Violence Versus Understanding in the Mideast
VIOLENCE has derailed the Middle East peace process once again. The kidnapping and murder of Nissim Toledano, an Israeli border policeman, and the killing of four other soldiers during a five-day period were the work of Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist organization that sees Israel as a religious enemy that must be destroyed.
The growing strength of Hamas (the Arabic word for `ardor,' which is also the acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement) among the Palestinians greatly complicates the peace process. Hamas's goal is a single Islamic state that overrides the current national boundaries of the Middle East. For those Palestinians who who have concluded that the PLO is ineffective in dealing with Israel, Hamas, with its strong religious appeal, has become a plausible alternative.
In reply to public outrage over the killings by Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin refused to halt the peace talks, claiming that to do so would only give Hamas what it dearly wants. But his government's response - the deportation of more than 400 Palestinians who are accused of being supporters or sympathizers of Hamas - has made it very hard for the Arab delegations to stay at the peace table.
To be precise, what the Rabin government ordered was a temporary deportation for a period that may last as long as two years. Speaking to his party's central committee, Mr. Rabin argued that "What international law forbids is expelling people forever. Our aim was temporarily to remove from the scene persons we regarded as responsible for incitement to bloodshed."
This perspective has won Rabin the support of some of the leftist cabinet ministers from Meretz, a Zionist political party sympathetic to the national aspirations of the Palestinians.
When reporting the news of the deportations, the international press lost the fine points of the Israeli action amid the larger story of 400 men being taken by bus into the barren never-never land that lies between Israel and Lebanon. It is reported that in private the Palestinians at the peace talks, and the PLO leadership in Tunis, have not been unhappy to see so many of their opponents booted out of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, but publicly no Palestinian nationalist can afford to show sympathy fo r an Israeli action taken against Palestinian Arabs.
WHO is to blame for the current impasse - Arabs for tolerating terrorism in their midst, or Israelis for overreacting with mass deportations? The great lesson from these events is that both sides continue to make serious errors of judgment in dealing with each other.
A sizable body of Palestinian opinion continues to believe that terror can be an effective weapon against Israel, and that if used sufficiently it will drive the Israeli government to accept terms for peace which include the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians who support or condone terror misperceive Israelis as a colonial people whose spirit can be broken - much as the French were driven out of Algeria and the British out of Kenya. These Palestinians refuse to come to terms with the essence of Zionism: the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the cradle of Judaism and the Jewish sense of peoplehood. Israelis who were not born in Israel see themselves as repatriated refugees, not colonials.
At the same time, the Rabin government must recognize that it shortchanges its stake in the peace process by using deportation to strike back at Hamas and its Palestinian supporters. For both Israelis and Palestinians, the conflict between them is about the legitimacy of their attachment to the land. Deportation in this context, even temporarily, is an incendiary action that separates men from their homeland. As such, it was a poor choice of punishment.
For the peace negotiations to succeed the Israelis must establish relations of mutual respect with the Palestinians and avoid actions which convey a sense of contempt for them. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban never tires of reminding Israelis that peace will be made with their enemies, not their friends. To establish relations which become the foundation of peace, each side must be seriously concerned with the self-esteem of the other.
The growing importance of Hamas has added another, malevolent, party to the Israeli-Palestinian search for peace. In addition to Moledet and Tehiya, Israeli parties which refuse to consider a peaceful resolution of the conflict based upon each side seeking to accommodate the national and security demands of the other, there is an Islamic Palestinian party with a similar disdain for mutual recognition and coexistence.
In this mix of those who seek peace and those who prefer confrontation, the task of leadership on both sides is to subdue the radicals and then demonstrate good faith and fair dealing toward one another. In a conflict so bitter nothing less will end it.