- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

The 1993 Oslo accords, far from ending the century-long conflict, from the outset seemed to bring more terrorism to the Israelis and a harsher military occupation for Palestinians.
After the initial excitement over the prospect of peace, progress became much more difficult. Israel became increasingly frustrated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's ambiguity over fighting militants, while Palestinians saw delays in the talks and Israel's relentless construction of settlements as proof of its bad faith.
On the night of Nov. 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot dead as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The killer, Yigal Amir, 27, was a Jewish extremist studying law at the University of Bar-Ilan. He blamed Mr. Rabin for giving up holy land to the Arabs and causing the deaths of Jews.
Mr. Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres, moved quickly to consolidate the peace accords after the assassin's challenge.
He ordered the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to withdraw from six Palestinian cities Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah. Elections were held for the Palestinian parliament, and Mr. Arafat was elected chairman of the Palestinian Authority with overwhelming public support.
Mr. Peres called an early election, but his hopes were destroyed by a series of suicide bombings carried out in apparent revenge for Israel's assassination of Yihya Ayyash, the chief Hamas bomb maker.
Neither an emergency "Summit of the Peacemakers" called in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik to express international support for Mr. Peres nor Israel's ill-fated bombardment of south Lebanon in May 1996 during which it killed about 100 Lebanese refugees at a U.N. base in Cana could save Mr. Peres from defeat.
The Likud party under Benjamin Netanyahu came to power promising to be tough on Mr. Arafat and vowing never to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. However, Mr. Netanyahu did agree to carry out the previously agreed withdrawal from most of Hebron, except for a slice of the city including Jewish settler enclaves and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Nevertheless, the Oslo process lost momentum.
Barak takes over
The "further redeployments" promised by Israel were delayed repeatedly, and were implemented only partially after the Labor government under Prime Minister Ehud Barak came to power in 1999. Mr. Barak at first concentrated on trying to reach a peace agreement with Syria, but the talks broke down. Israel agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights but refused to concede the eastern shores of Galilee to Syria. In May 2000, Mr. Barak ordered the army to withdraw from the northern security zone, ending more than two decades of occupation in southern Lebanon.
Turning his attention to Palestinian aspirations, Mr. Barak was ready to go further than any of his predecessors. However, he was determined not to give up any more assets until a final, climactic, take-it-or-leave-it negotiation.
He declined to carry out the final stage of redeployment and reneged on a promise to give up three Palestinian villages on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
In July 2000, when President Clinton convened a summit at Camp David with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mr. Barak floated the idea of an Israeli withdrawal from 91 percent of the West Bank as well as a pullout from the Gaza Strip.
Israel would hold on to strips of territory to absorb the majority of settlers, and in return offered to give a slice of its own territory in the Negev Desert to enlarge the Gaza Strip, in a 10-1 ratio. On the final day of the summit, Mr. Barak offered to give some outer neighborhoods of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and proposed "functional autonomy" to Arabs in the rest of the city.
Palestinians also would have sovereignty over two of the Old City's quarters, and "permanent custodianship" over Haram al-Sharif, the esplanade on the Temple Mount that includes the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
These were, in the view of most Israelis, stunning concessions. But in Palestinian eyes they fell short of their demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from the territory captured in 1967. Mr. Clinton publicly blamed Mr. Arafat for the failure of the talks, but Palestinians maintained that they already made the historic compromise of recognizing Israel on 78 percent of historic Palestine. To bargain over the remaining 22 percent would be a "humiliation."
It is a cruel irony of the Camp David talks that just when the world had seen a glimpse of a permanent peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, the two sides were being propelled into a bloody new confrontation.
The Jerusalem Intifada
With the genie of Jerusalem freed during the Camp David talks, Ariel Sharon was determined to harness it for his political cause. On Sept. 28, 2000, the Likud leader marched on Haram al-Sharif to demand that Israel never give up the Temple Mount to Mr. Arafat. He was accompanied by a train of about 1,000 police officers. Outraged Palestinians quickly rose up to "defend" Al Aqsa against Mr. Sharon's political assault. During rioting a day later, Israel's police killed four Palestinians.
The uprising, dubbed the "Al Aqsa Intifada," spread quickly and bloodily. At first, the uprising consisted of confrontations between Israeli soldiers and rioters, with Palestinian policemen and gunmen in the mix. Then the intifada turned increasingly into an armed revolt, with shootings and mortar attacks against settlers, suicide bombings in Israel, retaliatory raids by Israeli tanks, the "targeted killings" of Palestinian militants and full-scale urban warfare.
In his last weeks in office, Mr. Clinton issued his "parameters" for peace, the most detailed American blueprint for a final accord. This called for an Israeli withdrawal equivalent to 97 percent of the West Bank, including land swaps, with a land corridor to Gaza accounting for the remaining 3 percent. Jerusalem would be divided according to the principle that "what is Arab is Palestinian, what is Jewish is Israeli." Haram al-Sharif would be Palestinian and, below, the Western Wall would be Israeli. Palestinian refugees would return to the Palestinian state rather than to Israel.
The sides came close to an agreement, but by then Mr. Barak was a lame duck and Mr. Clinton was about to leave office. Mr. Sharon was swept to power on an explicit commitment to crush the intifada and repudiate the offers made at Camp David. Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat, the old foes from the siege of Beirut in 1982, confronted each other once again.
As the fighting became gradually more brutal, cease-fires came and went despite repeated U.S. attempts to refine its proposals to stop the fighting.
The war on terror
The September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington offered Mr. Arafat a unique opportunity to seize the initiative. President Bush spoke of a "vision" of a future Palestinian state, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair invited Mr. Arafat to Downing Street, where the Palestinian leader denounced Osama bin Laden's attempt to hijack the Palestinian cause. Washington announced a new peace initiative in November.
The West needed quiet in the Middle East, and perhaps some Arab support, as it prepared for war in Afghanistan. But Mr. Arafat threw away his chance for a rapprochement with America after a series of incidents: the assassination in October of hard-line Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi, a spate of suicide bombings against Israelis in December and the capture in January of a ship laden with Iranian weapons for the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Sharon ordered retaliatory measures that came ever closer to Mr. Arafat personally: His helicopters were destroyed, his runway was torn up and the Palestinian leader was surrounded by Israeli tanks in his headquarters in Ramallah.
It was a suicide bombing in Netanya, where more than 20 people were killed while celebrating the Passover dinner, that precipitated the most devastating Israeli response. Two days later, Israeli tanks and combat troops blasted their way into Mr. Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, surrounding the Palestinian leader in a single building. As Mr. Arafat made frantic telephone calls to Arab and world leaders, Israel threatened to send him into exile.
Israeli-armored columns entered all major West Bank cities, but the United States restrained Israel from harming Mr. Arafat personally. In Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinian policemen and militiamen took refuge in the Church of the Nativity and were besieged by Israeli forces, which began to blast loud music as a form of psychological warfare.
Beyond these symbols, however, the most bitter confrontation took place in Jenin's refugee camp.
Over more than a week of fighting, Israel lost 23 soldiers, and an unknown number of Palestinians were killed as Israel blasted and bulldozed parts of the camp.
Palestinians claimed 500 or more people were killed in a "massacre," while Israel put the number of Palestinian dead at fewer than 100, many of them gunmen killed in the course of battle. Subsequent reports put the death toll at 50 to 60, and Palestinians quietly dropped charges of a massacre.
Future prospects
More than half a century after the birth of Israel and the exodus of the Palestinians, the conundrum remains the same: how to accommodate two nations within the small area that is the former British mandate of Palestine.
A partition of the land into a Jewish and Palestinian state has been the outside world's preferred solution, starting with the Peel Commission in 1937, to the U.N. General Assembly a decade later and throughout the Oslo process.
The problem is that there is no obvious partition line demographic, topographic or strategic to separate the two people neatly into two states. What is left is a political border: the pre-1967 cease-fire line.
An Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been the underlying assumption of peace talks since the 1993 Oslo accords.
For many Israelis, the fiasco at Camp David in 2000 and the outbreak of the intifada are proof that Palestinians are not interested in a two-state solution, but instead remain bent on destroying the Jewish state. The only response, in their view, is to crush the revolt and keep Palestinians in a state of subjugation.
Many Palestinians retort that Israel will continue to live in torment for as long as Palestinians suffer under Israeli military occupation. The only way to end the bloodshed, they say, is for Israel to withdraw fully from the territories it has occupied since 1967.
The rest of the world will continue to try to nudge Israel and the Palestinians into an agreement.
What is missing in the Middle East, however, is not peace proposals but trust.
Anton La Guardia, diplomatic editor of the Daily Telegraph, is the author of "Holy Land, Unholy War: Israelis and Palestinians," published by John Murray. The revised and updated paperback edition will be published in September.


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