- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Another exercise in futility, which is characteristic of the Clinton administration in its waning days to act in the name of action. There was no basis for inviting the two rivals to Washington. All could have been done by telephone calls between Washington and Jerusalem, Washington and Gaza. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came here to sell an unsellable product: United Nations and international intervention between Israel and the Palestinians. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak nor Mr. Arafat is ready to negotiate at least not before the violence comes to an end.
Three attempts to quell the violence have utterly failed. On Oct. 4 in Paris, Mr. Barak, Mr. Arafat and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright met to settle the violence. Mr. Arafat, after initialing a declaration of principles for ending the violence, in his characteristic way ran out of the U.S. Embassy office without signing the declaration. On Oct. 14, they met separately in Sharm el Sheik, and Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat did not speak to one another. It was only a boost to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek to act as a mediator while being Mr. Arafat's protector. It was obvious that the agreement in Sharm el Sheik, which was in essence the same one that was agreed to in Paris, was violated the moment it was signed. Finally, a meeting between Shimon Peres and Mr. Arafat in Gaza on Nov. 1 produced no substantial results except that Palestinian violence moved from daytime to nighttime activity.
The reason for failure is obvious. Maybe not to President Clinton. There is a sharp political division between the Israelis and the Palestinians, who are pursuing rival agendas. The Palestinian intifada is the terrorist expression of a political program that deeply divides the parties. In fact, Mr. Arafat's military organization, called Tanzim (the Organization), established a tacit coalition of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The political and diplomatic environment is poisoned, and no U.S. mediator has a chance to bridge the gap between totally opposed political orientations on the peace process and its conclusion. Mr. Arafat clearly has started with a political move to de-Americanize the peace process. This is represented by the two ideas he presented to Mr. Clinton, which were rejected. One was a U.N. force like the one in Sinai and in the Golan that would separate Israeli and Palestinian forces. The other is a coalition of the European Union, the Arab League and forces unfriendly to America in the United Nations, especially the French, designed to change the Oslo rules of the game, giving greater weight to the non-American participants. After failing with Mr. Clinton, Mr. Arafat asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a military force of 2,000 to separate Israelis from Palestinians. The president promised to veto such a resolution.
What Israel has accepted is politically unwise, in my view. It is a Mideast panel headed by George J. Mitchell, the former Democratic Senate majority leader who would lead an international inquiry into the cause of the current violence between the Israelis and Palestinian. The commission would also be composed of former Sen. Warren Rudman, former President Suleyman Dimirel of Turkey, Foreign Minister Thorbjorn Jaglan of Norway and former secretary-general of NATO Javier Solana of Spain. This panel will try to be objective, considering both sides equally. That means that Mr. Arafat has gained politically from the intifada. He may be condemned along with Israel. That, however, would mean loss of political capital to Israel. If the commission materializes, then Mr. Barak, who accepted it, would be responsible for enhancing Mr. Arafat's political gains. In return, Mr. Arafat would refuse to bring an end to violence, hoping that he would finally prevail in de-Americanizing the Oslo rules of the game. It does not matter who is on the panel. The idea itself is a political victory for Mr. Arafat.
What does all of this mean? That Mr. Arafat himself has buried the original Oslo agreement. His strategy of mixing violence with diplomacy is indeed working, and the U.S. team is at a loss for a reasonable solution. In fact, the U.S. team does not challenge Mr. Arafat's efforts, and thus will eventually become less significant if Mr. Arafat prevails. The Mideast panel is a political trap for Israel. It already represents the internationalization of the Oslo process. One of the most significant aspects of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's strategy for peace with the Palestinians was that it was to be conducted only between the Israelis and Palestinians, with the Americans as mediators and facilitators of good offices. This is no longer true. The European Union is sticking its nose where it does not belong. If Mr. Rabin had known the EU would become involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, there would have never been an Oslo.
The efforts on the part of Mr. Arafat to cross the boundaries of Oslo are succeeding despite Mr. Clinton's rejection of the dead-on-arrival idea of a U.N. force. So Mr. Arafat is gaining unearned political concessions while remunerating Israel with terror and violence. Obviously, the founding fathers of Oslo, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, have invested so much in it that they continue to support a dead treaty.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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