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Division in the Mideast

February 01, 1988

Israel's 20-year administration of Judea-Samaria and the Gaza District is a direct consequence of the Arab-Israel conflict. After having faced 19 years of unremitting Arab belligerency since 1948--years in which those territories were under Arab control--Israel faced another grave threat to its existence in June, 1967. Israel found itself forced to defend itself against the combined military forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Had Israel lost that war, Arab declarations had made it clear that there would have been no Israel afterwards. However, Israel succeeded in overcoming the Arab threat, and the West Bank and the Gaza District came under Israel's control.

Immediately after the Six Day War, Israel indicated its willingness to enter into peace negotiations with the Arab countries. Israel was prepared to make territorial concessions in exchange for peace. The Arab answer was given at Khartoum: no recognition, no negotiations, no peace. Only Egypt, after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, was prepared to make tangible moves in the direction of peace, and interim progress was achieved with that country prior to 1977.

Egypt's President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem 10 years ago opened a new, unprecedented phase in the peace process, resulting in the Camp David Accords of 1978 and a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Israel showed that it was ready to make sacrifices for peace, and withdrew from the Sinai, thereby giving up major security and economic assets. The Camp David Accords were designed to meet not only Israel's needs but those of the Palestinians in the territories: Guidelines were established to provide the Palestinian inhabitants with an interim phase of autonomy and participation in negotiations to decide the final status of the territories. However, instead of accepting this opportunity, the Palestinians and the Arab states rejected it.

When looking at the poor conditions in the refugee camps, especially in the Gaza District, it is sometimes forgotten that those conditions existed before 1967, even before Israel had been in the territories. Arab policy had been to perpetuate the squalor in the camps in order to maintain the anti-Israel fervor considered necessary for continuing the conflict with Israel. Since 1967, despite the very limited resources, Israel has been doing what it can to alleviate the conditions in the camps. Housing projects, the establishment of an infrastructure for health services, advances in the system of education, and the development of an economic infrastructure are just some of the steps that have been taken. Under conditions of peace, the situation could dramatically change for the better.

Israel is being criticized for taking harsh measures against the demonstrators and those accused of agitation. However, by examining the context of Israel's actions, the reasons for such measures can be better understood.

Were violence and agitation to go unchecked, the situation could rapidly deteriorate, leading to widespread chaos and terrorism.

Israel has had to contend with similar dangers before. Israel faced terrorism and violent assaults on its civilians even before the Six Day War, and afterwards the PLO and other extremists continued to strike at Israelis and non-Israelis. The murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and Israeli school children in Ma'alot in 1974, the massacre of Israeli bus passengers on the Tel Aviv-Haifa coastal road in 1978 are but a few examples of terrorist violence that has struck Israel. In recent years, extremist Islamic fundamentalists, calling for jihad (holy war) against the Jews, have attacked Israelis, while their counterparts, supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini's call for Islamic revolution, have kidnaped and killed Westerners in Beirut.

Arabs, too, have suffered the effects of extremism. In the territories administered by Israel, as in the entire Middle East, Arab moderation is attacked by Arab extremism. Throughout the years, Palestinian moderates in the territories have been intimidated, threatened and physically attacked.

Israel seeks to restore calm in the territories and find ways to promote the peace process. Israel and the Arabs should be able to address each other's needs and interests and find mutually acceptable and beneficial solutions.

EYTAN BENTSUR

Consul General of Israel

for the South West United States

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