A Saudi peace plan has been all but forgotten here amid some of the worst violence since the Palestinian uprising erupted 17 months ago.
Last week, the plan — which called for Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War in exchange for full ties with the Arab world — had generated some interest in Washington and elsewhere in the West. And in Israel, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were among those voicing tentative interest in the initiative.
Saudi officials, who had hoped to get solid Arab backing for the plan during a meeting of the Arab League at the end of March, saw that solidarity evaporate Sunday, when Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected the proposal during a visit to Lebanon. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi also rejected the plan over the weekend.
After a series of terror attacks over the weekend that killed 21 Israelis, there was little talk about the initiative in Israeli quarters.
“Trapped in hell,” is how Ma’ariv commentator Chemi Shalev described the situation Sunday. “Every time we think ‘it can’t get worse,’ it gets a lot worse.”
According to some Israeli Cabinet ministers, the latest attacks made it clear that the time had come to topple Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Among them was Likud Minister Dan Naveh, who said the government had to make the decision “to put an end to Arafat’s regime.”
At the dovish end of the political spectrum, meanwhile, other ministers advocated political dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.
Some political commentators have observed that the competing viewpoints within the unity government have prevented Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from adopting a clear policy — in either direction.
Some observers wondered whether the latest upsurge in violence — coming amid polls showing that a majority of Israelis are dissatisfied with Sharon’s performance — could prove to be a defining moment.
Sharon convened his Security Cabinet on Sunday night to discuss how to respond to the latest wave of Palestinian terror. Government sources said the Cabinet members would likely approve harsher measures against the Palestinian Authority.
The night before, a suicide bomber killed nine Israelis just after the Sabbath in the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Israel, near Mea Shearim.
The victims included six children and a family of four.
On Sunday, the victims were identified: Shlomo Nehmad, 40, his wife Gafnit, 32, their children Shiraz, 7, and Liran, 3, and their nephew, Shaul Nehmad, 15, all from Rishon le-Zion; Jerusalem resident Tsofit Eliahu 23, and her seven- month-old son, Ya’acov Avraham Eliahu; and Lidor Ilan, 12 and his 18-month-old sister, Oriah, of Rishon le-Zion.
The bomber was identified as a 19-year-old man from the Dehaishe refugee camp near Bethlehem. Palestinians in the camp rejoiced when they got word of the carnage.
According to reports, the bomber stood next to a group of mothers standing with their babies in strollers and detonated a large bomb strapped to his body. The explosion hurled body parts down the street and resounded throughout the downtown area.
The United States condemned the bombing, calling on Arafat to stop the terrorists. “Such murder of innocent citizens cannot be justified and can only harm the interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people in progress toward a better future,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
In a second Palestinian attack less than 12 hours later, 10 Israelis were killed Sunday in the West Bank by a lone sniper.
Four other Israelis were wounded when the gunman opened fire from a nearby hilltop on soldiers and civilians at an Israeli army roadblock near the West Bank settlements of Ateret and Ofra, both located near Ramallah.
The gunman later fled, leaving behind an aging, single-shot rifle held together by nails.
In more violence Sunday, an Israeli soldier was killed and four others wounded in a shooting attack near the Kissufim Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Following Sunday morning’s attacks, Israeli helicopters and tanks attacked Palestinian police and security targets in the West Bank. At least four Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian sources.
In yet another incident, an Israeli police officer was murdered in the Judean Desert. The body of Moshe Dayan, a 46-year-old resident of Ma’aleh Adumim, was found Saturday night near the settlement of Kedar.
Police believe Dayan was shot dead while riding a motorcycle in the area. His personal weapon and identity papers were not taken.
The Al-Aksa Brigades, the military wing of Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the weekend attacks. It said it was avenging Israeli incursions launched Feb. 28 into two West Bank refugee camps that reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians.
On Sunday, Israeli troops pulled out of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, redeploying to positions around the camp.
The army said that during the four-day operation in the camp, troops arrested suspected terrorists, uncovered a Kassam rocket factory and confiscated rockets and materials for producing explosives. Israeli troops remained in the second refugee camp, located in Jenin.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.