New York Times
Historic turning points are not always easy to discern. The September 1993 handshake on the White House lawn between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat appeared to be such a turning point, representing the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
But Mr. Arafat undermined everything this handshake represented when he held a series of meetings between March 9 and 13 with leaders of Hamas and other militant groups, at which he gave what amounted to a green light for the resumption of terrorist attacks. That was an assault on the very premise of the Oslo agreement: that once the PLO renounced terrorism, Israeli-Palestinian differences, no matter how enormous, could be resolved through negotiations.
It is a grave error to assume that this attack on the underpinnings of the Oslo accords began with the political tensions of the last few weeks arising from the construction of new Jewish housing in the eastern part of Jerusalem. In January 1996, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told a Knesset committee that “the organizational infrastructure of Hamas continues to be built, whether with weaponry or the mobilization of activists.” He added, “Arafat is preserving this situation for final-status negotiations with Israel.”
Clearly, terrorism was kept as a bargaining chip, even if it was conducted by Palestinian opposition elements. Within six weeks of the Israeli intelligence chief’s testimony, bus bombs killed 59 Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Faced with overwhelming American and Israeli pressure, Mr. Arafat finally cracked down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
But by August 1996 — well before Mr. Arafat’s September confrontation with the Netanyahu Government over the opening of an archeological tunnel in Jerusalem — the Palestinian Authority began releasing Hamas and Islamic Jihad military leaders who had been imprisoned several months earlier. These were not men who preached in mosques, but operatives with expertise in explosives, including some who had been trained in Iran.
What is to be done now? First, it has to be clear that a peace process without security will not work. True, Palestinian-Israeli disagreements are very real. But nothing can justify last week’s bombing of innocent civilians in Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Authority must be held accountable for its green-light policy. It must change it to a permanent red light.
The Palestinian Authority also must comply with the obligations it reaffirmed at the signing of the Hebron agreement. They include “combating systematically and effectively terrorist organizations and their infrastructure.” The willingness of the Palestinian security forces to do this cannot depend on the pace of negotiations. It has to be constant.
Second, the principle of reciprocity must be treated seriously. Israel made tangible moves over the last few months: It withdrew from Hebron, freed female Palestinian prisoners and transferred a significant amount of money to the Palestinian Authority (despite the authority’s debts). Israel also granted 56,000 work permits to Palestinians (compared with 22,000 at the time of the Israeli elections).
In addition, Israel decided on the first of three further redeployments that will increase the West Bank area under full Palestinian control from 2.8 percent (under Mr. Rabin and his successor, Shimon Peres) to more than 10.1 percent. The Palestinian side met none of its post-Hebron undertakings. This process won’t work if it is a one-sided giveaway.
So the Israeli Government has not closed the door to the peace process. But if negotiations are to advance, sanctioned violence must be eliminated. No nation can be expected to negotiate if it is faced with terrorism being unleashed every time an impasse is reached.
Only if the foundation of the Oslo agreement is restored to produce real security will the 1993 handshake prove to be a true historic turning point. Otherwise it will be remembered as a historic error.
Dore Gold is the foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.