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Israel's Behavior

RECENT Israeli behavior in the occupied territories undercuts fair or meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Despite apologies for the Hebron massacre in February, the government of Israel is conducting a brutal campaign in the territories that undermines PLO chairman Arafat - while at the same time demanding that he negotiate in Cairo.

Monday's killing of six Palestinians in Gaza was an especially powerful negative symbol. The killings were carried out execution-style by Israeli agents against Fatah Hawks handing out pro-Arafat pamphlets.

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Statements by Israeli Foreign Minister Peres - that it was dark and the agents thought the men might shoot - are inadequate. They belie eyewitness reports in Wednesday's Monitor that the victims were caught by surprise. In an environment as controlled as that of Gaza, where security is the No. 1 issue, such acts rarely happen ``spontaneously.'' How was the operation authorized? What most stings the PLO is that the Hawks, the moribund military wing of Fatah, have been in a ``truce'' with the Israeli Army since the Sept. 13 White House handshake. The Army has focused on Kassem Brigade, the radical military wing of Hamas.

The incident comes after a major Army assault in Hebron last week, near where 30 Palestinians were slaughtered by Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein in February. In this latest attack, blacked out for 22 hours by Israeli censors, the Army acknowledged that several victims died in what proved to be an attack on a mistaken target. The effect in the territories of a military operation at the site of the recent tragedy was powerful. Even moderate PLO officials are publicly asking: Can lasting peace be built on a shaky foundation?

Those conducting the Cairo talks argue that violence is an internal matter and should not derail diplomacy. A wire-service report yesterday asserted that ``Palestinian demands for security'' were ``the key obstacle to these talks.'' Were the tables reversed and six Israelis executed in a campaign of violence (and there is violence on both sides), the outcry would be substantial.

The Israeli campaign may be a prelude to a larger Israeli Defense Forces withdrawal in accord with the peace agreement. It may be an effort to block the agreement. Or it may be a way to buy time by keeping the PLO destabilized.

Regardless, the violence is wrong. It further destabilizes Palestinian society. The territories are under occupation, closure, and curfew. In such an environment, no civil society can be built. There can be no education, no commerce, no political trust to build on, no true home life.

Without these elements there can be no real peace. United States envoy Dennis Ross might make a point of this in Cairo.

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