IN the wake of the Hebron massacre in which about 50 Palestinian worshipers were killed and about 200 wounded, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has appealed for the international community and to the Israeli government to protect Palestinian civilians from the bullets of Israeli settlers. Mr. Arafat appealed to the United Nations to send troops to the West Bank and Gaza; he also called on the Israeli government to disarm the settlers. So far, none of these requests has been granted.
Yet the PLO requests are neither unreasonable nor impractical. The idea of sending an international force to protect Palestinians might not appeal to Israel, given Israel's continuous objections to any UN role in the region. But this force needn't be a UN force. A multinational force like the one currently stationed in the Sinai between Egypt and Israel, which President Carter assembled as part of the Camp David peace treaty, could do the job. In fact, there might not be a need for new forces. Any of the Sinai-based multinational contingents satisfactory to Israel (such as the Americans or the Norwegians) could be moved only 15 miles northeast from the Gora headquarters in the Sinai to Gaza. Currently there are more than 2,000 peacekeepers in the Sinai.
If Israel refuses a large contingent of American and Norwegian peacekeepers, an alternative would be to send a team of international observers similar to those between Israel and Syria in the Golan or the few American soldiers in Kosovo. The team's job would be to report objectively on violations committed by either party.
A group of international observers between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a must for the peace process to move beyond Gaza and Jericho at a later date. It is naive to assume that after the implementation of the Gaza-Jericho agreement, peace will prevail between the Palestinians and Israelis, especially between the radical groups on both sides. There has to be a mechanism that reports objectively about any violation of this agreement.
Although the Israel-PLO declaration of principles did not envision the arrangement, this should not prevent us from thinking about the best measures to create a durable peace. The absence of such provisions in the declaration reflects the PLO's lack of experience in negotiating international treaties more than anything else. The notion of international monitors is integral to the preservation of calm in Cyprus, Cambodia, Kosovo, and other places around the globe.
Disarming settlers also is an important issue. Settlers in Kiryat Arba near Hebron and other West Bank settlements are part of ideologically committed organizations such as Gosh Amonium or the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach movement. According to Israeli sociologist Gideon Aran, these groups see the killing of Arabs as part of the process of redemption.
For Israel's religious right, the claims of the other side are irrelevant and cannot be recognized. This is the core belief of the settlers' movement that is driven by the slogan of Ertz Israel, all the land from the Nile to the Sea. Nor are these beliefs those of a tiny radical fringe; they are those of Likud members such as Benjamin Natanyaho and Ariel Sharon and may be those of about 10 percent of the Israeli public.
It is no use to talk about the settlers as the ones who committed the massacre in the mosque, for by the nature of the reserve-based Israeli Army the settlers are also reserve soldiers and officers. Baruch Goldstein, the person who massacred the Palestinian worshipers in the mosque, was also a major in the Israeli Army. There are also credible reports, including those presented on Israeli television, that Israeli officers participated in the massacre. It is conceivable that some of the soldiers are also from the Kach or the Gosh Amonium movements.
This is not the only time that Israeli soldiers participated in or willingly allowed someone else to massacre Palestinians and that the Israeli government has tacitly allowed such killings. In 1982 the Sabra and Shatella massacre in Lebanon was committed under the protection of Israeli soldiers. Moreover, earlier in 1982, an American-born Israeli opened fire in a mosque in Jerusalem, killing four people. At the time, Israeli authorities dismissed the murders as the act of a single deranged person, not an ideology, and denied complicity.
Israel might drag its feet on disarming the settlers by noting that the Palestinian Islamic movement, Hamas, is also armed. Indeed this is true. Yet one significant difference between the settlers movement and Hamas remains, namely that the Israeli government considers it illegal for Hamas members, indeed for all Palestinians, to bear arms, while the right of settlers to bear weapons is protected by Israeli law. This is why settlers have killed Palestinians with virtual impunity. Israeli law is very lenient on those who kill Palestinians. As Hanan Ashrawi has pointed out: ``Many Israelis who are brought to trial for killing Palestinians are given one year in prison with holidays and vacations spent with their families.''
If Israel insists that some Jews must live amid the Palestinians, let these Jews be members of Israel's peace movement who are willing to live with Palestinians on an equal basis under Palestinian law instead of Israeli extremists whose ideology justifies the killings of Palestinians.
Tolerance of vigilantism cannot prevail over the rule of law. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to imagine that the settlers will abandon their beliefs in favor of peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. For all these reasons, it is important to address the issue of international observers as a buffer between the settlers and the Palestinian population centers.
The United States has a role to play in the settlers issue because many of the militant settlers are American Jews. These groups are connected with and supported by militant Jewish organizations in Brooklyn, such as that of Kahane Chai, and many Christian Zionist organizations. The US could investigate these groups in a manner similar to its investigation of some Palestinian Americans who were suspected of supporting Hamas in the occupied territories. It is also important to note that the US government has failed to insist on extraditing Robert and Rochelle Manning, Jewish extremists suspected in the 1986 car-bomb assassination in Los Angeles of Alex Auda, a spokesman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, thus creating the impression that Washington will tolerate such terrorist activities as long as the victims are of Arab descent.
If Israel and the US are sincere about peace, they should seriously consider PLO demands concerning the disarmament of Israeli settlers and the deployment of either civilian or military observers. Acts like the Hebron massacre must not be repeated. Otherwise, extremists on both sides could seize the agenda and undo all peace efforts in the Middle East, perhaps even including Israel's peace treaty with Egypt. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.