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Israeli Think Tank Urges Changes in Peace Process, Talks with PLO

A major Israeli think tank is recommending several changes in the Arab-Israeli peace process, including direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The recommendation was among the findings made by military and political analysts at Tel Aviv University’s highly respected Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

Among other views, the analysts concluded that the risk of a military confrontation in the Middle East is very low for the foreseeable future and that Israel no longer has a strategic need for the border security zone it maintains in southern Lebanon.

Presenting the Jaffee Center’s latest annual report, “The Military Balance 1992-1993,” were the center’s founder and head, Reserve Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv; the recently appointed director, Joseph Alpher; and senior researcher Shlomo Gazit.

They stressed that there is still a “window of opportunity” for peace — a description used by former U.S. President George Bush to describe attempts to establish a new order in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War.

But the researchers urged that progress be made immediately if anything is to be achieved. Within the Middle East context, they argued, it is impossible to stand still. Marking time without forward progress actually means falling back.

In presenting their findings, the Jaffee Center analysts made some provocative judgments that were certain to raise the ire of opposition and government politicians alike.

For one, the analysts said that Israel’s recent weeklong shelling of southern Lebanon had been excessive and may have caused unnecessary hardship to the local population.

The reason for such force, they argued, was not so much to combat the Hezbollah guerrillas who had been responsible for a series of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers as to show the Israeli public that the Rabin-led Labor coalition was capable of taking firm action.

SECURITY ZONE UNNECESSARY?

Another provocative moment came when, asked if the security zone in southern Lebanon was still essential for Israel’s security, Yariv gave a short and sharp reply: “Probably not.”

He pointed out that the purpose of the security zone had never been to prevent the firing of Katyusha rockets at Israeli towns and villages.

It was always known, he said, that Katyusha rockets, which have a range of some 12 miles, could be fired from north of the zone and land in Kiryat Shmona and other Israeli population centers.

The real purpose of the security zone, established when the Israel Defense Force withdrew from southern Lebanon after the Lebanon War of 1982, has been to prevent the infiltration of terrorist groups into Israel.

And since that time, no serious acts of infiltration have been carried out.

But Yariv suggested that suitable arrangements could now be made in the ongoing peace talks with the Syrians and Lebanese to ensure that the Lebanese army would halt terrorist infiltration, as is done along the Egyptian and Jordanian borders.

By withdrawing from the security zone, he said, Israel would remove the chief rationale Hezbollah and other groups give for their activities against the IDF in the zone and for their Katyusha rocket attacks against Israel — namely, that they are fighting a foreign power occupying Lebanese territory.

In one of the center’s most provocative observations, Alpher said Israel should open negotiations with the PLO.

“We don’t have an unlimited amount of time for the peace process, and if there is no progress, there is no doubt there will be a deterioration,” he said.

“Therefore, we recommend a series of changes” in the rules governing the peace talks, “including the opening of negotiations with the PLO and the beginning of discreet discussions about the nature of the final arrangements in the territories,” to be implemented at the end of an interim period of Palestinian autonomy.

Alpher said that it was clear that a real advance in the peace process cannot be obtained without massive American involvement.

He observed that since President Clinton assumed office, the Americans have been good at “putting out fires” — such as the crisis over Israel’s deportation of 415 Palestinians to Lebanon or the recent shelling of Lebanon — but have shown little ability to move the peace process forward.

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