Arafat’s Loud Silence
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's belated condemnation of the slaying of Beit El resident Haim Mizrahi by members of his own Fatah faction was hardly reassuring. For many Israelis, such episodes offer a preview of what can be expected from an unreliable partner to the peace process.
If further progress is to be made, both the Rabin government and PLO leaders must find a way to prevent such incidents from recurring and restore a critically needed measure of confidence to the peace process.
The onus falls in particular on the PLO's shoulders, since their ambiguities and lack of cohesive policy in conveying the agreement to the Palestinians in the streets have greatly contributed to this unfortunate development.
It is understood that the PLO cannot control every renegade. The problem is that in communicating with the Palestinians, in Arabic especially, the PLO does not accurately convey its true understanding with Israel.
Its tendency has always been to exaggerate the importance of Israel's concessions, while making misleading representations such as "We will see to it that every Israeli settlement is dismantled" and "with God's help, we will preside over the removal of the last soldier from every square inch of our land," which have no basis in the agreement.
Postulations such as these lead some members of the PLO to assume that violent struggle against Israel is still legitimate, particularly when such acts by Hamas and others have not been immediately and strongly condemned by their leaders.
The other problem the PLO faces is the lack of a managerial apparatus that understands the Palestinian temperament in the territories and has a clear mandate to implement policies. Obviously, this could not be developed overnight.
Still, the PLO traditionally has been managed by a small elite group which finds it hard to delegate responsibility, especially when suspicion and distrust within the organization is rampant and secrecy and personal security are paramount. The PLO's inability to transmit its directives to the Palestinian street often leaves a vacuum readily exploited by Hamas or by those who feel left out of the process.
The third major problem is the PLO's lack of appreciation of the psychological effect senseless acts of terror have on Israelis. Even though the killing and stabbing of innocent Israelis was more frequent prior to the agreement, such hideous acts have entirely different psychological implications in the post-agreement period. Israelis who are looking for positive signs of the PLO's good intentions, are finding instead an equivocating PLO leadership utterly indifferent to their concerns and anxieties.
More important, the PLO's past failure to condemn these violent acts immediately, regardless of their source, have made the organization's prolonged silence this time all the more deafening. Blaming the violence on undisciplined youths who lack political convictions is a poor excuse, one that exasperates rather than eases tension.
The PLO's tough talk leaves the Palestinian public with the impression that only a dual strategy of diplomacy and militancy can be effective. The PLO must make it abundantly clear that killing Israelis is a Palestinian problem, and that it will be to the detriment of the Palestinian people and the entire peace process if Israel is left with no option other than the use of excessive force to end the killings.
At the same time, the Rabin government must be more forthcoming with information regarding the fate of the settlements. The fact that the settlers have been left in the dark raises their fears for the future. Under the enormous pressure of uncertainty and constant danger they tend to respond with zeal to unprovoked violence against which they would have, otherwise, acted with some restraint.
Further, Israeli security forces should begin, as soon as possible, to work with the Palestinian international security police. Obviously, coordination of internal security is an extremely sensitive issue for many Palestinians, but then, sooner or later, Palestinian and Israeli security forces must work together, and the sooner full coordination begins the better.
Continuing violent acts against Israelis will only stiffen the Rabin government's position which, as a democratic government, must heed public opinion. The extent of Israeli concessions and the progress toward peace will largely depend on the PLO's ability and willingness to live up to the letter and the spirit of the agreement. This includes containing violence, condemning it when it happens and disciplining the offenders.
Otherwise, the PLO will by its own inaction condemn the peace process and render the Palestinian cause a serious blow.