More than two months have passed since the deadline of the first of
July 1995, which President Yasser Arafat and Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres declared as the day the negotiations were to conclude
over the redeploy¬ment of the Israeli forces in the West Bank.
The elections, water, and other issues were also on the agenda for
The main obstacle in the negotiations, the Jewish settlements in
the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), reared its ugly head
again when negotiators started talking about security arrangements
in general, and in Hebron in particular. Both sides agreed to
divide the area into three cate¬gories: A) the Palestinian
cities from which the Israeli army will complete¬ly redeploy,
and responsibility will be transferred to the Palestinian Police;
B) the Palestinian villages and refugee camps where Israel will
have the overriding security, while the Palestinian side will be
responsible for inter¬nal security and public order; C) the
Jewish settlements and military loca¬tions where Israel will
have overall responsibility for security. No real argument is
taking place about the responsibility for security in areas A and
C, but there is still some argument in area B, where the roads
between villages and settlements are used by both Palestinians and
settlers. In fact, even in this area, there is a possibility for an
agreement: the Palestinians are willing to be flexible on ideas
like joint patrols, which have proved to be successful in
The real problem is Hebron, where fanatical Jewish rightists
succeeded in taking over a few buildings in the old city in the
heart of the Islamic neighborhoods. There are now 32 Jewish
families, less that 200 residents, some of whom are living in
houses they claim belonged to the Jews before 1929. They have
evacuated Arab families and occupied the houses. The rest of these
Jewish families are living in mobile homes.
Israel insists on excluding Hebron from any arrangements of
redeploy¬ment, and assuming sole responsibility for the city.
The Palestinians pro¬pose to form joint Israeli-Palestinian
police patrols in the city, in order to maintain security and
public order. They insist on the principle which was agreed upon in
Oslo, that redeployment should include all the territories, without
exception. No elections can be conducted in the city under the guns
of the Israeli army and armed Jewish settlers. The Hebronites
(there are 200,000 of them) insist that they should not be left out
of the election process - less than two hundred Jewish settlers in
the center of Hebron are complicating the lives of more than
200,000 Palestinians. Evacuating the settlers from the city of
Hebron will enable the Palestinians to hold free elections and
conduct a normal life within the framework of the interim peace
agreements, and will release about 2,000 Israeli soldiers from
their work of protecting the 200 settlers.
Israel's reluctance to evacuate these settlers from the heart of
Hebron stems from internal Israeli electoral considerations.
However, there is no logical justification for its objection to
joint patrols in the neighborhood where Israeli settlers and
Palestinians live tense lives, side by side.
Whatever compromise over Hebron will be achieved in the
negotia¬tions, the settlements and settlers in the OPT will
continue to be an indis¬putable obstacle in the path of the
negotiations. No real redeployment or withdrawal can be implemented
without recognition of the fact that the main aim of the peace
process is to put an end to the Israeli Occupation of the OPT, and
to achieve a peaceful settlement on the bases of UN Resolution 242,
and the principle of trading land for peace.
Instead, Israel maintains the upper hand and conducts negotiations
with an approach which keeps things deadlocked. The Israeli
attitude is not explicable solely by the approaching Israeli
elections - and it is obvi¬ous that the Palestinian police and
security forces are doing their best to stop military attacks
against Israel, and to prove their credibility in the eyes of their
Israeli counterparts and their own public.
The situation will remain difficult at least until the Israeli
elections in November 1996. What is needed is a real effort to
demonstrate goodwill and good intentions. More Palestinian efforts
to disprove the Israelis' feel¬ing that their internal
security is endangered, will contribute positively to the process.
The Israelis must make an effort to disprove the Palestinian
feelings that the Jews intend to keep control over their lives, and
will never allow Palestinians to control their own fates.
This means joint efforts. The aim is to enable both sides to live
side by side in peace, with mutual respect and mutual recognition.
It is definitely possible.