DESPITE extreme pressure by the United States, Israel, and Egypt, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has not yet agreed to resume peace talks. Following the Hebron massacre last month, Israeli-PLO talks are in a very sensitive phase, and Mr. Arafat's position is understandable. The massacre, and the killing of 30 Palestinians since Feb. 25, illustrate the need for adjustments within the Sept. 13 peace agreement. For Arafat to agree to resume talks without some changes is dangerous for him and could harm the overall process. For the US to link a UN condemnation of the Hebron massacre to Arafat's agreement to resume talks hardly seems the position of an honest broker.Skip to next paragraph
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Because many key deadlines in the Sept. 13 accord have been missed, and because of the effect of the massacre and continued presence of the Army on the ground, the PLO leader needs substantial assurances before returning to the table. Should he return with only cosmetic assurances, his role may be further jeopardized.
The Israeli government has attempted a crackdown on radical settlers and has banned two radical groups supportive of violence against Palestinians. Yet the extent of the ban and the crackdown are unclear. Last week's airing of an official Israeli policy not to shoot Israelis - even if they are firing automatic weapons at unarmed Palestinians - can hardly be reassuring to those under occupation.
The effect of Hebron must not be underestimated. Arafat's reality now is renewed fear in the occupied territories, anger among his constituents, and growing alternative movements - some radical - that want him replaced. All sides know the talks will shape the future of the Palestinian people. Arafat's own role in the famous Sept. 13 handshake, it is important to remember, was not ratified by any congress, as was Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's. Half the PLO executive council quit prior to the White House ceremony, and the full language and terms of the Oslo accord were not known to the remaining council until days later.
As a growing chorus among the Israeli left agrees, adjustments are needed. Linking the peace process to the Security Council may help ensure fairness. Dismantling the 450-member Hebron settlement would be a powerful signal. In any event, settlements, and security in them, should be put on the table. The US should reexamine its role, including its extraordinary new position that Jerusalem isn't under occupation.