News Analysis: Israel Grapples with Peace While Trying to Cope with War
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News Analysis: Israel Grapples with Peace While Trying to Cope with War

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As Israel buried four more of its young men this week, killed in a Hezbollah ambush in South Lebanon, the country wrestled — yet again — with the terrible contradiction inherent in talking peace while waging incessant war.

The rightist opposition, led by Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, demanded that the talks with Syria be suspended in the wake of this latest outrage. The Labor-led government insisted that the negotiations must go on.

The public at large, aware of Syria’s vicarious connection — and arguable responsibility — for Hezbollah’s actions, could only listen in sullen frustration as the debate took its predictable course.

The northern front is of course not the only one on which the Rabin government faces the pressures of violence on the one hand, and progress toward peace on the other.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meeting in Cairo this week are reporting that slow progress is being made in reaching an agreement to implement the self-rule accord.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat met Tuesday in Cairo as their aides continued a marathon effort to draft an agreement on the security-related aspects of the accord.

The two men agreed to intervene personally whenever their subordinates ran into obstacles.

Meanwhile, the dilemma in southern Lebanon persists. Since July 1993, when the Israel Defense Force conducted a large-scale sweep against the Hezbollah, 15 IDF soldiers have died at the hands of the fundamentalist Shiite organization.

The long-stalled Israeli-Syrian negotiations have resumed in Washington against a backdrop of hope that followed President Clinton’s landmark meeting with Syria’s President Hafez Assad in Geneva last month.

But there precisely is the rub.

Before that Geneva summit meeting and in its immediate aftermath, Hezbollah activities were kept to a minimum — presumably by stern Syrian restraining measures.

Now, with the negotiations with Israel under way once again, the Syrians, in an effort to placate their more militant constituencies, apparently feel that renewed violence in South Lebanon is again in their interests.


Israel’s predicament is underscored by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself.

In his reaction to the Clinton-Assad meeting Rabin noted pointedly that one necessary and useful way in which Syria could demonstrate its seriusness and sincerity in peacemaking would be to bring its restraining influence to bear on the Hezbollah.

On Tuesday, reacting to the incident in Lebanon of the day before — and obliquely to Netanyahu’s demand that Israel suspend the negotiations — Rabin reiterated the need for Syria to take "confidence-building steps."

Damascus’ passivity in the face of Hezbollah aggression is the exact opposite of confidence building, the premier observed.

"If Syria intends to move toward peace, this is not the way to go," Rabin noted.

Labor’s leftist coalition partner, Meretz, accused the Likud of "exploiting" the heavy loss of life for political ends.

Netanyahu’s call for a suspension of the talks was just that, said Meretz Knesset member Ran Cohen. To end the bloodshed, what was needed was negotiation, not suspension, he said.

Rabin’s remarks, as well as those of Netanyahu, appeared to penetrate Syrian insensitivity: an official broadcast on Damascus Radio on Tuesday evening proclaimed Syria’s innocence for the fatal incident Monday.

The blame, according to the Syrian commentator, rests with Israel itself, because it willfully persists with its occupation of southern Lebanon.

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