Can Palestinian terrorism, waged mainly, but not only, by extremist Islamic organizations, be held responsible for the present deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations?
The increase in suicide attacks, leaving dozens of Israelis dead and wounded, has no doubt made the peace process more vulnerable to right¬wing criticism, even within the Labor party. But the Israeli-Palestinian talks were already bogged down before the recent wave of anti-Jewish terrorism.
The fact is that yitzhak Rabin got cold feet when faced with the necessi¬ty to withdraw Israeli forces from populated Palestinian centers prior to Palestinian self-rule elections, as specified by the Oslo Declaration of Principles (OOP).
Rabin's wavering is mainly due to his unwillingness to confront Jewish settlers who have threatened more than once to oppose by force any attempt by Palestinian police to assume responsibility for security in the territories evacuated by Israel's armed forces. Not only does Rabin hesitate to move on with the implementation of the OOP, but he has authorized new Jewish buildings in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), thus reinforcing the settlers' hold over greater parts of the territories.
Moreover, Israel's prime minister has approved the confiscation of other tracts of territories proclaimed "green spaces." All in all, since coming into power, Rabin has authorized the expropriation of some 14,000 dunums (1,400 hectares) of Palestinian land.
True enough, the Oslo OOP says nothing about Israel's settlement poli¬cies in the territories, except that the fate of the approximately 140 settle¬ments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be decided during the final stages of the Israeli-Palestinian talks. This being the case, one could have expected that Israel would not change the status quo on the ground during the interim period.
The Israeli government's land-grabbing policies, its postponement of the freeing of prisoners and its delaying tactics in the implementation of the DOP, including withdrawal and elections - all these enable Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other extremist organizations to attack Arafat's Palestinian Authority for its "weak stand" in confronting Israel. At the same time, those anti-peace organizations gain popularity among the Palestinian population by striking out against Israel.
In view of all these developments, is Oslo dead or dying, as many experts claim? Or has the time come to look for an alternative to Oslo? The answer is an emphatic "no."
The Oslo accords are based on mutual recognition by the PLO and Israel of each other's rights and legitimacy. This mutual recognition represents an ideological breakthrough of crucial importance. It has done away with a series of "no"s and "never"s which had been blocking all hope of dialogue between the two peoples for many, many years. Israeli leaders would repeat that "we shall never talk to the PLO," "never recognize the PLO," "never, never ... " As for Arafat, "we will never recognize the Zionist entity," "we will never talk to its representatives," "we will never make peace with IsraeL"
By replacing mutual exclusion with mutual recognition, the Oslo OOP, in fact, constitutes a new Covenant, the only basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, be it for an interim settlement or for a permanent solution to the conflict.
Accordingly, there is no realistic alternative to the Oslo accords.
Therefore, Oslo is not dead, even if in its implementation it is limping badly and must be healed.
In the not too distant past, whenever terrorists struck, Rabin would oppose any slowdown of the peace talks, arguing that it would play into the hands of the terrorist leaders whose aim is to kill both Jews and the peace process. Today, Israel's prime minister has changed his approach and makes any progress in the negotiations dependent upon the effective¬ness of Arafat's struggle against terrorism.
This is a self-defeating strategy. The less progress toward self-rule and independence that Arafat can show his people, the less strength can he muster in order to wage an energetic struggle against the extremist orga¬nizations responsible for the anti-Israeli terrorist actions.
This vicious circle can be broken only by advancing simultaneously on all fronts: by the struggle against terrorism which must be accompanied by a freeze on all settlement development (including Jerusalem), by the free¬ing of Palestinian prisoners and by Israel's withdrawal- albeit a gradual one - from populated Palestinian areas, followed by Palestinian elections.
Only thus can th~ peace process be revived and new hope instilled in the hearts and minds of Palestinians and Israelis alike.