THE watered-down United Nations Security Council Resolution 904 adopted March 18 in the aftermath of the Hebron massacre reveals the flaws in the ``peace process'' initiated in Oslo and enshrined on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993.
By waiting three weeks to adopt the resolution, the United States signaled its reluctance to allow the UN a real role in resolving the Middle East conflict. The vote marginalizes the UN. It is merely an effort to absorb Palestinian anger and entice the PLO back to the table. While this strategy seems to have worked, there is no guarantee it can be sustained without introducing substantial changes in the agenda and timetable of the talks.
No sooner had the Hebron tragedy taken place than the US and Israel went into high gear, insisting that the Palestine Liberation Organization return to the negotiating table and abide by the text of the Sept. 13 Declaration of Principles. Any attempt to change the agenda by raising the issue of Israeli settlements, they said, would be considered a violation of the agreement. But circumstances on the ground have changed. It is disingenuous for the White House and the Rabin government to stick to the text and letter of the PLO-Israeli agreement. Insistence on a return to negotiations distorts an already unequal negotiation. This perception itself necessitates an overhaul of the process and a restatement of its terms of reference if it is to achieve credibility and popular acceptance.
The adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 904 was intended to bring the PLO back to the negotiations. US abstention on the crucial subject of Jerusalem was mind boggling. That the fate of Jerusalem is to be negotiated in the final stage does not mean that it is not an occupied territory. UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright's threat that any future reference to Jerusalem as ``occupied'' would lead to a US veto has transformed Jerusalem into a time bomb similar to that of the settlements and the armed settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
This US position reinforces Israel's illegal and unilateral annexation of Jerusalem. It renders moot the fate of Jerusalem in the final-stage negotiations; Jerusalem will simply be annexed. While Israel holds that the Declaration of Principles precludes the discussion of settlements during negotiations for the interim agreement, the US in its current posture helps Israel preempt any consequential or acceptable outcome on Jerusalem.
It is increasingly clear that while the Gaza-Jericho agreement led to a mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, its implementation involves Palestinians serving Israeli objectives. It is not a resolution of the rights and concerns of both parties. Israel has made its own security more a priority than the Declaration of Prinicples timetable; it ignored the Dec. 13, 1993, Army withdrawal process. The Hebron massacre of Feb. 24 underlines the fact that the Gaza-Jericho agreement is devoid of a guarantee for Palestinian security. Hence, the ``mutual recognition'' aspect of the agreement is now interpreted as a means for Palestinians to serve Israel's objectives.
The PLO-Israeli agreement has no future if the process and the agenda are not corrected.
The primary concern is security for the Palestinians. What took place in Hebron and afterward brings to the forefront the settlements. This issue can no longer can wait until after the interim agreement. Whatever one's view of their legal status, the settlements are clearly obstacles to peace and impede implementation of the interim and limited self-governing authority in Gaza and Jericho. In the meantime, the revelation of an Israeli Army policy to shoot Palestinians but not Israelis who are committing capital crimes (Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, for example) makes security for Palestinians an urgent matter.
New security measures must include an effective shield for the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. To be credible and effective, this shield must be a UN presence constructed to deter any violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention by Israel's occupation forces. The presence also must provide Palestinians with a sense of security sufficient to remove a widespread sentiment that the negotiations are being conducted under the duress of an increasingly oppressive occupation. And the security measures must ensure disarma- ment for the settlers as well as the retrenchment of settlements, pending their ultimate dismantling.
A UN presence can aid a Palestinian police force; it does not rule out a temporary role for Israeli forces provided they abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention and are acknowledged by Israel as occupation forces.
These measures are necessary if negotiations are not to be interrupted or derailed. While the PLO leadership in Tunis might consider certain palliatives in order to defuse heightened tensions, the time bombs will remain unless the basic flaws are removed.
Current offers by US, Egypt, and Norway for Palestinian security fall short. ``Lightly armed'' Norwegian observers in Hebron do not constitute a serious presence. What happens if settlers attack in Nablus or Ramallah? Can we expect only a toothless UN resolution?
A two- to five-year transition period is unrealistic; it must be accelerated. Prior agreement on a negotiated outcome and the involvement of the UN is needed.
The US role in the negotiating process, given its role in the Security Council, seems paradoxical to the Palestinians, and to the larger Arab community. Washington's built-in bias toward Israeli objectives is a prescription for increased frustration in the territories, and derailment of the process. Attempts to play one Arab party against another, as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is doing, may be clever. But it is not an intelligent way to make peace. In assisting such strategies, the US undermines its role as sponsor, or broker. 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 by mail 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.