Newsletter : 6fax0412.txt
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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan
April 12, 1996 V4, #66
All the News the Big Guys Missed
Closure Continues for West Bank and Gaza
By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)
Two leading Palestinian officials have expressed concern that the
current closure of the Palestinian territories and other Israeli
policies -- which are supposed to be temporary -- could have a
serious long-term negative impact on the peace process.
Just a few months ago, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process
appeared to be going fairly smoothly -- with Israel withdrawing
from West Bank cities and the Palestinians holding their first
elections. Then, two months ago, a leading Palestinian militant
was assassinated -- in an operation widely blamed on Israel -- and
his supporters launched a series of four bomb attacks in Israel,
which killed 62 people. Israel responded with a tough closure of
the territories, suspension of most contacts with Palestinian
officials and a broad crackdown on anyone suspected of sympathizing
with the militants.
Many Israelis and Palestinians see the harsh Israeli moves as
designed to soothe Israeli public opinion in advance of the
elections, set for May 29. And many expect the measures to be
eased afterwards if the ruling Labor Party wins. But longtime
peace activist and Palestinian Cabinet member Faisal Husseini is
worried that the Israeli policy represents more than that, perhaps
a change of Israeli strategy. He says the policy has created the
worst crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations since Israel captured
the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.
"From our relations with the Israelis our feeling (is) that what
they are doing now is not only a reaction for what happened, but it
is a new strategy, which goes back for a very old strategy: that
they want us to have nothing. We believe that the Labor Party is
ready to work with us, as a partnership, and they can deal with
us within this understanding. Now, what they are doing, there is
no partnership. So, I believe that both sides must be brave
enough, courageous enough, to come sit together, and to go on as
But Husseini does not see any evidence that the current Labor-led
Israeli government is willing to do that, and he says the situation
has shaken his faith in the ideas of dialogue and peaceful
coexistence he has advocated for years.
Not surprisingly, Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi has a
different version. He says the closure and the related Israeli
policies toward the Palestinians are aimed first and foremost at
stopping terrorists. But while he will not say specifically that
they are also aimed at increasing Prime Minister Shimon Peres'
security image for the elections, Dromi says harsh measures are
justified if they can renew Israeli public support for the peace
"Maybe, in doing the utmost, which is, among other things, imposing
this closure, we are doing more than was needed just for security
reasons. But we're doing so in order to maintain the confidence of
Israelis that Israel, while pursuing peace, Israel is defending
them. Because if you're going lose these Israelis, then you
don't have a peace process in the first place."
But Husseini, and his Palestinian colleague Hanan Ashrawi say
that in the process, Israel is losing the hard-won support of the
Palestinian people for the peace process. And Ashrawi says Israel
is also doing things which can not be attributed to any security,
political or public relations motive.
"These things are not just verbal. They are not issues of
heightened rhetoric and electioneering and campaign propaganda.
These are actions on the ground that are transforming realities and
are pre-empting the outcome of the substantive issues that are
supposed to be (part of) permanent status (talks). They are
superimposing an Israeli reality, unilaterally, which negates the
very substance of the peace process."
Ashrawi and Husseini say the long term impact of that is too
serious to justify with any short-term political goals. A senior
Israeli military officer has expressed similar concerns, and the
government has approved some easing of the closure as a result. But
no analyst expects Israel to make any substantial change in its
crackdown policy -- of the sort that might satisfy Ashrawi and
Husseini -- at least until after the elections.
Israeli officials say the policy could save the peace process, but
the two Palestinian officials say the policy could destroy the
peace process instead.
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