JERUSALEM (Apr. 26)
Terrorist attacks along the Lebanese border and in the administered territories escalated during the past week. Most observers here link the resurgent violence directly to the hard line taken at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres expressed hope last week that with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mainstream, headed by Yasir Arafat, edging closer to radicals and extremists in an effort to achieve Palestinian unity, moderate elements in the territories would be strengthened.
His view arose from the notion that Palestinians would realize the PLO offered a dead end, not a way to achieve peace or advance Palestinian interests. But this has proven to be wishful thinking. Once again, the Arab political community responded in accord with the internal politics of the PLO.
The East Jerusalem Arabic press hailed the show of unity at Algiers although it undercut whatever small progress was made in the past two years to bring Palestinians closer to the negotiating table.
Slogans smeared on walls rejoiced over Arafat’s apparent reconciliation with hard line terrorists such as George Habash and Naif Hawatmeh and news that Syrian-backed PLO dissidents who drove Arafat from Lebanon in 1984 were now back in the fold.
VIOLENCE IN ADMINISTERED TERRITORIES
Terrorist elements in the territories expressed their approval by violence. Two gasoline bombs were thrown at Israeli vehicles in the middle of Gaza Saturday, injuring a three-year-old child. On Friday, five Molotov cocktails were thrown at soldiers near the Dahaishe and El-Aroub refugee camps on the Jerusalem-Hebron road.
The Gaza incident aroused fury among Jewish settlers. On Sunday they drove a motorcade through Gaza, openly displaying their weapons as a warning and show of force.
Those developments, which coincided with the end of the PNC meeting, made it clear that Israelis would have to re-evaluate the political situation. The severe blows inflicted on the PLO in the Lebanon war, and its fragmentation during the years that followed, did not bring Palestinian moderates to the fore. Now, with the PLO seemingly reunited, the moderates have run for cover.
Shortly before the PNC, the so-called Palestinian parliament-in-exile, convened for its 18th session in Algiers, Peres met twice with local Palestinian leaders, some of them known PLO sympathizers. So did Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.
Those meetings yielded no concrete results and Palestinians and Israelis now appear farther apart than ever.
This view was expressed by several Ministers after the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday. Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Shinui Party told reporters the meeting in Algiers “strengthened those of us who think the PLO and peace are mutually exclusive.” Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, a Laborite, said Israel and Jordan would have to find other Palestinians willing to come to the negotiating table. Gad Yaacobi, Minister of Economic Coordination, also a Laborite, thought the PNC meeting had “created some setback in the political process” but that it wasn’t “critical.”
Only one Israeli Minister, Ezer Weizman, has insisted that come what may, Israel eventually must negotiate with the PLO. But Weizman’s views are not popular now, even within the Labor Party, and pressure is mounting to take strong, even draconian measures in response to terrorist attacks in the territories.
SAYS MOSCOW IS KEY TO MIDEAST PEACE
Where does this leave the peace process? Dr. Alexander Blei, of the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, suggested that the road to Middle East peace cannot be found in Algiers or in Jordan, but in Moscow.
According to Blei, who expounded his views on a television interview, the Soviet Union is interested in an international conference for Middle East peace on its own terms, with participation by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and all regional parties, including the PLO.
To achieve that goal, Blei said, Moscow first pressed for the reunification of the PLO which appears to have been accomplished. Next, it wants to reconcile Syria and Egypt. That may have been on the agenda of Syrian President Hafez Assad’s talks with Soviet leaders in Moscow last week.
He met Friday with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Diplomatic observers said they discussed Middle East peace, Palestinian reunification and the Iran-Iraq war, but differences emerged on certain issues.
A third facet of Soviet policy seems to be a more flexible position toward Israel. Fitted with an ability to guide both Syria and the PLO, it would give the Soviet Union a powerful voice in the Middle East.
There are obstacles, Blei pointed out. The PLO’s break with Egypt so enraged President Hosni Mubarak that he ordered his observers home from Algiers before the PNC’s deliberations ended. The official Cairo weekly Al-Akhbar stated in an editorial that it was time for Egypt to end its active support for the Palestinians. “We have suffered enough for them,” the editor wrote.
(Arafat won re-election to the chairmanship of the PLO Saturday night, but only after agreeing to concessions against which he had balked earlier in the day. These included an enlarged PNC executive committee in which he will have to share power with terrorist extremists, such as Abu Abbas, accused of masterminding the Achille Lauro hijacking. But some Syrian-backed extremist groups were excluded.)
With Jordan and Egypt distancing themselves from the Palestinians, with Israel split over an international conference and Syria and the PLO more dependent than ever on Moscow, the fate of the peace process is most likely to be determined in the Soviet capital and in Washington.