All Writings
March 22, 1994

Wreak Revenge on Extremists by Continuing Peace Talks

The massacre of at least 30 Palestinians in the Tomb of the Patriarchs during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan evoked a deep revulsion and a profound sense of vulnerability that explains the Palestinians' heightened rage and explosive rancor.

The extremists on both sides will succeed in their deadly campaigns to kill the peace unless conditions on the ground change immediately. These conditions will change if source of the threat is removed and if the Palestinians' confidence in their leadership and in the peace process is restored.

To that end, the Rabin government must demonstrate further resolve to prevent other such acts by taking steps that exceed those adopted thus far. These steps will enable the Palestine Liberation Organization – following the passage of the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the massacre – to return to the negotiating table. And they will establish the framework for the Israeli government to deal with a minority of fanatics to secure peace for the majority.

Extremist Israelis and Palestinians who rejoice in the aftermath of the massacre are doomed to fail because there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence. I have yet to see a realistic alternative plan advanced by either an Israeli or a Palestinian. As cumbersome and frustrating as the current agreement is, it still offers the best hope for an equitable solution. Failure to implement it soon will not produce a better agreement but rather pave the way for a bloody civil confrontation that will recognize no winners.

As Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres have repeatedly stressed, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's political survival is fundamental to the peace process. To that end, the Israeli government must adopt additional measures to shift the Palestinians' attention from the horror of the massacre and its repercussions on Mr. Arafat to the hope for a promising future. First, Mr. Rabin must further expand the base of his government, which is essential to provide him with a mandate to pursue the peace process. Luring the religious party Shas back into government was a critical first step in the right direction. Rabin could also entice the three parliamentary members who left the right-wing Tsomet party to join his government. Then he would secure a majority of 65 out of 120 members in the parliament, without the five Palestinian members. This would provide him with a safe "Jewish" margin, which is psychologically critical for taking measures of national magnitude. Otherwise, he will be subjected continuously to attacks from the opposition parties who have been accusing him of an evil partnership with the Palestinians to the detriment of Israel.

Second, as politically hazardous it may be, several "political settlements" planted in the heart of Arab population centers during the Likud era must now be relocated into Israel proper. These settlements have offended Arab sensibilities in the past and are now seen by the Palestinians as a permanent threat to their security. Because of a new coalition agreement with Shas, domestic political considerations, and negotiating tactical reasons, I do not suggest a wholesale relocation of these settlements at this delicate stage. Rabin, however, must explain to the public that such steps are necessary to ease the tension and reduce Israel's burden to provide security for Jewish settlers unreasonably interdispersed with the Palestinian population. Third, defiant militant Israelis who (unlike the majority of law-abiding settlers who bear arms strictly for self-defense) use their weapons to intimidate the Palestinians and to commit violent crimes must be disarmed. Rabin must resolve to disarm not only a handful of militants but every member of the outlawed Kahane Chi and Kach organizations, and any other settler known for his militancy. Certainly a similar burden must also fall on the PLO's shoulders in dealing with Palestinian hawks, so that these senseless mutually destructive acts will end.

Fourth, Israel should mobilize, with US help, $150 million to $200 million for public projects in the West Bank and Gaza to create jobs and ease the poverty of many Palestinians. The plans for many of these projects, including schools and health-care facilities, already exist and are awaiting desperately needed funding.

Fifth, releasing significantly more prisoners, introducing a Palestinian police force into Jericho and Gaza, and allowing UN civilian observers into the territories as stipulated by the Security Council will further calm the atmosphere and help restore the PLO's and Arafat's stature in the territories. There are security risks involved in taking such steps. The potential benefit, however, outweighs the risk.

Many Israelis and Palestinians will now be content to settle for a kind of "live and let live" arrangement. But the fanatics on both sides will not live by this rule. Only full peace between the people with day-to-day socio-economic exchanges will eventually render extremism irrelevant.

Those who seek retribution for the death of the 30 or more Palestinians must remember that avenging the dead does not offer sanctuary for the living. The most "effective revenge" Israelis and Palestinians could wreak on extremists of both sides is to resume the negotiations and keep future violence, regardless of its source, from derailing the talks – until total peace has been concluded.