- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

JERUSALEM — A pair of television reports last week from the Palestinian territories illustrates the delicate balance in which the current Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire hangs.

One report showed the opening of a dazzling new shopping mall in Ramallah, the Palestinian capital on the West Bank, with high-priced luxury goods and innovative play areas for young children.

“I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said the owner of the mall, a Palestinian who had gained wealth in the United States and was now investing it in his hopes for a prosperous Palestinian homeland.

The other report was of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip taking advantage of the cease-fire by running a school for bomb makers that was overflowing with students, and test-firing long-range rockets into the Mediterranean.

With the three-month “hudna,” or cease-fire, near its midway point, both Israel and the Palestinians are preparing for this first period of quiet in three years to either end with a bang or to turn into the beginning of a real peace process.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Wednesday ordered the armed forces to prepare for the worst, noting that the Palestinian Authority led by Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has not yet taken any steps to dismantle Hamas and other militant organizations. Mr. Mofaz warned that the militants were planning, if the cease-fire ends, to unleash a wave of terror worse than anything seen before.

However, another senior security source briefing reporters this week said he believed the Palestinians would choose to extend the cease-fire. He noted that a poll carried out by Al-Najah University, a Palestinian institution in Nablus, showed that 69 percent of the Palestinian public wanted to see a continuation of the cease-fire.

The Palestinian Authority also has sharply curbed the anti-Israel incitement that used to dominate the electronic and print media in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad understand that a reduction in incitement could constitute a problem for them if they want to reignite the intifada because they wouldn’t enjoy public support,” the unidentified Israeli source said.

The removal of a number of major Israeli roadblocks has added substantially to a feeling of well-being among Palestinians who now can travel to work or visit relatives without having to wait in lines, sometimes for hours. The number of Palestinian workers and merchants permitted to enter Israel also has increased.

For their part, the Palestinian militant organizations have halted their attacks on Israeli targets, although small, rogue elements have not accepted the cease-fire.

Both sides recognize that the current calm is only transitory. The Palestinians want not just an easing of their living conditions but a viable state and total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel is prepared to accept a state and to withdraw from most, but not all, the territories.

Teetering uncertainly between visions of a better life and the possibility of renewed strife, Israelis and Palestinians crowd the seashore and fill restaurants as they make the best of a quiet summer.



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