Extremism poses threat to Arab-Israeli relations. Shooting of Israeli, West Bank sit-in are latest examples
Jerusalem — The threat of extremism to Arab-Israeli relations was dramatized by two events yesterday: the killing of an Israeli diplomat in Cairo and eviction of Israeli parliament members from an apartment in the West Bank. Analysts here say these events are unlikely to have immediate consequences for Israel's policy toward Egypt and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The two incidents, however, could have a long-term effect on future decisionmaking in Israel, some observers say.
The shooting of the Israeli Embassy's administrative attach'e ``should not have a real effect on the political level,'' says Prof. Shimon Shamir, a former director of Cairo's Israeli Academic Center. ``Terror is part of daily life here and its unlikely that one act can change the course of diplomacy in the area.''
While terrorism threatened to mar Israel's relations with Egypt, tensions heightened between West Bank Palestinians and Jewish settlers. The right-wing parliamentarians staged the sit-in in Hebron to press their demands for more Jewish settlement in Arab areas.
In Cairo, Egyptian officials appeared determined not to let the shooting mar improving relations with Israel. Two gunmen shot the Israeli diplomat, Albert Atrakchi, as he drove to work. The diplomat's wife and another woman were wounded in the attack.
An Egyptian Embassy statement said the attack was carried out ``to sabotage the movement to peace'' and promised that ``it would not affect peace moves or relations between Egypt and Israel.'' Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid immediately cabled his condolences to Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
Israeli officials seemed concerned about dealing with what they perceive as the causes of the attack -- the presence in Egypt of Palestinian guerrillas from the Palestine Liberation Organization and the anti-Israeli tone in the Egyptian media.
Israel's Deputy Prime Minister David Levy and former ambassador to Egypt, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, attribute the attack to Egypt's hosting of PLO members. ``When you give refuge to PLO members, this is a result of giving [them] the feeling that they can organize. And look, they acted,'' Mr. Levy said.
The assassination catches Israel and Egypt in the midst of a gradual thaw in their relations, which had cooled after Egypt withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv to protest Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he had been told Cairo's trade restrictions on Israeli goods would be lifted and that an Egyptian academic center would be opened in Israel.
Foreign Minister Shamir was invited this week by his Egyptian counterpart to meet at the United Nations General Assembly this fall. In a meeting with the Egyptian charg'e d'affaires in Israel, Mr. Shamir proposed cultural exchanges and mutual visits of parliamentary delegations from both countries.
After a trickle of tourism from Egypt in recent years, the first large group of Egyptian visitors traveled through Israel last month, and Egypt's tourism minister was to arrive Wednesday for talks with his Israeli counterpart.
There were even signs of progress in the dispute over Taba, a strip of land on the Gulf of Aqaba which remained under Israeli control when its troops withdrew from the Sinai peninsula under the terms of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The Israeli Cabinet was considering a compromise in which the two sides would first define the issues in dispute before debating how they should be resolved. This idea was reportedly to be broached with Egypt.
Israeli analysts believe Egypt will crack down on the violence and stand firm on continuing its renewed dialogue with Israel.
``Egypt will have to show it is not backing down,'' says Emmanuel Sivan of the Hebrew University. ``[Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak has shown himself to be very sensitive on matters of law and order.''
Other analysts say the shooting could have a negative effect on the opinions of the Israeli public, which is already suspicious of Egyptian motives and bitter at the lack of full-scale normal relations, despite the formal peace.
While political sources say the shooting would not influence Israeli policy toward Egypt, some observers say the incident could be exploited by Cabinet members who oppose concessions on Taba to defer further movement on the issue, on grounds that the time is not right for resolution of the dispute.
``Taba could be put on ice now, certainly for two months,'' says one analyst.
Shamir, who belongs to the right-wing Likud bloc, has staunchly opposed Israeli concessions on Taba. He is concerned that this would lead to compromises on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which he wants to retain under Israeli sovereignty.
Prime Minister Peres, of the centrist Labor Party, opposes Shamir's stance. Mr. Peres favors agreement to Egypt's demand for arbitration. Peres believes movement on Taba is essential for promoting the peace in the Middle East.
The Hebron sit-in by parliamentarians appeared to be a test case for the nine-party government which is split over whether to increase Jewish settlement in densely populated Arab areas. Seven right-wing parliamentarians occupied an apartment in the densely Arab-populated market area of Hebron for five days.
The pre-dawn eviction of the parliament members put an end to their settlement attempt, but left scars in the ``national unity'' Cabinet which could effect future Israeli policy.
Disagreement between ministers of the Likud and Labor parties forced a deadlock on the issue Sunday in the 10-man inner Cabinet, allowing Defense Minister Rabin of Labor to order the eviction.
But some observers say the Likud would retaliate with the same procedural tactic to block initiatives on Taba.
Others warned that the eviction in Hebron's old market left the door open for settlement elsewhere in the city, and played into the hands of the parliament members, who reportedly acted to foil recent diplomatic moves to start negotiations on the future of the West Bank.
``It's closing the stable door after the the horses have run away,'' says Meron Benvenisti, head of the West Bank Data Project, an independent study of Israeli settlement.
``The parliament members went into the old quarter but they had other aims. Their evacuation by Rabin on grounds there was no Cabinet decision to settle there only legitimizes previous Cabinet decisons to expand settlement elsewhere in Hebron. It'll happen sooner or later.''