- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

JERUSALEM — As Israeli and Palestinian leaders adopted a U.S.-sponsored peace plan in Jordan yesterday, Sara Sheetrit sat in the shade of a tree on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall watching political workers hang banners with a stark warning: “Oslo’s Lesson: No to a Palestinian State.”

Within hours, thousands of Israeli youths would jam the city center at a rally organized by Jewish settler leaders to muster right-wing opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s peace gestures.

And while Mrs. Sheetrit sympathized with the settlers’ efforts to defend their homes, the 50-year old mother said Israelis had suffered too much trauma over the last 32 months of violence to miss the opportunity to end the bloodshed, however fragile.

“I don’t believe the Palestinians. But we don’t have a choice,” said Mrs. Sheetrit, who closed two family-owned restaurants in Israeli cities because of the economic havoc wreaked by a wave of bombings.

“I was saved from five or six attacks. I can’t live from miracle to miracle. We aren’t sleeping well at night,” she said.

In Gaza, Palestinian militant groups defied an appeal by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, vowing they would not disarm.

“We will never be ready to lay down arms until the liberation of the last centimeter of the land of Palestine,” Hamas official Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi said. Islamic Jihad, another group sworn to Israel’s destruction, followed suit.

But mindful of the suffering caused to Palestinians by Israeli army incursions, the militant groups have indicated willingness to suspend attacks inside Israel and thus help Mr. Abbas implement the road map.

“We are in need of more time. I think that in the coming few days we in Hamas will decide on our objective, and then we will meet with Mr. Abbas,” Mr. Rantissi said.

After 2 years caught in a constant cycle of violence, the drama of the Aqaba summit did little to dissipate mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians. Almost no one spoke of accepting the principles of the sweeping compromise discussed three years ago in Camp David.

Though the prodding of President Bush was likely to be uncomfortable, both Israelis and Palestinians seemed resigned to the fact that active American intervention is the only way out.

“We can’t oppose America,” said Mrs. Sheetrit, a supporter of Mr. Sharon’s Likud Party who says Israel should dismantle settlements if that’s the price of peace. “We depend on America, so we do what they say.”

Less than 10 miles north of Jerusalem’s bomb-scarred pedestrian mall, the West Bank city of Ramallah remained under a tight siege. Stepped-up security at military blockades choked off traffic at Al-Manara Square, normally bottlenecked even in less-stressful times. Amid the thin midday crowd, Haj Abu Labaun’s falafel stand lay barren of customers — a common scene during the past two years, pushing his restaurant to a monthly loss of $4,500.

That plight was more than enough reason for Abu Labun, 52, to pin his hopes on the proceedings in Aqaba. “All of the people are bored from the Intifada,” he said. “It’s enough.”

Back in the center of Jerusalem, an Israeli teacher, Long Island native Asher Smith, worried that the country was being swept up in the peacemaking euphoria like that after the first peace accord with the Palestinians almost a decade ago. Israel’s leaders, he said, were repeating a mistake they should have learned from the collapse of the peace process three years ago.

“I expect the worst. It’s a mistake to give them land and let them do as they please,” he said. “People have a lot of false expectations now like during Oslo, and they’re going to be disappointed.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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