The Freeman Center is here to help.
Candidate Netanyahu correctly pointed out that the way to drive a good bargain is not to whitewash every Palestinian violation of the agreement while the PLO is making an international issue of Israeli violations. Such a tactic encourages the world to believe that Israel is the villain of the piece and the PLO the innocent victim, which inevitably results in international pressure on Israel to do all the conceding in any dispute. Furthermore, he said, the previous government's insistence on overlooking even the most egregious Palestinian violations undermined the very foundations of the agreement, since an accord not honored by both sides has little value.
After Netanyahu succeeded in making this point so effectively during the elections, the Israeli public had a right to expect that he would at least not make the same mistake. Unfortunately, he has fallen into exactly the same pattern of behavior for which he justifiably lambasted former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. The Palestinian Authority is still in violation of many of the most important clauses of the agreement, as it has been for the past three years. For instance, it has still not amended the Palestinian Covenant calling for Israel's destruction, even though Yasser Arafat has been promising to do so since 1993. Though much of the world believes the Palestine National Council did so at a much-heralded meeting in May, April, all it actually did - as Meretz supporter and Middle East expert Prof. Yehoshua Porat has noted - was set up a subcommittee to examine the issue. The subcommittee has not been heard from since, and it is doubtful that it even exists. Similarly, the PA has refused to extradite every one of the 18 terrorists Israel has requested, even though its obligation to do so under the agreement is incontrovertible; it has failed to disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, or to take any serious action against these groups' organizational and financial infrastructure; and it is maintainingan armed "police force" 50 percent greater than what it is permitted under the agreements.
In addition, rather than educating for peace, as explicitly required by the agreement, Arafat and senior PA officials continue to praise terrorists, refer to Israel as "the enemy" and call openly for the use of violence. On September 23, for instance - two days before the Palestinian Police opened fire on Israeli positions throughout the territories - Arafat made a speech asking Palestinians to "fight for the cause of Allah and kill and be killed."
None of these violations, however, have even been mentioned by the Netanyahu team in recent weeks. Indeed, to listen to the prime minister and his spokesmen, one would think all these violations had miraculously disappeared. In contrast, the Palestinians have put Israeli violations at center stage. At a press conference in Cairo on Wednesday, for instance, Arafat plaintively told reporters that all the Palestinians want is for the Oslo accords to be implemented exactly as written, but Netanyahu is trying to rewrite the agreement.
Saeb Erekat, the canny negotiator who heads the Palestinian negotiating team in Taba, has also hammered home this message. Yesterday, he upped the ante by saying the Palestinians do not want an agreement on Hebron alone; they also want to discuss a list of 34 other Israeli violations, ranging from the failure to release certain Palestinian security prisoners to the question of a Palestinian airport in Dehaniya.While Israel refused to enter into detailed discussions on these issues, saying that widening the discussion in this fashion would delay an agreement on Hebron for months, it did agree to allow the Palestinians to raise these issues in a general way.
The net result is that the Palestinians have once again succeeded in creating the impression that the only violator is Israel, and that the evil Netanyahu government is trampling on the innocent Palestinian Authority. This success gives the Palestinians a clear advantage in the negotiations.
The only possible way for Israel to maintain a level playing field is to keep Palestinian violations equally high on the agenda. When Erekat insisted on adding his list of Israeli violations to the agenda, Israel should have responded that in that case, it wanted all the PA's violations put on the agenda as well. Its spokesmen should have been on the air all day, as Erekat was, listing these violations.
This should also be the government's response to the Palestinians' charges that Israel is reopening the agreement on Hebron, which it undeniably is. To give the government credit, it is at least reminding the world that these changes would not be necessary had it not been for the PA's gross violation three weeks ago, when it initiated a three-day shooting war against Israel. However, the government should also be losing no opportunity to provide Arafat and the world with a list of all those clauses it would like the PA to start honoring if the latter is truly serious about sticking to the agreement as written. It should also be pointing out that trying to negotiate mutually agreeable changes is a far more honorable way to behave than unilaterally violating any provision it dislikes, as the Palestinians have done.
Even if Netanyahu does not actually mean to demand compliance with every one of the dozens of key provisions the PA is currently violating, he must keep these issues in the public eye. His position must be that Israel will not make new concessions to the PA until these violations are rectified.
The only possible alternative to this policy is for Israel to continue making new concessions while the Palestinians violate the accords with impunity. As Netanyahu himself said so often before the elections, this is a recipe guaranteed to result in the abandonment of Israel's most vital interests.
(C) 1996 The Jerusalem Post