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PEACE: THE NEXT STEP

Mood of Resentment in Arab World

Reaction: Bitterness has much to do with a perception that what Netanyahu agreed to had already been promised in earlier accords.

October 25, 1998|JOHN DANISZEWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAIRO — There was no celebrating in the Arab world Saturday over the successful conclusion of an interim peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, the dominant mood was resentment that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took so long to concede so little to the Palestinians.

"The slogan for the Wye Plantation agreement should be 'Humiliation for peace,' " said columnist Abdel Wahad Badrakhan of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, who added that Palestinians and Americans had been submitted to "blackmail" by the Israeli side in the prolonged negotiations.

Syria's government newspaper Al Thawra echoed that sentiment, calling the accord "a liquidation and a total surrender" of what had remained of Palestinian rights.

The bitterness had much to do with Arab perceptions that what Netanyahu agreed to--opening an airport in the Gaza Strip, providing a corridor for Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, freeing Palestinian prisoners and pulling back troops from an additional 13% of West Bank territory--had already been promised in earlier accords.

If Netanyahu had to be dragged unwillingly through months of negotiations, culminating in a nine-day summit and 85 hours of wrangling with the U.S. president himself to do only that, Arabs doubt his intention to negotiate in good faith for the Palestinians' chief demand of a Palestinian state encompassing most of the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.

"The Wye summit is nothing but an anesthetic, a cosmetic attempt to beautify an ugly reality based on deception and destined to deliver bitter disappointment," said Ragheda Dergham, another Al Hayat writer.

"For what it has revealed is a virtual acknowledgment that Israeli and Palestinian aspirations are incompatible and irreconcilable. . . . These days there is no vision and no trust [and] no enthusiasm for coexisting."

Others suggested that whatever Israel gained by its hard-nosed bargaining may harm its own interests in the long run.

"The Wye Mills accord could drive the Palestinian people away from [Palestinian Authority President] Arafat and straight into the arms of Sheik Ahmed Yassin and his Hamas movement," said Qatar's independent Gulf Times newspaper.

Amid the general sourness, however, there were a few notes of optimism, albeit cautious. These came mainly from states such as Jordan and Egypt, which have risked much on peace with Israel, and from some other Arab countries that see Arab-Israeli peace as the key that will at last give the Middle East its chance for stability, progress and prosperity.

An official statement from Oman praised the Wye Plantation accord as one that could "advance the peace process toward the realization of the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples."

"One step on the right path" is how Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Moussa characterized the accord.

"I think both sides made gains," said Ahmed Guindy, managing editor of Al Akhbar, a semiofficial daily in Egypt. "Palestinians will get back their land, in spite of various restrictions such as being under the supervision of Israeli security forces or the CIA. But at least they are getting their land back, and that is itself a big gain."

But many commentators believed that, even though Netanyahu has signed the interim accord, there will still be a struggle in coming months to make sure that the commitments made by Israel are actually carried out. The Palestinians "have to realize, with the experience they had with the Oslo agreement, that it is not the last word to be said. The important thing is whether this agreement will be applied without any obstacles," Egyptian columnist Salama Ahmed Salama said in a telephone interview.

In Iran, where the clerical-led government does not recognize the state of Israel and urges that Palestinian rights be restored on all of historical Palestine, meaning in Israel proper as well as the West Bank and Gaza, the hard-line newspaper Kayhan said the agreement would only "encourage the Zionist regime to continue its oppression."

Also dismissive was a coalition of Palestinian groups still opposed to the Oslo accords that Arafat signed with Israel in 1993 and 1995 to exchange land for peace. The Palestinian Forces Alliance, based in Syria, was quoted by Reuters news service as decrying the agreement as a "conspiracy" against the Palestinian people. It especially took umbrage at the promise by Arafat that his security forces would, under the supervision of the CIA, crack down on militants.

"The security element in the deal, which is the main article, is aimed at creating rifts among the Palestinian people," an alliance spokesman said. "It is aimed at turning the battle into a Palestinian-Palestinian conflict instead of a confrontation against Israel."

Aline Kazandjian of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.

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