Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2000 / 27 Tishrei, 5761
Jibril Rajoub, the chief of security for Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, made the front page of Tuesday's Boston Globe with a simple statement: "There was not an agreement at all in Sharm el-Sheikh, not public nor private, not security nor political." This was, as is typically the case with statements from Arafat's regime, a self-serving distortion. But there is some truth here; and a good starting point for contemplating what we have now in Israel--which is not peace, not even truce, but war and the promise of more war, because the Palestinians want more war--is to assess what really came out of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Rajoub is wrong to say that no agreement at all was reached there. In a very narrow sense, an agreement of sorts was reached: Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed, separately, to take several individual steps that, it was very cautiously hoped, would end the fighting, or at least reduce it, and begin the process of returning to the status quo ante. Israel promised to reopen the Gaza airport, pull back its troops from the edges of the Palestinian territory and reopen the borders. The Palestinian Authority promised to take steps to stop attacks on Israeli positions and civilians, to curtail public incitement to further attacks and to re-arrest Islamic terrorists the authority had released from prison the week before.
But these commitments did not constitute an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, only between those entities and the United States. Neither side ever agreed with the other to anything close to a truce, nor did they agree to anything resembling a pact. Nobody signed anything at Sharm el-Sheikh.
"The important commitments" President Clinton announced were described only in the president's oral statement, and therefore meant only what the U.S. government interpreted them to mean. What Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and, more important, Arafat thought they meant we do not know, because the White House did not allow Barak or Arafat to speak at the conclusion of the meeting. The reason is obvious in retrospect: Had Arafat opened his mouth it would have been instantly clear that he did not view the "important commitments" as either important or commitments.
The phony truce was exposed for what it was immediately. Although the Palestinian Authority did (or at least so it was claimed) re-arrest some of the released terrorists and issue a brief, tepid call for an end to violence, these steps were the merest pro forma nod, a sort of jest in the context of the overall Palestinian response.
Palestinian attacks on Israel and Israelis never stopped. The first new attacks came the day after the agreement, when a powerful bomb exploded on a Gaza road as a convoy of Israeli military and civilian vehicles passed. Numerous other attacks were counted that day. The next day, Palestinians opened fire on 37 Jewish settlers, including women and children, who were traveling to a hill overlooking the remains of Joseph's Tomb, a Jewish holy site near Nablus previously destroyed by the Palestinians. The resultant gun battle claimed two lives, an Israeli and a Palestinian. The violence, generally instigated by the Palestinians, has continued ever since.
The Palestinian Authority has not acted in any serious way to stop the continual incitement to violence against Jews that spews from its radio and television stations--stations owned and entirely controlled by the authority. The Israelis are referred to as "war criminals," and the Palestinian victims of the violence are portrayed as holy martyrs; shootings of Palestinians are played on television over and over, while the exceptionally brutal murder of two Israeli soldiers never has been shown. The authority did allow, however, one response to that double murder to be aired--a sermon the next day by Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya defending the killings. The sermon's title: "Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews."
As for Arafat himself? He wants peace so sincerely that he took the conciliatory step, on the very day that a reluctant Barak called for a "timeout" in the peace process, of telling Barak that the Palestinians would "continue on their road to Jerusalem, the capital of our independent state." And if Barak did not accept that, the great peace-processor added, "Let him go to hell."
At least now we all know where we
10/19/00: The Talking Cure