arrest
missions of Palestinian terrorists and attacks on Palestinian bomb-making
factories forces the terrorists further underground and significantly restricts
their freedom of action to plan and execute terrorist attacks against Israel.

A withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will provide Palestinian
terrorists with complete freedom of action, and the result will be larger
numbers of attacks, as well as increasingly deadlier ones. No network of fences
can guarantee complete success in preventing terrorist attacks if they are not
coupled with an active military policy of searching out the terrorists where
they live and plan their attacks.

Moreover, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have already
acted to attempt to surmount Israel’s barriers there by building increasingly
sophisticated Kassam rockets, which they fire from time to time into Israeli
towns near the borders of the Gaza Strip. If a future planned withdrawal from
much of the West Bank is also carried out, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international
airport will be within range of such rockets.

This will create a situation similar to the one that Israel
faces on its northern border, where Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel have
successfully limited Israel’s freedom of action in responding to Hezbollah
attacks on the border and active support for Palestinian terrorism.

Thirdly, the inevitable wave of terrorism that Israel will
experience in the weeks and months following the planned unilateral withdrawal
will necessitate Israel going back in and reentering Palestinian cities in
Gaza, as it had done with respect to the West Bank in April 2002, during
Operation Defensive Shield.

And, as was the case during Operation Defensive Shield, the
crowded Palestinian cities will take their toll on human lives –Â Israeli and
Palestinian — as Palestinian gunmen set traps for the Israeli army and
Palestinian civilians find themselves caught in the crossfire.

Moreover, international criticism of Israel, which has, all
in all, been increasingly muted over time, will flare up once again as the
world is treated to images of Israeli tanks inside Palestinian refugee camps.
From the point of view of public relations, a continued Israeli presence, which
the world is used to seeing and has grown tired of commenting on, is preferable
to a renewed and broad-based Israeli military assault on Palestinian cities.

As long as a credible Palestinian leadership that is
committed to negotiation, which means also a commitment to making painful
compromises, does not exist, unilateral withdrawal cannot produce tangible
benefits for Israel. Moreover, such a withdrawal will not require any
commitment whatsoever on the part of the Palestinians to maintaining a
semblance of quiet in the areas vacated by Israel.

The vacuum created by the withdrawal of the Israeli army
will quickly be filled by terrorist organizations and, in the Gaza Strip, this
means primarily Hamas. This is hardly a more desirable situation than the
present one. Â


Dr. Nadav Morag is director of the Center for Israel Studies at the University of Judaism.

Geneva Accord Stirs


After its gala launch in Switzerland this week, the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal known as the Geneva accord is rapidly picking up international support.

Monday’s festive launch was designed to generate international and grass-roots pressure on leaders on both sides to take bold peace steps.

However, can the Geneva accord, reached by people who hold no office, become the basis for a real peace deal and break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock? Or, alternatively, will leaders not ready to go the Geneva route, but unwilling to be seen as obstructionist, be pressured into making different peace moves of their own?

Popular support for the Geneva proposal seems to be growing in Israel, but the government remains adamantly opposed. On the Palestinian side, the agreement’s main advocates have run into strong and sometimes violent opposition.

While major peace brokers like the United States and European countries are showing growing interest, none has yet adopted the Geneva draft as an official program or as a basis for negotiation.

The long, detailed document (www.heskem.org.il/heskem_en.asp) deals with such controversial issues as borders, Jerusalem and refugees. It has sparked fiery debates in Israel and among the Palestinians on the nature of a final peace deal.

It also has led to a flurry of parallel diplomatic action. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dispatched his son, Omri, along with other Knesset members and government officials, for talks with Palestinians near London. Other Likud Party legislators took part in a weekend seminar with Palestinians in Madrid, and U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns returned to the region in an effort to restart the official peace process based on the "road map" peace plan.

Most significantly, Sharon himself made new overtures to the Palestinians.

The longer that other plans like the road map remain stalled, the more the Geneva alternative will beckon. That could generate a new dynamic leading to increased international pressure on both sides to cut a deal along the lines of the Geneva accord.

In Israel, sentiment on the Geneva proposal are mixed. A poll published Monday in Ha’aretz showed 31 percent of Israelis support it and 37 percent oppose it. Despite the opposition of the Likud-led government, 13 percent of Likud voters surveyed supported the agreement.

The architects of the deal were delighted. Haim Oron of the Meretz Party declared that the negotiators never dreamed the deal would win so much support so quickly. Yossi Beilin, the main Israeli architect of the plan, highlighted the multipartisan nature of the support.

The Israeli sponsors of the plan acknowledge that it is not a done deal, and they say their main purpose in making it public is to create a mind-set for peace. They say the understandings show there potentially is a Palestinian partner, and they set forth in the proposal the kinds of concessions that will be needed for peace.

Sharon’s ministers counter that the Israeli concessions in the document are excessive and that the Geneva exercise – and the international support given to it – put the elected government in an invidious position. They maintain that the Palestinians are using the Israeli left to lay down new starting points for future negotiations and to embarrass Sharon by portraying him as too hard line to cut a deal that others could.

For his part, Sharon has responded by hinting at a readiness to dismantle some Israeli settlements, coupled with the threat of unilateral action if the Palestinians spurn his overtures. The subtext is clear: Sharon is no uncompromising hardliner, but he’s not going to wait around for someone to try get negotiations going for a Geneva-type deal.

So far, none of the parallel initiatives has borne fruit, at least in public. No agreement was reached in the London and Madrid exchanges even on basic issues like ending terrorism, and both forums degenerated into arguments. The key to immediate progress lies now with Burns, the U.S. envoy, who is trying to set up a first meeting between Sharon and the new Palestinian Authority prime minister, Ahmed Qurei.

On the Palestinian side, neither Qurei nor Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has fully endorsed the Geneva deal, although Arafat did send a letter of qualified support to the Geneva ceremony. Israeli analysts believe that Arafat is playing a game: He doesn’t offer outright support for Geneva, so as not to be bound by its provisions and to be able to push for more. Yet he also doesn’t reject it outright, casting Sharon – who opposes the deal outright – as the rejectionist.

The Geneva ceremony highlighted growing international support for the accord. Nobel Peace Prize winners and Arab dignitaries attended, while former President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent greetings.

It is not inconceivable that at some point down the road, international players will seek to call a peace conference with the Geneva accord as the basis for discussion.

Already, the launch in Geneva is having reverberations in Washington. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) flew to Geneva for the signing and is expected to introduce legislation next week supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, including the Geneva accord. A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Nov. 25.

The Washington chapter of the left-wing group, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, hand-delivered copies of the resolution to each lawmaker’s office on Capitol Hill Monday. Beilin and Abed Rabbo will be in Washington this week to meet with lawmakers and to talk up their resolution to the U.S. media.

The Bush administration said Monday that it "welcomed" the Geneva plan, but officials expressed continued support for the road map. Official U.S. policy is not to allow other plans to deflect attention from the road map. The road map "is the only plan on the table," Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said Monday.

Part of the Geneva proposal’s charm is that unlike the slow, step-by-step road map, it envisions a one-step end to the conflict. But that could prove illusory, because the Israeli and Palestinian powers that be reject some of the accord’s main provisions and because closing the remaining gaps could prove problematic or even impossible.

For their part, the Israeli sponsors of the Geneva document intend to step up efforts to build domestic and international support.

The agreement is sure to become the main political message of a new left-wing party called Ya’ad, to be formed soon by a merger of Meretz and Beilin’s Shachar group. United around such a clear peace message, the group soon could be challenging Israel’s ailing Labor Party for primacy on the left.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this story.

Israel Addresses Fence Concerns


Israel is plotting each meter of its security fence with great care and consideration, Israeli officials say — not just to keep terrorists out, but to keep the United States on Israel’s side.

With the Bush administration close to Israel on most other issues of Middle East diplomacy, the security fence has become the single greatest issue threatening bilateral relations, Israelis have acknowledged — and they treat each American objection accordingly.

"Each issue on the fence is being worked out with the Americans privately," an official said.

That’s likely to be the case for a long while, said David Makovksy, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"This is an issue that will not go away," he said. "This route is being negotiated with the United States at every meter and mile of the West Bank."

Bush administration officials have warned Israel not to build a fence that would cut off parts of the West Bank from each other and to plan the fence to allow for an eventual Palestinian state with territorial contiguity.

Palestinians say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to plot the fence so that a future Palestinian state will consist of several small and overpopulated cantons.

Their presentations have moved U.S. officials as senior as President Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and have led the Americans to monitor the fence closely.

Israel says it needs the fence to keep terrorists from infiltrating from the West Bank into Israel proper, where they kill Israelis — and any hope of progress toward peace.

The Israeli official identified three areas of U.S. concern that Israel is trying to address. The outline was confirmed by a leading pro-Israel activist in Washington.

The issues are:

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• Israel wants to push the fence slightly into the West Bank to distance it from Ben-Gurion International Airport. Officials of the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Agency are in Israel to examine alternatives that would allow the land to remain unfenced, while not leaving the airport vulnerable to terrorists with shoulder-held missiles.

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•Horseshoe-shaped fences would protect settlements in the Ariel area in the northern West Bank. These smaller fences would not be linked to one another, allowing passage for Palestinians living in the area.

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•Jerusalem remains the most contentious issue. In one instance, Israel shifted its planned route to avoid seizing a soccer field owned by Al Quds University in the suburb of Abu Dis. In another, Sharon agreed to encircle the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim — a bedroom community for Jerusalem — rather than link its fence to the national fence. Such a link would slice the West Bank into two Palestinian cantons, Palestinian negotiators have said.

Another issue that alarmed the Americans was a Palestinian projection that Israel would run a fence down the Jordan Valley, cutting the Palestinians off from Jordan and closing in a future Palestinian state from the east.

Israel has dealt with that issue simply by suspending any building in the Jordan Valley.

U.S. concerns have been somewhat assuaged by Israel’s cooperation in these areas, but they have maintained the pressure. Rice has made the phrase "a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state" a staple of her speeches.

The Bush administration also has reached out to Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress. When the Democratic whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), led a 29-member Democratic delegation to Israel in August, he lashed out against Bush administration criticism of the fence, saying threats to link loan guarantees to the fence’s route could "undermine Israel’s security needs."

Last week, Hoyer once again endorsed the fence, but with a caveat: "The route of that fence is an issue and properly continues to be examined," he said in Congress.

Such close monitoring of the fence discomfits Israeli officials. But perhaps the Bush administration’s toughest threat is that it will draw back from involvement in the region.

Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, is worried that the United States might dump responsibility for the "road map" peace plan on the U.N. Security Council, which is far less open to Israel’s perspective.

That could make Israel answerable for the fence route to a body it regards with suspicion. On Tuesday, the Security Council is set to discuss a Syrian-backed resolution ordering Israel to cease building the fence.

"This is a very dangerous development," Gillerman said. "We view it with very great concern."

Gillerman urged U.S. Jews to lobby hard for the fence, saying its existing stretches have effectively separated central Israel from the terrorist strongholds. Instead, he said, suicide attackers are slipping into Jerusalem in the south and from Jenin into Haifa in the north.

Most recently, 20 Israelis were killed in Haifa when a suicide bomber came through an opening in the fence, Gillerman said.

"This last horrible suicide bombing will prove that had a fence been there, all those lives could have been saved," he told members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a conference call last week.

Israeli envoys don’t miss an opportunity to importune U.S. Jews to make the fence an issue in dealings with elected representatives. At a recent fund-raiser in Washington for an Israeli university, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, departed from his prepared remarks to make the case for the fence.

Israelis also bristle at suggestions that the fence marks a permanent border, noting that they handily removed a similar length of barbed wire and brick in southern Lebanon in 2000.

"Whoever tries to paint it as a separation wall is being cynical and misleading," Gillerman said.

Americans argue that Israeli additions in the West Bank, starting with the Jordan Valley settlements of the late 1960s, initially were presented as temporary but now seem burnished by permanence.

The issue is not likely to disappear. The collapse of the peace process and the fact that the fence has become virtually the only issue dividing the United States and Israel means its importance is likely to increase, Makovsky said.

"You’re in a dysfunctional period; any sense of diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians has broken down," he said. "And with the re-emergence of Arafat, no one thinks counter-terror is the name of the game. The fence — that’s life now."

Palestinians are not unhappy with the emphasis on the fence, but they say it means little given the Israeli-U.S. closeness in other spheres.

Edward Abington, a senior Washington adviser to the Palestinians, predicted that the Bush administration would lose interest in the fence route as U.S. elections and economic problems loom and as the rebuilding of Iraq — and the security of U.S. soldiers there — becomes more complicated.

"Pretty soon, we’ll be in a position in which the Israelis have fenced off Jerusalem, dividing the West Bank between east and west and north and south," Abington said. "Palestinians will be shut up in cantons the same way they are shut up in Gaza."

Human Sacrifice


The government of Israel has wisely chosen to cooperate with a U.S.-led international commission that began investigating Israeli-Palestinian violence this week. Led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the commission hopes its work will reduce the violence in the region and lead the parties back to the negotiating table.

By cooperating, Israel can have greater input into the commission’s agenda. Here, for example, is one area for the investigators to consider: whether Palestinian parents are recklessly endangering the lives of their children by allowing them on the front lines of the conflict.

The images of Palestinian children confronting Israeli soldiers have by now become symbolic of Intifada II. They are standard fare on nightly news programs and have turned up in full-page ads taken out by the Arab-American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as evidence of Israel’s excessive use of force.But though the ADC ad and the news broadcasts evoke the lone Chinese protester facing a tank in Tienenman Square in 1989, there is one big difference: the Chinese protester was an adult. In the ADC ad, the protester is Fares al-Uda, age 14.

The Israeli human rights group B’tselem, which has monitored human rights violations by all sides in the conflict, criticized the Palestinian Authority last month for urging Palestinian youths to confront Israeli troops. According to the ADC, since the beginning of Intifada II, 258 Palestinians have been killed, 68 of them under the age of 18. Among the dead is Fares al-Uda, killed days after his photo was taken.

Children under 18 years of age are not old enough to know what’s worth dying for. Are they aware, as Palestinian and Israeli leaders are, that the war they are fighting on the streets can only lead back to the negotiating table?

Do Palestinian children racing out of the house to join in protests know their deaths are merely chits to be cashed in when Yasser Arafat and the Israelis once again sit down? Do they know their young lives may feed a propaganda machine but will hardly change Israel’s negotiating position? After all, Israeli children have also been victims of Palestinian terror.

Around the world and throughout history, children have been used to fight adult wars, and the Middle East is no different. These Palestinian children are taught to hate the Zionists, and they are egged on by adults who should know better. Caught up in the violence, they become victims.

There is something cruel and cynical about allowing children to place themselves in harm’s way, but that seems to be part and parcel of the Palestinian strategy. To people who accept the inevitability of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians — and this includes a majority of Israeli and American Jews — the martyrdom of Palestinian children is mystifying. Why are these children anywhere near Israeli guns?In Los Angeles, concerned pediatricians have spoken out against such child sacrifice (see page 11), but Palestinian spokesmen say it is Israeli military policy that accounts for the exhorbitant child death toll. In a recent report, Amnesty International took Israel to task for using “excessive force” against demonstrators, but it also criticized Palestinian leadership for not doing enough to keep children away from the violence.Perhaps Mitchell’s commission could help distribute the blame more evenly, and maybe even save young lives in the process.

Mr. Oslo


Uri Savir may not have won a Nobel Peace Prize, but far more than the three national leaders who did, he is Mr. Oslo. For three long months in 1993, the then director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry sat secretly in the Norwegian capital and hammered out an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization that kindled hopes of an end to a century of belligerence.

Seven years later, despite this autumn’s reversion to violence, he is still convinced that peace is possible – and that the sooner Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat get back to the negotiating table, the better. What they need, he argues, is the courage to make the kinds of compromises Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Arafat made, and to fight for them.

“Peace,” he insists, “is not made out of consensus. What was so great about Rabin, Peres and Arafat was not just the courage to meet and make a compromise, but the courage to withstand internal opposition. For deals that were unpopular, Rabin paid with his life, Peres with his political life, and Arafat took great risks. But ultimately their countries were better off.”

Bill Clinton, he suggests, deserves a Nobel Prize for his persistence in trying to rescue the process. There’s just one more thing the United States president must do: “He has to lock Barak and Arafat in a room and walk out. This odd couple must talk to each other.”

We met in the Knesset, where Savir is now a 47-year-old Center Party legislator. He is plumper these days than the ambitious young diplomat I first knew 20 years ago, but his glasses still twinkle, the ideas still flow like notes for a seminar on how to resolve conflicts. He took time out from vigorously lobbying against a national emergency government with Ariel Sharon – “that would mean the end of the road, for a long time” – to explain why the Oslo process is not dead.

“Both sides,” he said, “will soon discover that at the end of the day violence cannot resolve anything. Even if the Palestinian were to declare a state unilaterally, the issue of borders, the issue of recognition, the issue of refugees, nothing will be resolved except by the peace process. Oslo did two things that are irreversible. It began the end of the Israeli occupation, and it created a sense of interdependence.

“The Palestinians have to understand, as we have to understand, that nation-building and peace go hand-in-hand. Peace is not just something they give to Israel. If Palestine can be born in an agreement of peace, it will be a different Palestine than if it’s born out of hostility.”

What, then, should Barak do to get the process back on track? The prime minister had to reaffirm that Arafat remained a partner, provided he recognized that violence had no part in negotiations, and provided he made a 100 percent effort to prevent terrorism. “Based on these premises,” Savir added, “we have to make every effort not just to renew the peace process, but to conclude it.”

After the two leaders seemed so close at Camp David in July, I asked, what went wrong?

“Camp David was a mistake,” Savir answered. “You cannot resolve 100 years of conflict in two weeks at Camp David. It was too much a make-it or break-it. We avoided a small crisis then and got a bigger crisis later.”

More specifically, he argued that Israel ignored the depth of Palestinian grass-roots disappointment with the fruits of peace. “We’ll have to redefine the priorities. The peace dividends have to go from the bottom up. The people out on the streets are more the have-nots than the haves. Those who have gained from the peace process are the elites. What we are seeing now is also a rebellion against the elites. We have to invest a thousand times more resources in socio-economic programs and peace-building programs.”

The two parties, he added, failed to learn a key lesson of Oslo: that Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate with each other, not the Americans, and they should do so in secret.

“Had Oslo been conducted the way Camp David was conducted, we’d never have achieved our compromises. We need the Americans for safety nets against crises, for a strategic umbrella, for the aid issues and the security issues. But the core diplomacy has to be bilateral and well-prepared, because that is how you build the necessary trust.”

So where do they go from here? Israel, Savir argued, had to learn that “military power hardly counts any more.” The Palestinians had to learn that international support was not enough. They had to convince Israeli public opinion.

“They have an incredible opportunity to achieve an agreement that will not give them all, but will give them a state on most of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with some hold also in Jerusalem, with a serious solution to the refugee problem.

“They have more to lose than us. Therefore, those who create this violence – even if it’s out of frustration, even if it’s out of some justified claims, it doesn’t matter – they’re making a historical mistake.”

But Can Barak Convince the Israelis?


At first blush it seemed like a done deal. If Syria and Israel were returning to the negotiating table, and President Bill Clinton was leading them, then it was surely just a matter of time until the two sides reached agreement and declared peace. American, Syrian and Israeli officials sounded confident to a fault, saying a deal might be just a short distance away.

But they forgot about the folks back in Israel. So far neither the Knesset nor the public is giving Prime Minister Ehud Barak the “landslide” support which he predicted a peace treaty would receive. Already the Israeli “street” is heating up with demonstrations of up to 10,000 people protesting the treaty that is shaping up. Not only are the opposition parties vowing to stop the deal, but parties within Barak’s own governing coalition are joining them.

“I don’t think Barak has this one in his pocket; in fact I think the opposite is the case,” said Aharon Domb, the former head of the Judea, Samaria and Gaza settlers council who is now involved in planning the “No” campaign for the referendum.

The sticking point in the peace with Syria is, of course, the Golan Heights — the hill-and-mountain range in Israel’s northeast corner which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, and where some 17,000 Israeli settlers now live.

Until the 1993 Oslo Accord revolutionized Israeli thinking about peace, war, land and enemies, the Golan Heights was sacrosanct. The popular consensus on keeping all of it, forever, under Israeli sovereignty was almost as solid as the consensus on Jerusalem. The Golan settlers, unlike those in the West Bank and Gaza, were largely politically moderate, secular Israelis, mainly from the kibbutz and Labor movements; the general Israeli public identified strongly with their cause.

But as it became clear that Syrian President Hafez al-Assad would not agree to peace without getting back the entire Golan, and as it further became clear that Israel could not end its 17-year war in Lebanon until it made peace with Lebanon’s de facto ruler — which is Syria — the national consensus on the Golan began breaking up.

Following the announcement of the resumption of peace talks, the authoritative Dahaf Poll found that 57 percent of Israelis were willing to part with “nearly all of the Golan” in return for peace with Syria and Lebanon, with only 38 percent opposed.

But neither the Americans nor the Israelis are trying to hide the near certainty that peace with Syria will require withdrawal from not nearly all, but rather, all of the Golan. This would mean that every one of the 17,000 settlers would have to leave their homes. Dahaf found that only 45 percent of Israelis were willing to go all the way and relinquish the Golan in its entirety, while 54 percent were unwilling.

These are early previews of the referendum; public sentiment could, and likely will, change by the time it is held — if Israel and Syria first reach agreement at the negotiating table. The Likud-led opposition wants to force the pro-peace camp to win a 60 percent majority in the referendum to ratify any peace treaty. A 60 percent threshold would neutralize the Israeli Arab vote, which would likely go nearly unanimously for peace.

Likud and other right-wing politicians don’t deny their conviction that withdrawal from the Golan must first win a “Jewish majority”; the 60 percent threshold is an elegant way of banning Israeli Arabs from voting. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said that in such circumstances, the term “Jewish majority” would effectively mean “racist majority.”

Besides winning public ratification in a referendum, a peace agreement with Syria will require an absolute, 61-vote majority in the Knesset, and so far Barak doesn’t have it. He left for the opening of talks in Washington with a vote of confidence that went 47 Knesset Members in his favor, 31 against and 24 abstaining.

Barak’s ruling coalition includes right-wing parties like the National Religious Party and Natan Sharansky’s Russian immigrant party Yisrael B’Aliya. Both have announced they will oppose giving back the Golan.

The prime minister’s hopes of winning Knesset approval for a peace treaty may well rest on the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, whose ranks account for fully one-quarter of his coalition. If Shas’ 17 MKs vote for a treaty, it will almost surely pass; if Shas votes against, it will almost surely fail. A poll of the Shas legislators found three in favor of a Golan-for-peace pact, with 14 against. In the Knesset vote, the entire Shas faction abstained.

With its endless demands for state money to fund its religious school and social services network, which is swamped in debt and corruption, Shas appears capable now of getting anything it wants from Barak. Shas’ absolute ruler is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Barak, like Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin before him, is an old hand at courting Yosef’s favor. Barak recently prevailed on his friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to host Yosef at Downing Street during the rabbi’s recent visit.

Yet the Golan settler leadership is also adept at playing up to Yosef. The Shas spiritual leader is likely to become the most widely flattered man in Israel until the peace with Syria either succeeds or fails.

If Barak is to win the public’s support for withdrawal from the Golan, he is going to have to find a symbol to neutralize the emotional power of the Golan settlers. They are burning with righteous indignation, and opposition politicians — chiefly Barak himself — are offering the settlers their sympathy, their respect, and, eventually, the state’s money, as compensation for being forced to quit their homes.

The government’s referendum campaign will focus on the gains to be made from peace with Syria. The most immediate, tangible gain foreseen is the end to the bloody war in Lebanon. The image of parents of slain soldiers, for instance, expressing their support for a peace agreement, saying they don’t want any more Israeli soldiers to die like their sons, could be as or even more powerful than the image of Golan children, for instance, tearfully asking their parents why they must leave their homes.

Still another headache for Barak is where to find the money to pay to compensate the 17,000 settlers for their lost homes, businesses and/or jobs, and psychological effects of forced dislocation. While the Clinton administration has said it would ask Congress to help pay the cost of peace, estimates of this cost run from $3 billion to $13 billion and even higher. Congress is not nearly that generous.

One of the key arguments in favor of peace with Syria is that it will bring great benefits to Israel’s economy, but the cost of compensating the settlers — part of which will almost unavoidably have to come out of Israelis’ pockets — should undermine that argument.

The Clinton administration is cautioning that the Syrian-Israeli negotiations will be grueling. Yet as grueling as they might be, they could prove to be a stroll in the park compared to the Israeli-Israeli wrestling match that is only now beginning.

Talks to Be Held


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Middle East shuttle mission has paid off with the announcement that Israeli-Syrian negotiations will resume next week.

President Clinton made the announcement Wednesday after Albright held separate talks with the leaders of Israel and Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak will hold a day or two of initial talks next week with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, Clinton said at the start of a news conference Wednesday.

After that, intensive negotiations will be held at a yet-to-be determined location, Clinton added.

The “Israelis and Syrians still need to make courageous decisions in order to reach a just and lasting peace, but today’s step is a significant breakthrough, for it will allow them to deal with each other face to face and that is the only way to get there,” Clinton said.

While Clinton said the talks would be “resumed from the point where they left off,” he would not give details about where that point is.

Syria has long maintained that the talks, which were suspended in March 1996, left off with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin making a commitment to return all of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

However, Israel maintains that the offer was “hypothetical” to see if Syria was willing to meet Israeli demands on security and normalization.

Asked what concessions both sides made to resume the talks, Clinton would not say.

“I think it’s very important at this point that we maximize the chances for success, which means it would not be useful for me to get into the details,” he said. “But the negotiations are resuming on the basis of all previous negotiations between Syria and Israel, and with the United States.”

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, speculated on CNN International that “maybe, maybe there has been a change” in some of Syria’s hard-line demands.

Shoval also expressed disappointment that Syrian President Hafez Assad will not participate in the talks.

Clinton said at the news conference that although Assad will not be in Washington next week, he “is very personally involved.”

Clinton also said he hoped the resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks would lead to negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.

Clinton also said he had no illusions that negotiations will be easy.

“On all tracks the road ahead will be arduous,” he said. “Success is not inevitable. Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese will have to confront fateful questions.

“But let there also be no misunderstanding: We have a truly historic opportunity now. With a comprehensive peace, Israel will live in a safe, secure and recognized border for the first time in its history.”

During her Middle East shuttle this week, Albright had her sights fixed on two negotiating tracks.

On the one hand, she wanted to breathe life into the Israeli-Syrian negotiations; on the other, she sought to keep Israeli-Palestinian talks from faltering.

Albright was optimistic about Israeli-Syrian prospects after holding separate talks with the leaders of both countries, but she did not elaborate.

Albright arrived in Israel from Syria, where she met with Syrian President Hafez Assad for nearly three hours Tuesday.

For his part, Barak said Wednesday that Israel was aware a peace accord with Syria would require “painful compromises.”

At the same time, he said, “I will not sign any agreement that will not, to the best of my judgment, strengthen Israel rather than weaken it.”

Albright, who was in the region on a four-day mission, also welcomed Barak’s announcement that Israel would not issue new construction permits for Jewish settlements while Israel and the Palestinians try to reach a framework for a final peace treaty.

Each side needs to avoid taking steps that “embarrass the other and make negotiations more difficult,” Albright said.

On the eve of Albright’s visit, the chief Palestinian negotiator in the final-status talks, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said there would be no progress in the discussions unless Israel stops expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Barak made the announcement in an effort to defuse the crisis, but on Wednesday a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat rejected the offer.

Settlement leaders and right-wing coalition members were likewise unimpressed with Barak’s announcement.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy, a member of the National Religious Party, said he would meet with Barak to determine whether the decision was made for the purpose of negotiations or represented a long-term government policy.

Based on those discussions, Levy said, the National Religious Party would consider whether it would remain in the governing coalition.

In addition to the settlement issue, Israel and the Palestinian Authority remain deadlocked over an Israeli withdrawal from an additional 5 percent of the West Bank, a move that was to take place last month.

The Palestinians have stated that they want a say in which lands will be turned over. Israeli officials just as steadfastly maintain that the decision is theirs alone to make.

The two sides failed to overcome their dispute in discussions this week with U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, who arrived in the region over the weekend to prepare for Albright’s arrival.

Albright also met Wednesday with Foreign Minister David Levy to discuss efforts to include Israel in the U.N.’s Western European and Others Group. Israel is the only U.N. member excluded from such a group, which is a prerequisite for participation in important committees, including the Security Council.

(JTA correspondent Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

On Winning the Terror War


Readers’ Quiz No. 2: Test your knowledge of Middle East terrorism. Simply identify the following incident:

It was one of America’s most controversial “victories” against international terrorism: a negotiated settlement with a gang of Arabic-speaking hijackers who were holding American hostages. After military action proved ineffective, a U.S. diplomat in the region decided — apparently without authorization — to pay off the hijackers. The hostages were released, but, in the ensuing furor, the diplomat, a Jew, lost his job.

Pencils ready? Name the year, the place, the terrorists and the diplomat, for five points each. For extra credit, explain the lessons for future terrorist confrontations.

Time’s up. Figured it out?

Answers: The year was 1815, the place Tunis. The hijackers were seagoing bandits known as the Barbary pirates. The diplomat was Mordecai Manuel Noah, U.S. consul in Tunis and the first Jew ever to head an American diplomatic mission abroad.

Extra credit: If you said nothing much ever changes in the Middle East, add five points. If you said things have a way of changing without seeming to, add 10 points. Fifty points if you said nothing is as it appears in the looking-glass war of terrorism.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Noah went to Tunis. America’s relations with the Moslem world have risen and fallen many times over. Jews have moved from center stage to the margins and back. America has become a world power. The Middle East has gone through independence, Arab nationalism, Islamic revolution and the discovery of oil. Yet here we are again, caught in another looking-glass war against shadowy Middle Eastern thugs who play by their own rules, or no rules. And, as always, Washington and the West are divided over how to respond.

The tactical dilemmas vary from case to case, but they boil down to one basic question. Should the fight against terrorism follow the niceties of civil society, or the cruder rules of the battlefield? Put differently, is terrorism a matter of statecraft or simple law enforcement? Are terrorists an international enemy, or common criminals?

It’s not clear-cut. Criminals enjoy elaborate protections from the moment of arrest, while battlefield foes are shot on sight. But enemies can sit down after the fighting and negotiate for their position. Criminals don’t get to have a position.

The United States today is fighting the shadow war on a half-dozen fronts, from interdicting terror at home, to chasing the Saudi-born terrormaster Osama Bin Laden, to making Libya give up the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Critics say the war lacks a clear vision. “The Clinton administration and, to some extent, the Bush administration basically look at terrorism as a law enforcement problem, but it doesn’t really work,” says Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of anti-terrorism operations at the CIA. “On the other hand, the sporadic attempts at some kind of military response don’t really work either. You’re not going to destroy a terrorist infrastructure by bombing their barracks.”

Still, there have been victories. Just last week, the U.N. Security Council rejected a bid to lift the sanctions imposed on Libya after the Pan Am bombing. Some Europeans wanted the decade-old sanctions lifted because Libya has agreed in principle to surrender the suspects under a compromise deal. Washington wanted the sanctions kept in place until the suspects are actually delivered. The council backed Washington.

It was the second victory inside a week. Two days earlier, the Supreme Court upheld the Justice Department’s 12-year struggle to deport eight members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, detained in Los Angeles in 1987 for fund-raising for the terror group. The eight claimed that they were singled out for deportation because of their beliefs, violating their First Amendment rights. The administration replied that since they were in America illegally, they had no First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court ruled for the administration.

Victories like these send a firm message to terrorists and their supporters: You can run, and maybe you can hide, but the long arm of American justice will eventually reach you, if you don’t die of old age first.

The problem is that terrorism doesn’t really fit either a military or police mold. Military strikes are too blunt a weapon. Traditional police work is too polite and too slow. Terrorists slip across borders, kill with abandon and don’t mind dying. What’s needed is a third way.

Some experts say the answer is to rescind the mid-1970s executive order that bans assassination by U.S. agents. “We’re caught in this ridiculous position,” says conservative scholar Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute. “If somebody kills an American and runs away, you have a choice of bombing them or asking Interpol to arrest them. What you can’t do is go out and shoot them.”

Washington hasn’t returned to assassinations, but it has moved toward finding that third way. The solution: unconventional legal doctrines. One is extraterritorial jurisdiction, the startling notion that the United States can punish crimes committed on others’ soil. Another is the 1996 Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act, which limits the rights of terror suspects to lodge appeals, view the evidence against them, even talk to lawyers. Civil libertarians howl about the erosion of democratic rights. So far, the courts haven’t agreed.

The new law plays a key role in Washington’s current hunt for the Bin Laden gang. Indictments were drawn up last fall against 11 members, including Bin Laden himself. Six are in custody so far. Over the last three months, they’ve filed countless pretrial motions, claiming infringement of their rights in jail. The courts haven’t agreed.

The bottom line, then, is that for all the screaming headlines, we’re not losing the terrorism war. The Palestinians have largely abandoned terror in favor of negotiations. As for Libya, “it hasn’t directed terrorist actions against the United States in recent times, because the sanctions are working,” says Cannistraro. “The answer is a coherent, integrated approach that combines diplomacy and politics. You can’t let law enforcement drive the train.”

As for the remaining terror, get used to it. “Terrorism is a chronic phenomenon,” Cannistraro says. “But it’s not a serious threat to our national security. Someone like Bin Laden kills people, but he’s not going to cause the destruction of the United States.”

Cannistraro’s sanguine view, common among professionals, isn’t popular with politicians or the public. “The problem is that everyone wants to treat the symptoms and not the causes,” he says. “It’s a common problem in terrorism-expert circles.”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.