Frustration, blunders, led to Mid-East crisis : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Frustration, blunders, led to crisis

By MARJORIE MILLER JERUSALEM Tuesday 10 October 2000

The speed with which the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has shattered in the unsteady hands of its leaders has shocked even veterans of Middle East politics.

Two weeks ago, Israelis were gambling in the West Bank city of Jericho and Palestinians were talking about building shopping malls to cater to secular Israelis on the Jewish Sabbath. Israeli and Palestinian security forces carried out joint patrols and peaceful coexistence seemed possible.

Now Israelis and Palestinians are locked in deadly street fights. Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships are deployed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Pales-tinians have desecrated a Jewish shrine in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is warning his country to brace for prolonged conflict.

Many Israelis are now asking if peace was an unrealistic dream and if the country is headed for war. How have events got so quickly out of control?

Israelis have adopted a siege mentality, feeling encircled by hostile Arab neighbors and threatened despite peace pacts with Jordan and Egypt. Even moderates called for Mr Barak to take military action against the Palestinians.

With scores of dead on their side, Palestinians now believe Israel was trying to impose an unjust peace settlement that it could not win at the negotiating table. They now believe violence is the only language Israelis understand. Grass-roots leaders want a new intifada, a prolonged uprising such as they launched against Israeli occupation in the late 1980s.

The roots of the crisis can be found in pent-up Palestinian frustrations and in sensitivities on both sides about the core issue of who should control Jerusalem. Blunders by Mr Barak and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat have escalated the situation out of control, say Israeli and Palestinian analysts.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was to have been carried out in stages so that trust between the two sides could grow. Israeli pullbacks and Palestinian security cooperation were to be the building blocks that would allow them to tackle the issues of final borders, Palestinian sovereignty, the return of refugees and Jerusalem.

It didn't work out that way. There were bombing campaigns against Israel, Israeli delays in the hand-over of land, mutual recriminations and a failure to tackle key issues.

Although Mr Barak reportedly offered Palestinians control over some eastern parts of the disputed city - more than any Israeli leader has ever offered before - both sides realised their positions were irreconcilable. Neither will cede control over holy sites in Jerusalem.

The United States and Israel blamed President Arafat for refusing to budge and, when he subsequently threatened to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, President Arafat found he had no international support for such a move. When he then desisted, he was not compensated politically in any way.

Isolated and unpopular at home, President Arafat was a man in need of a good rumble with Israel to let off Palestinian steam and rally public support.

And Israel provided the pretext.


-- Martin Thompson (, October 09, 2000

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