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Giving Peace A Chance : Epilogue: 'In This Country, Peace Will Rule

September 14, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS

After a century of conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East, peace would seem to be an easy sell.

"No more war, no more terror, no more violence," Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told his country's Parliament as he argued with soul-tearing passion for the accords with the Palestinians. "In this country, peace will rule. And we will help the Palestinians so that it will be good for the neighbor, in order that we may have a good neighbor."

Supporters of the agreements on both sides rallied to one another in a foretaste of the peace and harmony they hoped would follow the hate and strife they have known for decades.

"To see a young Israeli, tall, good-looking, proud, and not to think of him as someone who might kill my son--that will be a wonderful day," Said Musallam, a merchant in Beit Sahur, south of Jerusalem, said. "And I hope that Israelis will come to look at us as people too."

But old fears, deep-seated suspicions and ancient angers have stirred Israelis and Palestinians alike since the accords were announced.

"These are a prescription for war," thundered Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel's right-wing Likud Party. "Before the ink is dry, we will be at war. . . .

"This government (of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) has agreed to the establishment of a terrorist Palestinian state, it has yielded part of Eretz Yisrael (the biblical Land of Israel) for that state's territory, and it is ready to sacrifice Jewish lives to it. There can be a solution to the Palestinian problem, but this is not it."

Opposition is equally strong among Palestinians, who see their dreams fading in the compromises that were necessary to reach the accord on self-government and who consequently wonder whether they will ever achieve true independence.

Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, debated opponents of the agreement in the leadership of Fatah, his power base within the PLO, and then in the PLO Executive Committee through three all-night meetings in Tunis. He won, but at the cost of a Palestinian schism as others accused him of betraying the revolution.

"Am I a traitor?" Arafat demanded of his opponents. "Others are asking for my head. I am threatened to be killed. I am being drafted as a martyr. If I am still alive, it is by mere chance. But this is not a question of treason. We have to be brave."

But Riyad Malki of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine warned: "A flawed peace is not to be cheered. It is not bravery, but foolishness. What fails to meet the people's just aspirations will, indeed, bring more violence, not less, more anger, not less, and greater upheavals in the future."

Bravery and foolishness. Loyalty and betrayal. Hope and despair. Trust and suspicion.

Is there now a road to peace somewhere through all the powerful passions that have kept this region in turmoil? Many are optimistic.

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, visiting the city's schools on the first day of classes this month, remarked with poignancy as he watched the children line up: "It's the first time I have opened a school year and felt that these children will not have to go to war. And that's a great thing."

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