"So, where are we?" This is perhaps the most cogent question that could be asked about the Middle East after a year of peace process go-arounds, collapses, violent attacks and reprisals: all of which ended a decade of "no-war."
The Middle East remained in a state of relative stability during the decade of the 1990s. That this could not last forever was obvious to any sober observer because once the hard issues - final borders, refugee return, the West Bank and sovereignty over Jerusalem - were thrown onto the negotiating table, there could be no agreement acceptable to both sides. It was also clear that the situation would deteriorate from there, most likely into a gradual, cyclical, tit-for-tat escalation of an Arab intifada to a point where the rest of the Arab world would be dragged into the conflict.
That is precisely what happened in the third quarter of 2000, despite the fact that the most dove-ish Israeli government in history had made the most generous concessions to the Palestinians to date. The cyclical violence continues as we write, but as we go to press an all-out conflict seems to have been short-circuited (for a while at least) by a cease-fire agreement negotiated under the auspices of U.S. CIA Director George Tenet.
The situation in the Middle East has been complicated in the past 24-36 months by the change-over of leaders involved in the Middle East crisis, two of whom - King Hussein of Jordan and President Assad of Syria - died. In addition, the U.S. got a new president in the person of George Bush and Israel, startled by the violence which erupted after years of endless negotiations, elected hard-line Ariel Sharon as prime minister. Leaders of countries bordering Israel responded to Sharon's election with harsh words. Syrian newspapers proclaimed the election of Sharon as prime minister to be a "declaration of war."1 Jordan's new King Abdullah told the Jordanian parliament, "We've been through worse crises and what happens to our neighbors does not necessarily have to influence Jordan." 2 For his part, Arafat called upon the new Israeli government to "resume the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from the point they have reached," and that the talks should be based on the formula of "land for peace and the implementation of international resolutions and international legitimacy and our right to establish a Palestinian independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."3
Sharon, however, did not pick up negotiations where former Prime Minister Barak left off but instead emphasized a strong military defense as the key to Israel's security. According to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Sharon believed that Israel had to step back from the negotiations and move to what he calls "a non-belligerency accord without specific deadlines but with mutually agreed expectations." As the violence escalated from stone throwing to sniper fire, to pipe bombs and mortar attacks, the Israeli government cordoned off Palestinian territories. The Israelis also responded to the violence with specific attacks aimed at the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Tragic pictures of children killed on both sides of the violence tore into the world's heart. One pattern did emerge: the Palestinian-to-Israeli violence was aimed randomly at Israeli citizens. The Israeli responses, on the other hand, were aimed at military or political targets. Media reports blurred this situation. For example, when the death toll since last September was presented to viewers, it appeared that the Israelis were the aggressors because more Palestinians died than Israelis. However, most of the Palestinian casualties came from violent confrontations between themselves and IDF soldiers. On the other hand, Israeli casualties were largely the result of terrorist attacks, including bombing and sniper attacks against innocent and unsuspecting civilians.4
Moreover, the Arabic-language media continued to pour out a stream of violent invective against Israel, as they had done even during the Oslo peace process, although this violated the terms of the agreement. During the intifada, the PA ran TV spots encouraging children to take up arms in the fight against Israel, showing pictures of children (ostensibly now in heaven), who had been killed fighting the Israelis.
The Propaganda War
As the propaganda battle raged worldwide, Israel's responses drew ever-increasing criticism from the world community, especially Europe, where the battle was all but lost to the Palestinians. In the U.S. media the propaganda battle over Israel raged. The UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva passed three anti-Israeli resolutions condemning Israel for "the violation of human rights in occupied Arab territories" and the country's settlement policy in disputed lands. To put this in perspective, it should be pointed out this was the same group that threw the U.S. off the human rights commission, which couldn't seem to bring itself to condemn China for its serious human rights abuses, including persecution of Christians and worldwide sale of body parts from executed criminals. U.S. Ambassador Shirin Thair-Keli told the commission that resolutions like these "do not reflect the complexities of the situation. Nor do they present a balanced assessment." 5
The Violence Mounts
International pressure failed to stop the violence, which hit new highs when a Palestinian mortar shell killed two migrant Romanian farm workers and seriously injuring a third.6 The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) then retaliated by shelling a Palestinian security post approximately 100 yards from an Israeli border fence, during which a four-month-old Palestinian baby was killed by flying shrapnel. 7 The next day the bodies of two 14-year-old boys were found, apparently murdered while they were hiking. The Hizbullah-Palestine terrorist group claimed to have murdered the boys to avenge the death of the infant.8 The IDF then targeted the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Gaza Intelligence Headquarters, not far from where Yasser Arafat was meeting with four Israeli Knesset Members and PA terrorists Muhammad Dahlan. Arafat was not injured. Two other military targets were heavily damaged and 15 people were wounded.9
Then events took a tragic but decisive turn. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had no sooner called for a unilateral cease-fire when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a disco at the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, killing 20 Israeli teenagers and injuring scores. At this point Arafat had to agree to a cease-fire or lose the support he had marshalled in world opinion.
The Tenet Plan
How long the Tenet plan will endure, especially considering that the more radical Palestinian elements such as Hamas and others are vowing they will not observe it, remains to be seen. But as it came together in mid-June, the Palestinians are to "immediately apprehend, question, and incarcerate terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, provide the joint security committee with the names of those arrested, collect mortars and other illegal arms, close mortar factories and provide Israel with information on expected terror actions...and prevent illegal arms smuggling."10
For their part, the Israelis are to "refrain from attacking Palestinian Authority military and civil institutions...use non-lethal weapons to disperse demonstrations, take actions against citizens who engage in revenge attacks on Palestinians or incite to harm them, investigate deaths of Palestinians not involved in terror in confrontation with the IDF, and release from prison Palestinians not involved in 'terror activities,' such as those arrested for throwing rocks."11
Both sides are to keep individuals and groups under their control from carrying out acts of violence or retaliation, and they are not to provide refuge to persons committing such attacks. There are other provisions for regular meetings and cooperative functions between the two parties. It is certain that the days of Oslo have gone and the short-term direction of the Middle East remains to be seen. Ultimately, Scripture tells us that the entire world will turn against Israel, but how we get from today's situation to the one that has been prophesied remains to be seen.
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