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PERSPECTIVE ON MIDEAST PEACE : Dashed Expectations Breed Anger : Israeli obstruction of tangible benefits makes the containment of Palestinian radicals ever more difficult.

October 18, 1994|DAOUD KUTTAB | Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and the president of the Jerusalem Film Institute.

JERUSALEM — The latest tragic confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis reflect a major regression in the pursuit of a Middle East peace and they show that it will be some time before we can get rid of old thinking in handling these relations.

While it is important to condemn the actions of the Islamic Hamas movement, it would be a mistake to simply consider the shooting attack in a crowded Israeli area of Jerusalem and the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier the acts of a radical anti-peace movement. These actions did not take place in a vacuum. The atmosphere in the Palestinian community is full of frustration with the peace process. People feel a sense of helplessness as a result of the terrible delay in attaining a genuine peace. It was three years ago that Palestinians in Ramallah waved olive branches at Israeli soldiers. Last week, not far from Ramallah, we saw evidence of the frustration felt by Palestinians who have yet to see the fruits of the widely acclaimed peace.

Reasons for these dashed hopes are many. More than 7,000 Palestinian political and security prisoners still remain in jail; they don't understand how their leader has been forgiven, yet they have been left to rot. Homes of the few thousands prisoners who were released are still sealed; an attempt to reopen them was met with Israeli resealing. The siege on Jerusalem continues; Israeli plans to further Judaize the Holy City have not eased. The promise of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to freeze settlements has not been honored; new settlements are being built and thousands of acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated just in the past year. Rabin has said that dates (signed to in the agreement) are not sacred. Israel has not fulfilled even simple promises agreed upon in the declaration of principles, such as turning over to the Palestinians administrative control of border points, or permitting safe passage between Palestinian Gaza and Jericho. The Palestinians still have not received population records. Even releasing a frequency for a television station has not been resolved.

Much of the debate, of course, is focused on the militant Hamas movement. Israeli leaders say that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is responsible for the actions of all Palestinians since he signed an agreement as their representative. That is fair. But then the Israelis refuse to release any Hamas prisoners (including the paraplegic spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin). They want to veto the right of Hamas supporters to participate in elections of the self-rule council. Furthermore, Rabin wants the Palestinian leadership to choose between Hamas or peace. Did Rabin present such a choice to Jewish settlers after one of their own committed the massacre in the mosque at Hebron? No. But now Israel will demand and carry out punitive measures against Hamas; this will infuriate Palestinians and the cycle of violence will widen. The fact is that just as Palestinians must accept all Israelis--right-wing and left-wing, peaceniks and militants, Israel has to do the same with the Palestinians. To attempt to differentiate or to ask one side to discriminate is simply a formula for trouble and internal strife. This is not to say that the PLO doesn't have an obligation to keep Hamas in check, just as Israel has a similar obligation toward militant settlers. But to hold the entire peace process to the dictates of Israeli security officials who seem unable to fathom the real meaning of peace is totally counterproductive.

The Palestinian-Israeli peace process has, in essence, trapped the leaders of both nations; any agreement that is bad for one side will be bad for the other side. This is good. But attempts at one-sided and military solutions work against progress. Israeli negotiators and military officials have been using their clear edge over the Palestinians to extract humiliating concessions while giving up very little in substance. This has played into the hands of radicals.

New thinking is needed. Both the kidnaping of an Israeli soldier and the army's attempt to rescue him reflect old thinking of solving problems militarily. If our mutual aim is a lasting peace and not simply a temporary cease-fire, we need to deal with problems with new thinking, as hard and difficult as it may seem. This means that both sides have to work extra hard to improve public support for the peace process. As it stands, what Palestinians can do for Israelis is intangible; they need to reassure Israelis of their commitment to peace. The tangibles needed from Israel have to do with land, water, releasing prisoners and the like.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III made a major part of his strategy the need for confidence building. Until now, little has been done in this regard. Yet building confidence between both sides is the road to dealing with the root of the problem and not just its tragic symptoms.

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