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Peace that left a public behind

The escalating Palestinian-Israeli violence highlights the Arabs' resentments at accepting US-backed compromises.

By Cameron W. Barr Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 2000



JERUSALEM

After five days of the worst Arab-Israeli violence in half a decade, the underlying source of the Palestinians' frustration is coming into focus: the peace deal that Israelis and Americans have implored them to accept.

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The continuing unrest in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, say Palestinian and Israeli analysts, shows that many Palestinians would prefer to live without a deal than live with the one now under discussion.

Israeli right-wing leader Ariel Sharon's visit to Jerusalem's Old City last Thursday did indeed provoke some Palestinians. And as some Israeli observers have said, the visit may well have been a convenient justification for some "controlled violence" that would pressure the Israeli government in the peace talks.

But orchestrated or spontaneous, the fire underneath the riots and shooting battles is a growing frustration with the deal that the peace process has yielded.

Standing in the midst of a tumultuous Gaza City demonstration, a Palestinian psychiatrist and human rights activist named Eyad Serraj speaks loudly into his cellphone to make himself heard. "The people are very frustrated and very angry," he says, "because of disillusionment with the peace process first of all, and the Sharon visit, and the cold-blooded killing of innocent people, especially young people."

As of late yesterday afternoon, 37 people had died in the disturbances that have followed Sharon's visit to the sacred compound that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. Last week one Israeli soldier also was killed in a bomb attack in Gaza, and another died after he was shot by a Palestinian counterpart.

The youngest victim was a toddler killed when her family's car was raked with gunfire near the West Bank village of Qusra, east of Nablus, on Sunday night. The shooting follows that of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra, whose death in a Palestinian-Israeli firefight in Gaza on Saturday was filmed and broadcast around the world, and may further anger Palestinians already upset about the severity of the Israeli response.

But apart from violence begetting new violence, the driving force behind the conflict is the peace process and how many Palestinians feel it has produced little.

"The fundamental demand of the people was to be respected, and they don't feel respected in the sense that their rights are not being regained," says Dr. Serraj. First among these rights is the "right of return" - the Palestinian demand that they be allowed to return to homes from which they fled or were forced to flee during the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1948 and 1967.

Israel is willing to acknowledge this right, but only to a limited degree that would vastly disappoint Palestinian expectations. In other areas, according to the popular understanding of the peace deal that was discussed in earnest at Camp David in July and that has been fitfully pursued ever since, Palestinians feel that they are not getting what they should.

Israeli negotiators have apparently discussed returning as much as 90 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control, reserving the remainder to accommodate Israeli settlements. That is unacceptable to Rima Tarazi, the president of the General Union of Palestinian Women, who says that "with settlements there can be no peace."

And the future of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians want as their capital, is perhaps the core of the issue, at least symbolically. Again, Israelis have indicated a willingness to cede some parts of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City - seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war - to the Palestinian authority, but nowhere near all of it.

Sharing Jerusalem