settlersthose who want to convince us that they are the true descendents
of the Zionist pioneersdestroy the Zionist dream of a normal Jewish sovereign
existence in our own land. The true Zionists are those people who strive for normalcy,
who leave their homes in the morning and return in the evening, who consider their
children's toothaches a bigger problem than fulfilling the dream of a Jewish presence
in the heart of Arab villages.
Natan Sznaider, Academy College,
5 - August 24, 2003:
The euphoria evaporated like morning dew in the desert sun. The June 4 meeting
in Aqaba, Jordan, between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu
Mazen), Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President George W. Bush
was meant to set the stage for the implementation of the road map, which
the right-wing, pro-settler daily Hatzofeh called in its editorial
of Aug.13, "the most scandalous plan in the history of the state." The
road map was meant as a guideline for the revival of Palestinian-Israeli peace
negotiations backed by the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the
European Union (see timetable below). For the first time since the Oslo peace
process collapsed in September 2000, the prospect of peace between Israelis and
Palestinians within the next few years looked like little more than a pleasant
this optimism was soon taken over by violence, after a temporary cease-fire
(hudna) between militant groups and Israel collapsed in August
with renewed suicide bombings, killing scores of Israelis, including many children.
Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz commented on Aug. 24: "The collapse
of the hudna in a wave of terrorist attacks and assassinations, Israel
Defense Forces raids on towns in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and the freeze
on the implementation of the road map are all reminiscent of the wretched days
before the army launched Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.... Abbas's
government accepted responsibility for implementing the road map and, primarily,
for aggressively combating terrorism. The deterioration in the security situation
has exposed the weakness of the Abbas government in the face of Hamas' increased
power and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's subversive
efforts... In order for Bush to be 'very much engaged' in forging a Mideast peace,
as he promised, however, he must tighten American supervision on the implementation
of the road map. The United States must demonstrate a level of determination fitting
of a power that has declared its commitment to peace in the regionthis,
of course, without exempting the Israelis and Palestinians themselves from the
responsibility for a deterioration in the situation and from the need to halt
conservative English-language The Jerusalem Post commented (Aug. 21): "Since
the launching of the road map and the beginning of the 'cease-fire,' Mahmoud Abbas
and [PA Defense Minister] Muhammad Dahlan have been clear about one thing: There
will be no Palestinian civil war. They have insisted that they will end terror
by their own methods, namely persuasion, without the use of force... There will
be no Palestinian state unless there is first a Palestinian leadership that proves
not only that it has broken decisively with terrorism, but with the idea that
the only purpose of a state is to continue the war against Israel. We see no signs
that Abbas and Dahlan are capable of proving either proposition. Their failure
will spell the end of their leadership role, of the PA, and of any Palestinian,
Israeli, and American hopes that this is the 'new leadership, not compromised
by terror' that President George W. Bush spoke of in June of last year... We will
know that a Palestinian leadership has arisen that truly wishes to live by Israel's
side when that leadership forcibly confronts those who do not. The idea that people
who are willing to die to kill Israeli children can be sweetly talked out of their
beliefs is not credible. The Palestinians must choose if they want a state or
unity under a banner of terror."
deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem [on Aug. 19] ...is proof that [Palestinian
militants] did not keep their word," commented Ze'ev Schiff in Ha'aretz
(Aug. 20). "[The] attack, the first such incident since the declaration of
the hudna at the end of June, marks a personal failure for Mahmoud Abbas
and Mohammed Dahlan himself....This deterioration in Palestinian societywhich
maintains only an extremely thin layer at its top that is called the 'Palestinian
Authority'strengthens those who think that it is impossible to control what
happens in the territories."
journalists, particularly from the Israeli left, had been eager to believe that
the road map would jump-start the peace negotiations and bring much needed impetus
to the Middle East peace process, though others had cautioned that the violence
would continue and that a civil war over the dismantlement of settlements
as just a matter of time. The upswing in violence, however, that followed
the ceremony at Aqaba caused the media to ponder whether Abu Mazen was willing,
and able, to curb Palestinian extremists. But then, at the end of June, a temporary
cease-fire was signed between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Islamic Jihad,
and Fatah (by order of Arafat). The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
did not join in the declaration but would not violate the truce. Many Israeli
commentators snipped that the agreement wasn't worth the paper it was signed on.
1, 2003, Ha'aretz wrote: "Both sides have before them a feasible working
plan, the road map, whose principles have been agreed on by the Israeli and Palestinian
governments. It is not a magic recipe for it requires hard work and many concessions
on both sides. This sequel will now depend on the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF)
reactions, on the extent of restraint the government displays, and on practical
measures for the welfare of Palestinian residents, no less than it will depend
on the Palestinians' capability to calm the territory down and prevent terror
attacks. Paradoxically, it is the opposition groups' decision on the three-month
cease-fire that has now created a time-limited trial period. Both sides will not
only have to get through it safely, but take advantage of the period to intensively
promote the political process."
A Turning Point?
day after the summit, in a June 5 article for Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharonot,
Sever Plotzker was among the Israeli journalists striking an optimistic tone.
Abbas, he wrote, was "on his way to becoming a Palestinian [equivalent to
former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat [who became the first Arab leader to sign
a peace agreement with Israel in 1973] and out to surprise us all."
is at a juncture where three streams converge to form a mighty waterfall,"
Yoel Marcus argued in the June 5 edition of Ha'aretz. "The first is
the U.S. president, who is demanding an agreement so he can continue his messianic
fight against the forces of evil; the second is the elimination of the strategic
threat we've been living under, now that Iraq has been beaten and Syria and Iran
have been warned; and the third, of course, is Israel's failing economy in the
wake of a war that has made us understand that 'land for peace' means 'land for
money, investors, tourism, and a return to the good life.' "
editorial from the same edition of Ha'aretz referred to the Aqaba summit
as a "vision that we shouldn't underestimate" and stressed that Palestinian
President Yasser Arafat was out of the picture. "But," they cautioned,
"without a fundamental change in outlook on both sides, the road map is doomed
to fail. Without that, the meeting in Aqaba will only go down as yet another public
relations stunt rather than a new page in our relations."
it turned out, Ha'aretz's caution was justified. According to counts published
by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palestine Red Crescent Society,
and Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz, 45 Palestinians and 26 Israelis were killed
in a series of attacks and counterattacks between June 4 and June 15. It
was one of the bloodiest weeks in a history of bloodshed. The Palestinian extremist
group Hamas rejected pressure from Abbas to accept a cease-fire and vowed to target
"every Israeli man, woman, and child." Sharon vowed to "wipe out"
week's events shifted the tone of the coverage in the Israeli press. Ofer Shelach,
writing in Yediot Aharonot on June 9, reacted gloomily to U.S. calls to
get the peace process back on track: "Yesterday, the American wise man, U.S.
President George W. Bush, echoed Shimon Peres' remarks from a bygone era, calling
on both sides to continue negotiating despite the killings. Tomorrow, maybe the
day after, Bush's determination will come to an end, and he will once again leave
us alone with our troubled souls. The noise that you hear is not the sound of
an orchestra accompanying the ceremony [in Aqaba]. It's just a bunch of terrified
people whistling in the dark."
a June 8 commentary for Hatzofeh, under the headline "The Axis of
Evil Versus the Axis of Stupidity," Yaron Ostrovsky chose stronger words:
"The road map would place Israel on a one-way street with no exits-just like
a child, who easily inserts his finger into the neck of a bottle but can't manage
to pull it out.
Israel has placed itself in the same situation
the childish belief that everything will 'turn out OK.'
What is going to
happen, however, will be far from OK
. [Israel is] left with just a deal,
and we are the merchandise."
Baram, writing in Tel Aviv's centrist Ma'ariv on June 9, the day after
Palestinian militants killed five Israeli soldiers at a Gaza checkpoint, agreed.
The Aqaba summit, Baram argued, represented the victory of the Intifada. The editors
of Hatzofeh likewise mourned the soldiers as "the first victims of
Sharon's road map policy."
contrast, Yediot Aharonot, in a June 8 editorial, urged the Israeli security
forces "to show maximum military restraint in
the coming period," so as not to undercut Abbas. "[The Palestinian prime
minister] is a national Israeli interest, like peace," Yediot Aharonot's
editors wrote. And when, on June 10, Israel attempted to assassinate senior Hamas
leader Abdul-Aziz Rantisi, Yediot Aharonot's editors responded by calling
the strike on Rantisi "an error of judgment, at best, and an attempt to wreck
the first step in the 1,000-mile journey to peace, at worst."
editors of Ha'aretz went even further in their June 11 editorial, claiming
the assassination attempt "seriously damaged Israel's credibility, along
with that of [Sharon]." Asher Levi, writing in Tel Aviv's centrist Ma'ariv
the next day, asked, "Why, Arik [Sharon's nickname], Why?": "We
wanted to support you, hoping for a real solution, but the assassination attempt
killed that hope
.You owe an explanation to the people, who, as you know,
believe in a two-state solution and in evacuating a great number of settlements."
vowed revenge for the attack and promised a wave of deadly retaliation. On June
11, the group carried out a devastating suicide bombing on a Jerusalem
bus at rush hour, killing 17 people, including the Arab bus driver, and injuring
100. The suicide bomber was disguised as a religious Jew. Israel retaliated on
June 11: Its helicopter gun-ships struck three targets in Gaza that left seven
people dead, among them two men the Israeli army identified as leading members
of Hamas. The rhetoric on both sides culminated in a declaration of war. Israeli
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed his security chiefs to escalate their
operations against Palestinian terrorist groups, especially Hamas, "using
every means at our disposal." Sharon promised to hound the terrorist group.
sides exchange blows whenever they can," Amir Oren wrote the following day
in Ha'aretz, asserting that Israel should have delayed the assassination
attempt on Rantisi until another suicide bombing by Hamas had claimed more lives.
few Israeli commentators seemed surprised at the continuing violence after the
Aqaba summit. "The war with the Palestinians will only reach its end when
both sides collapse," the editors of Yediot Aharonot predicted on
June 9. "No one believed anything ended or began at the summit
is willing to listen anymore."
in the Israeli press despaired of the possibility of striking a peace agreement
with Abbas, who they saw as having a shallow base of support within Palestinian
government and society. Khaled Abu Toameh, writing in the Jerusalem Post
on June 16, called Abbas "a punching bag for Palestinians from across the
political spectrum," after the prime minister was strongly criticized by
fellow Palestinians for his reconciliatory approach toward Israel, as reflected
in his speech
he held at Aqaba. Yediot Aharonot's editors, also writing on June 16, shared
the feelings of many Israelis: "A cease-fire? Between whom? The Palestinian
Authority does not exist. What do exist in Palestine are poverty, unemployment,
hatred, and fanaticism. There is the man in the street consumed by hatred who
has nothing to lose but his life, which, in any case, is worth nothing."
Israeli commentators further expressed doubts about Abbas' ability to deliver
what he has promised-security for Israel and the disarmament of Hamas. "A
few months ago, Abbas was our big hope," lamented an editorial a June 15
editorial in Yediot Aharonot. "Finally there was someone whose word
we could trust, who was looking for progress and prosperity for his people
can kill [the Palestinians] and occupy their land, we can decide that we won't
talk to them, except through missiles. But we cannot, however hard we push and
try, decide who leads them."
the tension, on June 16, the Knesset adopted Sharon's policy statement
on the road map by 57 to 42 votes. But Sharon vowed to go on fighting terrorism,
adding that the "war on terrorism aims to bring peace." Only after terrorism
and incitement came to a halt would the government be willing to make "very
painful concessions." His remarks prompted Yaron London, writing in the June
17 Yediot Aharonot, to call for "creative ideas" to break the
deadlock between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. London argued that "the
conditions are ripe" for ideas such as a U.S. mandate over Palestinian territory.
The paper further argued that the foreign force's primary task would be to "set
up a provisional government, which would prepare the Palestinian nation for independent
journalists from across the political spectrum saw the violence as proof that
Abbas had little practical influence in the Palestinian territories. "Arafat
is back," Danny Rubinstein declared in the June 16 edition of Ha'aretz.
"Abbas' star is declining fast, and Arafat
has quickly reassumed control
over the leadership." Yediot Aharonot's editors had expressed similar
fears on June 10. "While Sharon and Abbas openly talk about the strategic
choices in the diplomatic process," Yediot Aharonot's editors wrote,
the fact remains that it is not the prime ministers who are determining the agenda,
but the extremists
.Abbas desperately needs a cease-fire with the Palestinian
terrorist organizations." Hatzofeh's June 10 editorial put it with
characteristic bluntness: "Abbas does not control the Palestinian Authority
anybody doubts this, recent events have proved it yet again."
Benziman, writing for the June 16 edition of Ha'aretz, summarized the current
situation thus: "Two weeks after the Aqaba summit, the road map, does not
look to be leading anywhere. The hope that sprang from the summits in Sharm al-Sheikh
and Aqaba has already dissipated into the violent routine that has colored life
here for the past two and a half years."
Yisrael Harel, writing in Ha'aretz (July 18) under the headline "Saving
Abu Mazen," believes, "The only chance the road map has of success,
if at all, is if one key condition is fulfilled: The vast majority on both sides,
Jews and Arabs, have to want it. Then it does not matter whether the prime ministers
majority of the Jewish people do want the road map. The vast majority of the Arab
people living in the Land of Israel, however, have not at any stage reconciled
themselves to Jewish sovereignty over even a small part of the land. They accept
the map as just one stage in the 'plan of stages,' not as a peace agreement....For
another unnecessary and extended period, there will continue to be victims among
usand we will be forced to continue to live by the sword."
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