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We Must See and Feel the Change

Will the Palestinian people no longer feel the sting of oppression from both Israel and their own?

October 26, 1998|DAOUD KUTTAB | Daoud Kuttab is director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem

The Wye Plantation Memorandum, which was signed in an internationally publicized ceremony, is not a peace agreement. It doesn't contain any new elements. It is simply a confirmation by the parties to implement what previously had been agreed to.

Nevertheless, the Wye accord could be very important to Middle East peace. It marks an unambiguous embrace by Israel's right-wing Likud Party--including newly appointed Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon--of the Oslo peace process which had begun by the late Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

For Palestinians, this agreement couldn't have come at a better time. The level of frustration and skepticism had reached a dangerous level. The procrastination of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the settlement policy of the present Israeli government and the apparent inability of the U.S. sponsor to do anything about all that had left a bitter feeling with Palestinians. Ever since the razor-thin victory of Netanyahu, Palestinians have witnessed more land confiscation, violent Israeli repression, travel restrictions, house demolitions and a stalemate in the peace process.

Although Netanyahu had publicly accepted the Oslo accords, his actions (or inactions) since his election have left the world skeptical of his motives. Many in Palestine and the Arab world began to doubt whether the Israeli government would ever implement the Oslo accords. Many still doubt that what has been agreed upon near Maryland's Wye River will be implemented. Only the most persistent follow-up by the United States at the highest level will ensure that the Wye agreement will be carried out in all its details.

To deliver home the message of peace, Palestinians must see and feel the change. The right of Palestinians to be free and independent, to move around in their own country, to travel in and out of their homeland and to pursue economic prosperity should not be obtained as a result of the charity of the Israelis. It must be clear in word and deed that such basic rights are inalienable and are to be honored. Palestinians have prayed for the day that their lives will no longer be used as a political bargaining chip. The Wye Plantation Memorandum should put an end to this dark chapter of holding the people of the region hostage for the political ambitions of power hungry politicians.

On the other hand, Palestinians are concerned about the implications of some of the security arrangements hammered out between the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli security and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Human rights organizations are afraid that the Palestinian Authority will use this agreement and the international support it has received to crack down on the Palestinian opposition. The fear is that the crackdown will not be limited to militant Islamists but also will include political Islamists and any other national opposition within the Palestinian arena. Not many hours after the agreement was signed, the Palestinian security forces arrested 11 journalists working for the Palestinian and the foreign press while interviewing the leader of the Islamic Hamas movement. It would be a shame if a U.S.-sponsored agreement would lead to the suspension of human and civil rights of Palestinians. The United States government must make it clear that its opposition to terrorism doesn't translate to the violation of the freedoms of expression.

The implementation of the Wye agreement could be an important step if it reflects a change in the policies of the Israeli government toward Palestinians. To create the proper atmosphere for talks dealing with sensitive issues like Jerusalem, refugees, the status of settlements and borders, many changes are needed. If the policies of expansion and the denial of Palestinian rights have ended, then the beginning of permanent-status talks would have a chance. Otherwise, this short-term reprieve would contribute very little to the long-awaited peace in the Middle East.

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