In three months the hope for peace that brought Palestinian and Israeli leaders to Camp David has unraveled into bloody battles in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and now a terrorist attack in Yemen, from which American sailors will come home in body bags.
A Palestinian mob’s murder-mutilation of three Israeli soldiers followed by a retaliatory Israeli attack on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s home left longtime Middle East watchers asking how the promise of peace could so quickly turn into open warfare.
Some pointed to Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May, a move they said was interpreted by Arab militants as a signal of weakness in Israel.
“There is no question that there were some on the Arab side, extremists, who after the withdrawal from Lebanon said the lesson learned is that guerrilla warfare is the way to go rather than negotiations,” said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor at the University of Maryland.
“After Camp David did not materialize, it was obvious we were running on borrowed time,” he said.
Another reason that the peace process unraveled so quickly is that the move from slow, detailed, incremental negotiations over seven years moved too quickly to the highly divisive issues of Jerusalem and refugees without proper preparation for the compromises both sides would have to make, said analyst Richard Haass of the Brookings Institution.
“The talks did not succeed at Camp David because what was being put to Palestinian leader Arafat was too much, too soon,” Mr. Haass said.
“He had never prepared his own people for compromise and no one had ever prepared the Arab world to support compromise. It was an overly ambitious negotiation for which the ground had not been prepared,” he added.
President Clinton said yesterday that terrorists who blew a hole in the side of a U.S. warship in Yemen will fail to stop U.S. efforts to end 50 years of Arab-Israeli fighting and create a durable peace in the Middle East.
However, the flurry of violence appears to have caught everyone in the region, as well as Washington, off guard by its sudden escalation and the willingness of Palestinians to throw themselves in the path of Israeli bullets once more.
Yesterday’s violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories compounded by the terrorist attack in Yemen, underscored growing hostility in the Arab world toward the United States.
“We don’t know if the attack in Yemen was an act of the Yemen government or an act of terrorism. But we do know there is a high level of anti-Americanism combined with anti-Israel sentiment sweeping the Muslim world,” said the University of Maryland’s Mr. Telhami. “American interests are at stake. This is a national security crisis for the United States not merely an episode of Arab-Israel violence.”
However, Arab states, including Egypt which has had a peace treaty with Israel since 1979, accused the Israelis of being the aggressors by using helicopters and missiles.
“We hope the Israeli side will stop its use of power and attacks against the Palestinian people in order to calm down the dangerous situation,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.
Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced strong support for the Palestinians, telling British and European Union envoys that Israel would be the loser in the end.
The official Iraqi news agency said that more than half a million Iraqis had volunteered to fight with the Palestinians against Israeli troops.