Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of October 20, 2000


By Moshe Zak

They didn't shake hands. They didn't even sign a cease-fire agreement. This isn't the first time that Yasser Arafat has wriggled out of signing an agreement, even when he apparently agreed to its contents. It was an improved version of the Paris maneuver.

At Sharm e-Sheikh, Arafat came to the ceremony, listened to President Bill Clinton's announcement of an agreement to end violence between the two sides, and said nothing, with a smile on his lips. Meanwhile, outside the conference center Arafat was commencing three diplomatic fronts against Israel.

He hoped to fill in the missing link of the Sharm summit - a severe condemnation of Israel - at the emergency session of the UN Assembly, which convened in New York, and at the UN conference for human rights, which opened this week in Geneva and at the world parliamentary union in Jakarta yesterday. What he didn't want to say explicitly in Sharm was said openly by his representatives in the territories, who used bullets to get their point across.

Clinton's declaration mentioned the redeployment of forces, but Arafat stuck to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's interpretation which prefaced the declaration with "a withdrawal of forces from Arab lands."

At the end of the summit, Clinton thanked Egypt for its efforts to achieve a cease-fire, but Prime Minister Ehud Barak couldn't ignore Mubarak's remarks in his opening speech to the summit: "The aggressions to which the Palestinian people were subjected during the last two weeks persuaded me to convene this meeting. We have to put an end to the military aggression of the Israelis against the Palestinians."

It's possible that Clinton's statement will eventually bring about a few days' quiet in Judea and Samaria, and every day that goes by without bloodshed is welcome. However, we must not forget the precedent of August, 1970. Then, we enthusiastically welcomed the cease-fire that was supposed to end the War of Attrition on the banks of the Suez Canal.

Then, too, there were no handshakes or signed agreements, but only a statement by the US that the cease-fire was intended to permit the opening of negotiations through a UN representative. As it turned out, this allowed Egypt to advance its ground-to-air missiles to the banks of the canal, which provided a cover for the Egyptian army crossing the canal on October 6, 1973. The present cease-fire, if it lasts, is liable to provide a cover for the Palestinians' preparations for unilateral moves. We must keep our eyes open.

THE SHARM summit wasn't a failure. On the contrary: it indirectly led to the destruction of some dangerous illusions. We finally began to question Arafat's suitability as a partner. Until now, we were unable to imagine that the other side would fail to understand the benefits of the fair compromise we were prepared to offer, and had begun to exaggerate the importance of casual conversations. But when we reached the moment of truth, it turned out the Palestinian leadership wanted the whole cake.

We assumed that the dollars the US is going to contribute to the Palestinian Authority would persuade the Palestinians to modify their diplomatic positions. We were wrong. The Palestinians acted insolently towards the US and tried to erode America's status by bringing in the UN and the European Union.

We were sure that Israel's economic plan for reducing the Palestinians' hardship could dry up the marshes in which the mosquitoes of terrorism were breeding. But when the riots broke out, the Palestinians torched the industrial park opposite Tulkarm, which was intended to provide jobs for the unemployed in PA territory.

We believed that joint patrols by Israeli and Palestinian police in border areas would forge understanding between the two sides, but on the first day of the riots, a Palestinian policeman shot dead an Israeli colleague on a joint patrol near Kalkilya.

At Sharm, we woke up from dreams which reflected inaccurate assumptions. But we still have one dream left: the dream of peace. It will come. Not within the 48 hours or two weeks, as dictated by the timetable of the heads of state, it deserves patience. It will come when the countries of the world realize that the anti-Israeli resolutions adopted by the UN block the way to stability in the region and provide an incentive for a war of attrition between Israel and the Palestinians.

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