- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

In the wake of last month’s summit in Jordan involving President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, there are dramatically conflicting indications about the direction of the peace process. On the positive side of the ledger, following the June 29 declaration of a three-month cease-fire by the three leading Palestinian terrorist groups — Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades — there has been a falloff in the number of attacks against Israel.

Just a few weeks ago, Israeli security forces were issuing upward of 50 warnings a day based on specific intelligence information that suicide bombers have been dispatched to carry out attacks. Today, the number is half as large. There has also been a dimunition in the degree of Palestinian incitement against Israelis and Jews in general, and Israeli and Palestinian officials have inaugurated an anti-incitement committee in order to end the glorification of suicide bombers in Palestinian society — particularly in the schools. Khalil Shikaki, a West Bank pollster, released results of a new survey poll showing that only 10 percent of Palestinian refugees demanded permanent residence in Israel and only 1 percent seek Israeli citizenship, but 54 percent would be willing to accept some form of compensation or resettlement as an alternative. (On Sunday, a mob claiming affiliation with Yasser Arafat’s PLO sacked the pollster’s office in retaliation for the politically incorrect poll results.)

For its part, Israel has taken concrete steps to move the peace process forward. It has redeployed its troops out of key areas of the West Bank and Gaza, eased security restrictions to accord the Palestinians greater freedom of movement and increased the number of work permits for Arabs in Israel. The Sharon government has also began to dismantle wildcat settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and — going beyond the requirements of President Bush’s road map for peace— is releasing several hundred Palestinian prisoners from jail.

That said, serious problems remain, particularly on the Palestinian side. Although the terrorist groups are generally adhering to the three-month cease-fire that took effect June 29, they may well be using the time to make preparations for a new round of violence against Israel. For example, Hamas, which until several weeks ago had been firing rockets with a 5-mile range from Gaza into a nearby Israeli village, is reportedly working to produce 1,000 more rockets with a longer range, enabling them to reach larger sections of Israel.

For now, however, the main threat to Mr. Abbas is Mr. Arafat, who has sought to undermine him at every turn. On Monday, Messrs. Arafat and Abbas announced that they had reached an agreement on how to conduct future negotiations with Israel. Their agreement, which gives Mr. Arafat continued influence over the talks, is strongly opposed by the United States and Israel, which understand that, so long as Mr. Arafat remains on the scene, Mr. Abbas will be unable to bargain seriously with the Jewish state. So for now, the critical challenge for Washington is finding a way to persuade its European allies to isolate Mr. Arafat.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide