The Fraying of a Fragile Peace: Israel and PLO Torn by Factions
Support for 15-month-old peace pact wanes in face of protests
THE 15-month-old accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization has lost so much momentum that it appears near collapse, triggering doubts about a wider Mideast peace.Skip to next paragraph
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While optimism still prevails among many backers of the accord, the hope that followed the historic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Washington last September - after secret talks in Norway - has given way to inaction and disillusionment on both sides.
``What we are witnessing these days is the death throes of the Oslo agreement,'' says Shlomo Gazit, a former Israeli Defense Force Intelligence chief now with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Mr. Arafat, although he would probably emerge as the victor in Palestinian elections held within the framework of the accord, is losing both support and influence and has failed to make the transition from a liberation leader to the manager of an embryonic Palestinian state.
Mr. Rabin leads a government that has fallen back on crisis management and has no unified strategy on how to move to the next stage of the peace process.
The despair, reflected in the comments of Israeli analysts, is matched by the cynicism of Palestinian intellectuals who have all but abandoned Arafat.
``The whole Oslo agreement is in trouble,'' says Zacharia al-Qaq, director of a Jerusalem-based research center. ``What is needed is a reconciliation among Palestinians. Arafat has not taken the Palestinian people into his confidence.''
Extremists on both sides have undermined the process necessary to sustain the five-year agreement intended to lead to an undefined form of Palestinian self-rule.
Economic misery in the territories earmarked for self-rule has been skillfully exploited by militant Islamic groups pursuing a dual strategy of political mobilization and armed attacks against Israeli military targets and civilians.
The deteriorating security situation in Israel and the rapidly worsening economic situation in those occupied territories due to govern themselves have denied Rabin and Arafat the necessary support among their own constituencies to confront the forces opposing the peace agreement.
Rabin seems unable to address the problem of the Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank, home to some 120,000 settlers who have blended radical Zionism and Jewish orthodoxy into a potent brew of resistance in places such as Hebron.
Arafat, unable to show many tangible benefits from his cooperation with Israel, seems powerless to counter the sustained challenge from Islamic extremists and growing disillusionment among the Palestinian rank-and-file.
The period following the signing of the accord has seen the worst violence for Israelis since Israel was created in 1948. But the rate of Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank has subsided.
Some 93 Israelis have died mainly in a wave of attacks by militant Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which mounted a sustained challenge to Arafat's Palestinian Authority, set up to run Palestinian self-rule.
During the same period, some 187 Palestinians have died mainly at the hands of an increasingly strained Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which bears the burden of protecting Jewish settlers living in the self-rule areas.
But behind the violence and despair is a realization that the peace process has also created a broader momentum toward a Middle East peace and delivered lasting gains that need to be consolidated and used as the foundation for a negotiated resolution of the current impasse.
The July treaty with Jordan has added new strength. And Israel's improving relations with Tunisia, Morocco, and the Gulf states are sustaining that broader momentum.