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COMMENTARY No. 35

a CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE publication


MIDDLE EAST PEACE? (I)

October 1993

Unclassified

Editors Note:

In this first of two-part series, Dr. Wm. Millward looks at three aspects of the recent Middle East peace accord: the details of the agreement itself; the various reasons that encouraged and compelled the signatories to the table; and those forces on both sides striving to stabilize, or to spoil, its crucial first stages. Part II (Commentary No. 49) will examine the longer-term strategic implications.


Disclaimer: Publication of an article in the COMMENTARY series does not imply CSIS authentication of the information nor CSIS endorsement of the author's views.


"The Government of the State of Israel and the Palestinian team (in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Conference—the "PLO" ), representing the Palestinian people, agree that it is time to put an end to the decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process. Accordingly, the two sides agree to the following:"

Thus begins the official text of the agreement in principle to end hostilities between the Jewish citizens of Israel and the Palestinian people of the occupied territories and the diaspora. The announcement of this accord, and its subsequent official signing in Washington on 13 September 1993, have touched off an avalanche of hyperbole by journalists and commentators hoping to catch its significance.

Whenever two bitter enemies suddenly decide, through their respective leaderships, that it is time to call a halt, recognize each other and sign an agreement to keep the peace, that is an event that can fairly be called historic. When the two peoples concerned are the Israelis and Palestinians, whose dispute has centred on the control of a small patch of territory considered holy by the adherents of three world religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—the weight of such an agreement assumes even greater proportions.

The initial reaction of many observers and commentators to the news of such an imminent agreement was one of shock and disbelief. Until the end August, when word of the possibility of a back-channel deal began to trickle through, it was a bedrock axiom of international political wisdom that the Middle East dispute between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, was intractable and insoluble. While millions on both sides longed for an end to bloodshed and suffering and a final settlement fair to all, most were resigned to the probability of disappointment. It was easier to be sceptical about the chances of agreement between the two sides of this dispute than in about any other perennial world problem.

Suddenly, the impossible was happening on prime-time news, leaving many people with a vested interest in the dispute feeling euphoric and ecstatic, or betrayed and enraged. Others were simply incredulous. Those on both sides who opposed this or any other deal involving a compromise of the status quo were quick to issue denunciations and threats to subvert it. If it had been possible to sample world public opinion on the reaction to this news, it seems safe to assume a majority would have registered cautious optimism if not enthusiastic approval. For this writer and many of his generation, it seemed unlikely, in our more honest moments, that wed ever live long enough to see it.

THE TERMS OF AGREEMENT

The "Gaza-Jericho First" accord between the Israelis and Palestinians involved a two-step procedure. First came the signing of a mutual recognition agreement in Tunis and Jerusalem on September 9th. This was followed by a "Declaration of Principles on Interim Arrangements for Self-administration" signed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO representative Mahmud Abbas in Washington on September 13th. The agreement was then ratified by the legislative bodies of both sides, first in the Israeli Knesset on September 23rd by a vote of 61 to 50, with 8 abstentions and 1 absence, and second in the PLO's Central Council on October 9th by a vote of 63 to 8, with 11 abstentions or absent members. (The official text of the accord consists of seventeen articles, four protocols (annexes), and agreed minutes.)

Aim of the negotiations

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process aim to establish a Palestinian Self-Governing Authority, or elected Council, for the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Elections and jurisdiction

The Palestinian Council for self-administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be elected by direct, free and general political elections under agreed supervision (i.e., international observation) and public order ensured by the Palestinian police. The two sides view the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period.

Permanent settlement

The transitional period of five years will begin upon the withdrawal (of Israeli forces) from the Gaza Strip and Jericho areas. Negotiations for permanent status will begin as soon as possible, but not later than three years after the interim period begins. The remaining issues for permanent status negotiations will include Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders and other matters of common interest.

Transfer of powers

The Israeli military government and its Civil Administration will begin a transfer of authority to the authorized Palestinians when the Declaration of Principles enters into force and withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho is complete. The areas of authority will include education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation and tourism.

Interim measures

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will negotiate an "interim agreement" on the structure of the Council, the number of its members and the mechanisms for transfer of powers and responsibilities. This will include details on the Council's legislative and executive authority, and independent Palestinian judicial bodies. The Council will be charged with establishing local authorities for electricity, a seaport in Gaza, development banking, export promotion, the environment, land and water use.

Security concerns

The Palestinian Council will establish a strong police force to guarantee public order and internal security for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel will continue to provide for defence against external threats and guarantee the internal security and public order of Israelis.

Joint liaison committees

A joint Israeli-Palestinian Liaison Committee will be established to deal with issues requiring co-ordination, other matters of common interest, and disputes. (Disputes arising out of the application or interpretation of the Declaration of Principles which cannot be settled by negotiations may be resolved by conciliation, or by an Arbitration Committee.) A Continuing Committee will be constituted to promote liaison, co-ordination and negotiation with Jordan and Egypt on issues of joint interest, including re-admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.

Redeployment and withdrawal of Israeli forces

Between the entry into force of the Declaration of Principles and the eve of elections for the Council, Israeli military forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be redeployed outside populated areas, and withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and Jericho areas entirely.

Economic co-operation and regional programs

Both parties view the multilateral working groups as appropriate instruments for promoting a "Marshall Plan", regional and other programs, including special programs for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There will be an Israeli-Palestinian Continuing Committee for Economic Co-operation focusing on water resources development and water use, co-operation in electricity generation and use, energy development and pipeline construction, finance and banking, trade and trade promotion, industrial development and labour relations, human resources development, environmental protection and other areas of common interest.

Implementation timetable

CANADIAN REACTION

Official Canadian reaction to the possibility of a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations outside the Madrid framework was immediately supportive. As good friends and trading partners of people on both sides of the Middle East's most divisive and persistent dispute, Canadians have a long history of involvement in mediation efforts, peacekeeping activities and the creation of forums and mechanisms to facilitate communication and advance the chances for eventual reconciliation. The instinctive Canadian penchant for compromise as the best method of resolving disputes was consistently reflected through the medium of the United Nations and its agencies and the international consensus they represent. Canada played host in Ottawa in May 1992 to the Refugee Working Group, a meeting of 35 countries to discuss issues such as family reunification, vocational training and job creation, public health and a complete data base on refugees [The Ottawa Citizen, 16 May 1992]. Former External Affairs Minister Perrin Beatty, who attended the official signing ceremony in Washington, was quoted as saying, following a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Peres, that Canada was willing to assist Israel and the PLO with electoral expertise and increased foreign aid [Canadian Press, wire service, 14 September 1993].

Initial opinion samples among Canadian Jews and Palestinians on the value of the accord showed a majority enthusiastic and confident that it would lead to peace and security in the Middle East [The Globe and Mail, 13 September 1993]. Official spokespersons for both sides were cautious in responding to media enquiries, but both stressed the importance of mutual recognition and the symbolic value of this first step toward reconciliation.

At a meeting of Metro Toronto Jews and Palestinians after the dramatic signing ceremony, leaders of both groups praised the accord and pledged their best efforts to explain it to their members and ensure its success. Lamenting the fact that they had not had any contact in the past but had lived in two solitudes, apart and separate, both groups undertook to begin regular meetings and plan open forums for exchange of views. There was even a suggestion they join forces to lobby Ottawa and other governments for economic aid to help make the peace plan work [The Toronto Star, 14 September 1993].

The causes of conciliation: why now?

After years of conflict and enmity between Arabs and Jews dating back to the early 1920s during the Mandatory period in Palestine, the two sides have finally decided to call a halt to their blood feud. Why now, and not much earlier in this saga of sorrow and suffering? What in the world took them so long? Many lives, much property and the collective honour and dignity of both parties could have been spared by resort to rational self-interest years ago.

A primary reason for the timing of this agreement is that both sides are finally truly exhausted and enervated from decades of armed confrontation. Students of this conflict have heard it said frequently in the last decade or two that time was running out in the Middle East and that something had to be done to solve the matter before a conflagration erupted that would engulf the region and involve the whole world. Invariably, not enough was done over the last four decades from the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 to bring the parties together and put a stop to the bloodshed. Apart from the Camp David agreements, diplomacy proved impotent and futile whenever it was tried. Finally, Israelis and Palestinians appear to have realized the fruitlessness of fighting each other further and the irrationality of their unwillingness to share the land they both inhabit.

Among the factors contributing to the emergence of realism between two perennial antagonists, high priority must be given to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its patronage for radical Arab states like Syria, including armaments to Israel's enemies. It obliged the leaders of those states, as well as the Palestinians, to reassess their long-standing positions of total opposition to Israel. It also gave Israel a greater sense of security by removing what had long seemed a potential threat to the Jewish state. Reassessments became possible on both sides of the conflict.

Few would doubt that the intifada in the occupied territories also played an important part in preparing both sides for the recent agreement. Beginning in December 1987, the resistance movement gave many Israelis an uncomfortable feeling of having to act as a harsh occupying power. When the uprising came to be seen as a threat to innocent civilians in Israel as well, the cost of maintaining the violent status quo in Gaza and on the West Bank became unacceptably high for a majority of Israelis. In June of last year they elected a government committed to the peace process. According to recent polls, a majority are behind the agreement signed in Washington on September 13th.

The declining fortunes of the PLO and the diminishing prestige of its Chairman, Yasser Arafat, were also important factors leading up to the Declaration of Principles. The major cause of this decline was the Chairman's decision to support the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussain, in his takeover of Kuwait in August 1990, and the subsequent withdrawal of support subsidies for the Palestinians from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf sources. This loss of revenue, estimated at $200 million per year, added to the loss of remittances from expatriate Palestinian workers in the Gulf who had been dismissed and expelled from their host countries, threw PLO finances into a crisis from which they were still reeling when the accord was signed.

The importance of economics as a motivational factor in the timing of this accord cannot be over-emphasized. Money, as much as weariness of war, finally pushed the two sworn enemies to a more realistic appraisal of their options. Without a framework for Arab-Israeli economic co-operation, a political solution to their protracted struggle would be improbable. According to Uri Savir, a key member of Israel's team at the secret peace talks, both sides finally recognized they were facing the prospects of economic decline in the entire region in the absence of a settlement of some sort [The Ottawa Citizen, 13 September 1993]. The Middle East was becoming less and less relevant as an investment and business centre. Developers, investors and other business people were tending to bypass the region because of its instability and violence.

Mutual concern on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide over the rising threat of religious extremism, particularly in Islamic circles, was an additional incentive in the search for accommodation. Although the threat itself has been greatly inflated, perhaps deliberately in some instances, the rising popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was no doubt an important consideration for members of both delegations at the official peace process negotiations and the back-channel talks in Oslo. The slow and unproductive official peace talks begun in Madrid in the fall of 1991, coupled with a sense of urgency over the growing appeal of religious fundamentalism in Palestinian circles, helped convince the Israeli side that the time was ripe for compromise. An unidentified Israeli official is reported to have said that the Israeli government that took power in July 1992 had come to the realization that if the peace talks were allowed to drag on for three, four or five years, the Jewish state could be facing fundamentalist powers armed with long-range missiles and even nuclear weapons. "At that time we would have to rethink our entire policy, so we had better achieve now whatever is achievable now." [Reuter, 13 September 1993].

Of all the factors that influenced the perceptions of both sides to this dispute and helped bring them to agreement at long last, the most important was surely the realization on the Palestinian side that they were strictly on their own in their conflict with Israel and they had therefore better settle while conditions were still a little bit favourable. The other Arab parties to this conflict had long since made it clear by their behaviour that although they were willing to give lip-service to the Palestinian cause in public, they were reluctant or unwilling, or simply unable to follow up with positive action to promote a combined Arab stand. The concept of Arab unity had always been a utopian ideal, but reality has dealt severely with it. The Arab world emerged from the second Gulf War more divided than ever before in its recent history.

Some critics of the "Gaza-Jericho First" accord in Arab circles are claiming it violates the rule of full Arab co-ordination agreed upon by all Arab leaders from the beginning of the Madrid Conference. Those who put the peace agreement together have answered that it was the product of previous consultations with a number of Arab groups, especially in the frontline or inner ring states of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But authorities in these states deny any co-ordination whatsoever in the matter. And so it goes.

It appears that in fact there was a degree of co-ordination amongst the Arab parties involved in the official negotiations. The frontline states consulted each other in bilateral contacts. But the fact remains that whatever mechanisms were put in place to co-ordinate the Arab position and develop a unified stand in the negotiations were defective and inadequate. The frontline states did not create a standing committee for their leaders which could be convened every two or three months to facilitate consultations, co-operation and rapid joint action. There were no written agreements among these states spelling out the common goals of the Arab side and agreed-upon steps to achieve them. "Nothing of the sort was created. The matter of co-ordination was left to the Arab foreign ministers, and those are, after all, not able to speak authoritatively, especially in serious matters like the negotiations with Israel." [Raghid al-Sulh, al-Hayat, 13 September 1993]. The fact that the other Arab states—i.e., those in the Gulf and Maghreb—were not more actively involved in consultations on the preparation and promotion of a joint Arab stand was a glaring admission of weakness for all to see and some to exploit.

In the end it really does matter why these Arabs—the Palestinians around Arafat—decided to strike a deal for peace. The fear of being displaced by Faisal Husseini and other Palestinians from inside the territories was surely a potent source of motivation. Each individual involved in the process must have had a clear vision of the reasons for this action, and their order of priority. How these are presented to the constituencies each represents will help determine whether they are accepted or rejected. The idea that the Palestinian representatives felt they had to do it on their own and could not rely on full co-ordination and support from their Arab brothers will complicate future relations with them. The fact that the treaty was hammered out in Oslo and signed in Washington will not make it any easier to sell in the streets of Jerusalem, the back alleys of Gaza, or the suqs of Amman and Cairo.

Those in favour

As soon as word of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians became official, a rush of support for the concept was evident even before the details were known. The historic handshake between the two former enemies had to take place on the White House lawn where more than 3,000 dignitaries were witness to the symbolic reconciliation of official peace. The United States guaranteed the accord and pledged support to help make it work. Secretary of State Christopher emphasized United States' commitment to a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.

Without benefit of reliable opinion polls it was difficult to assess accurately Palestinian reaction to the agreement. Spontaneous demonstrations of approval, described by one headline as "an explosion of joy" [La Presse, 14 September 1993], were staged in many parts of Gaza and the West Bank. In Arab east Jerusalem, where the ardour was more restrained, the loud music of the pro-peace demonstrators was not enough to stifle the worried voices of other Palestinians. The generally favourable reception of the accord in Palestinian circles contrasted sharply with the more sombre and apathetic reaction it evoked amongst Israelis. While most Israelis were perhaps prepared to wait till something palpable could be seen from the agreement to demonstrate their enthusiasm, several opinion polls published before and after the signing showed they endorsed the concept behind it by a margin of 3 to 2. The margin of approval for the accord in the 120-member Israeli parliament was a solid victory for the Prime Minister and those in favour of this particular initiative. The fact that the President of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar M. Bronfman, has described the Israeli-Palestinian plan as "bold and prudent" should serve to reinforce this support in Jewish circles worldwide [The New York Times, 12 September 1993].

The official signing ceremony complete, Arab ambassadors mingled publicly and chatted informally with Israeli officials, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict. The momentum for peace led quickly to further Arab-Israeli contacts. On the return to Israel, Prime Minister Rabin and his party stopped in Morocco for talks with King Hassan II, which officials on both sides hope will lead shortly to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties. In Washington, Jordanian and Israeli officials initialled an agenda for negotiating a full peace treaty between the two countries. Many African and Islamic countries, including Malaysia, Zimbabwe and even Algeria, have signified their support for the PLO-Israeli accord. "I think this was the real agenda all along" said Mark Heller, an analyst at Tel Aviv University. "The agreement (with the PLO) provides a Palestinian fig leaf for Israel's normalizing relations with the rest of the Arab world." [The Globe and Mail, 15 September 1993].

There is clearly broad support around the world for the successful implementation of this agreement. For this to happen the first requirement is now money in large quantities. World Bank experts estimate that Gaza and the West Bank will require capital infusions of $3-$5 billion in the next several years if it is going to be able to show positive results, quickly, as a peace dividend. Canada has pledged $55 million over five years and offered technical help and know-how in organizing next spring's Palestinian elections and providing monitors.

Those opposed

In such an emotionally charged and long-simmering dispute, no agreement belatedly arrived at is likely to be without opponents, both those who disapprove and those who are prepared to take action to subvert it. There are extremists and maximalists on both sides—those who believe the land should be controlled exclusively by one side or the other—whereas the agreement promotes the principle of dual ownership. On the Israeli side, the opposition comes primarily from the Likud Party and its supporters on the religious right who claim that surrender of any part of biblical Eretz Israel is sacrilege and unacceptable. It is determined to fight the deal, but is seriously divided over methods. While Likud officially opposes the use of force to sabotage the accord, it speaks openly of declining to honour its terms if and when it returns to power.

The Jewish settlers in Gaza and the West Bank are opposed on the logical grounds that they fear being residents of a territory nominally administered and policed by the PLO. Attempts to allay their fears by assuring them that as Israeli citizens thy will be under the jurisdiction of the Israeli authorities have not entirely succeeded. Alarmist scenarios created by prominent figures like Ariel Sharon have not helped. Demonstrations by religious zealots in Jerusalem against any territorial compromise, and branding Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a traitor, were broken up by police, leaving 45 people injured and 33 arrested. Revenge attacks by settlers on Palestinians, for deaths among their own kind, appear to be escalating and could have serious consequences for the implementation time-table.

On the other side, there were opponents inside the PLO Executive Committee and administrative hierarchy. Some have registered their disapproval by resigning their posts; others by staying home. Internal disagreements over policy have frequently bedeviled Fatah and other PLO factions, particularly since the intifada. Exactly one week after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho First accord, a senior PLO figure active in its support, Muhammad Hashem Abu Sha'ban, was assassinated while driving his car through Gaza City on his way home from a rally. Sources attribute his death to an internal power struggle within Fatah. The same kind of polarization in the leadership over the accord has also affected long-time rank and file PLO supporters.

The main rejectionist groups among Palestinians and other Arabs are those based in the occupied territories—Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), those based in Lebanon—principally Hizbollah, and the several Palestinian factions based in Damascus under Syrian tutelage. Because of its dramatic rise in popularity in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas had become a potent rival for leadership with the PLO, and challenged the latter's claim to be "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people". It remains to be seen whether Hamas will push its opposition to the PLO's self-rule with Israel to the point of internecine violence. According to its official spokesman, Ibrahim Ghosheh, Hamas only believes "in using force with the occupation enemy (Israel) who evicted our people. Differences of opinion between Palestinian factions have to be resolved by peaceful and democratic dialogue." [Reuter, September 21, 1993]. PIJ intentions are still unclear.

The potential spoiler's role of Hizbollah is also uncertain. It has declared itself against the accord, but its capacity to initiate disruptive action is limited. It will most likely restrict its activities to attacks on IDF and South Lebanese Army forces in the Israeli-occupied security zone in south Lebanon. The extent of these initiatives will depend on how tight a leash the Syrian régime attaches to its Hizbollah protégés. As long as there are still reasonable expectations of Syria regaining its lost territory on the Golan Heights in some future deal with Israel, they are likely to be kept under close rein. Until such an agreement is realized, and until arrangements for the repatriation of Palestinians in Lebanon is clarified, the Lebanese government can be expected to view the Gaza-Jericho First accord with scepticism, as long as its territory remains occupied.

The major regional state opposed to the peace accord is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its objections are based primarily on religious considerations and the fact that the third-holiest site of Islam, Jerusalem, is occupied and politically controlled by the Jewish state. Since coming to power in 1979, the Islamic authorities have made the call to liberate Jerusalem [al-Quds] a central plank in their regional foreign policy. But the ability of the new régime in Tehran to take active steps, either on its own or through surrogates like Hizbollah, to derail this accord is limited. What may be a bigger concern in Tehran is the possibility of an expanded peace agreement including Israel and most of her Arab neighbours in some kind of regional concordat which would represent a threat to Iran's economic, commercial and strategic ambitions in the Gulf region and Central Asia.

Outlook

At the signing of the mutual recognition documents, Israel's Foreign Minister explained that he and his colleagues were taking perilous steps but they were driven by the desire to escape from a "poisonous past". The metaphor carries obvious implications for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Can the majority desire on both sides for peace contain and eventually dissipate the reservoir of psychological poison built up over nearly a century of hatred and conflict? As with living organisms, or a polluted ecosystem, the process of dissipating the accumulated poison of hatred between the two peoples will take time, great care and special measures. The official peace signed by the leadership of both sides was a formal dose of shock therapy that began the process of drawing off the poison. But that healing process will require liberal administrations of understanding, generosity and magnanimity from the beginning. Not just infusions of cash, but of tolerance and compassion will be needed.

The idea that this agreement can lead to the kind of peace and neighbourliness that both sides, and most of the world, are hoping for is rash and precarious. The terms of the agreement give the Palestinians much less than they have always insisted is their absolute minimum demand. But their spokespersons have frequently resorted to the catch-phrase that they would start to build their own polity on any part of the land vacated by the Israelis. That is what they will now have to proceed to do. As the agreement takes hold and a permanent settlement draws nearer, that land base will expand.

The task is daunting. Beginning with Gaza, a more unlikely terrain for the foundation of a nascent nation-state would be difficult to imagine. Throwing in Jericho does not improve matters significantly. Gaza lacks a modern infrastructure of roads, adequate housing, water supply, sewage system, banking and financial services, etc. It is frequently described as ungovernable. Young boys of 10 to 14 years control movement in the streets and conduct surveillance on every vehicle. Years of anarchy have led to a complete breakdown of traditional family authority. Parents—especially fathers—are mostly helpless to control their children and exact obedience.

Some observers and analysts of the region find it difficult to overcome their feelings of pessimism about the prospects for peace, despite the euphoria generated in some quarters by the accord. Hypothetical questions abound, and answers are not always reassuring. A source of nagging doubt is the ambiguity surrounding the possible overlap of jurisdiction between the IDF and a newly constituted Palestine police force. The withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza and Jericho over the next four months will make way for a strong Palestine police force of 8,000 men who will be responsible for security among Palestinians. This force will eventually expand to a maximum of 20,000, drawing recruits from the Palestine Liberation Army units stationed in Egypt and Jordan (but excluding those based in Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Yemen). One source believes that its intelligence division will work in close concert with Israel's Mossad [Jeune Afrique, No. 1706, 16-22 September, 1993]. Israeli media reports are feeding speculation about the possibility of Shin Bet/PLO co-operation.

Can such a force keep order, terminate the intifada and provide stability in Gaza and Jericho once the radical opponents of the accord perceive the extent of Arafat's compromise on minimum demands and begin to launch their attacks against both Palestinian and Israeli targets in the region? Partly because of the accord, the region is likely to become more, not less, unstable in the short to medium term. If there is an extremist attack in Israel and the perpetrators escape to the autonomous territories under Palestinian police control, will the IDF have the right of hot pursuit? When Prime Minister Rabin says he is ready to send IDF troops back into the territories should they dissolve into chaos in Palestinian hands, most Israelis believe him, and many, if not most, Palestinians would likely welcome them in the new post-accord circumstances.

There can be little doubt that a key test of the Gaza-Jericho First accord will be the ability of the PLO (PLA) to restrain violent protest in the territories it controls, with whatever help it may need from other sources. If this means a clear understanding with the IDF that Israeli military intervention is allowable if threatening situations arise, it will have an even better chance of success. Containing violence and reducing instability are now common interests and joint responsibilities.

As if to emphasize the fragility of the agreement, and remind everyone of the formidable opposition it faces, Israeli voters chose Likud Knesset member Ehud Olmert to replace Teddy Kollek as mayor of Jerusalem, and his former cabinet colleague, Roni Milo, as mayor of Tel Aviv, in November 1 municipal elections. Some observers believe that Olmert's win was helped by a surprise agreement with Agudat Yisra'el, which gave him the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] vote, along with the low voter turn-out in Arab East Jerusalem, which had been expected to help Kollek [FBIS, November 2, 1993]. Whether the new mayor's more relaxed views on Jewish settlement in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City will lead to more confrontation with Palestinians remains to be seen, but Likud's record in this regard is cause for concern. Prime Minister Rabin was quoted as saying he regarded Olmert's election as a "setback". Likud Kuesset faction chairman Moshe Qatzav expressed the view that the elections results prove that the people have no confidence in the government and the faction therefore submitted four motions to this effect in the Kuesset. Fortunately, they were defeated by a vote of 57 to 46.

Perhaps the most important test of the Gaza-Jericho First accord will be its ability to attract the investment funds everyone believes are essential to improve the quality of life in Gaza and Jericho. At a donors' conference held in Washington on October 1, the international community responded to U.S. pleas to open its wallets on behalf of Middle East peace by pledging $2 billion to help the PLO take over administrative control in Gaza and Jericho. Forty-three countries attended the conference. The U.S. Vice President said in a keynote speech that the United States would contribute $500 million over five years. According to a massive study by PLO experts, a seven-year economic plan for speed-building a new nation of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will require $12 billion.[The Washington Post, 29 September 1993, B1].

The potential impact of the amounts pledged to date cannot be gauged precisely because they cover varying periods within the planned five-year program and involve a mix of grants, loans and credits. PLO leader Yasser Arafat is rumoured to be disappointed with the response so far. Some prospective donors may be holding back from commitments until they see there is positive movement in place. The initial phase is crucial. Even Hamas supporters will be inclined to soften their opposition if it can be shown that people in general have more money in hand and there is perceptible improvement in general living conditions. A better standard of living for Gaza and West Bank Palestinians is likely to deter attempts to sabotage the peace agreement. The Palestine National Congress, which has yet to debate the issue, must still approve the pact. But in the last analysis the building of a strong national identity and a secure national territory will require more than material well-being.

Part (II) - Commentary No. 49


The views expressed herein are those of the author, who may be contacted by writing to :

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ISSN 1192-277X
Catalogue JS73-1/35


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