Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Enemies strive to break cycle of violence

FIRST STEPS Even though terrorist attacks continue, Israel is showing restaint and the Palestinian authority seems to understand Israel's need to defend itself

AP , JERUSALEM

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, right, welcomes Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio after their meeting in the West Bank City of Ramallah Wednesday. Despite US and Israeli efforts to marginalize him in the peace talks, Arafat has made it clear that he remains a key figure in any plans for the future of the Palestinians.

PHOTO: REUTERS

It has happened over and over during 32 months of Mideast mayhem: a deadly Palestinian suicide bombing sparks an Israeli attack in Palestinian cities, tearing asunder peace efforts and spawning more attacks.

But when Palestinian militants killed 12 Israelis in a 48-hour wave of suicide attacks a week ago, Israel held back, launching no major reprisal raids against Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As Palestinians and Israelis both prepare to embark on a new, US-backed peace plan, there are signs of a willingness to break the cycle of violence and deny radicals the effective veto they have long been able to wield.

Reasons range from US pressure -- backed by the post-Iraq War clout enjoyed by the administration of US President George W. Bush -- to a noticeable weariness on both sides after a long period in which thousands of lives were lost and the economies, particularly on the Palestinian side, have been battered.

The US-backed plan's chances for success remain unclear, and there are still powerful forces that could try to bring down the effort -- particularly the violent Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have rejected the plan as a ploy to quash the Palestinian uprising for too little in return.

The so-called "road map" offers the Palestinians full statehood by 2005 -- but leaves vague the question of borders, the future of refugees and the sharing of Jerusalem.

With the plan on the table, said Dan Meridor, a leading figure in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud party, "the government is restraining itself very much." He said that even though attacks and attack attempts continue almost daily, "the Israeli army is not responding as it would in the past."

When Palestinian militants launched homemade rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot two weeks ago, Israel responded by flattening orchards and demolishing homes in the Gaza town where the missiles were launched.

When Palestinian militants launched rockets at Sderot on Tuesday, Israel says it did nothing in response.

Israel actually had planned a "major military operation" in the West Bank and Gaza after the recent string of suicide bombings, the daily Haaretz reported. But the government held back for fear it would be accused of sabotaging the peace effort, the newspaper reported. The military refused to comment.

In the past, the Palestinian Authority has used Israeli military operations as a reason why they could not be expected to crack down on their own compatriots.

However, the tones from the administration of new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas seem to be somewhat more understanding of Israel's efforts to defend itself, and amount to a plea for time.

The softened rhetoric and apparent restraint come amid strong international efforts to push both sides into implementing the "road map."

Palestinians have endorsed the plan and demanded it be implemented unchanged. Sharon's Cabinet accepted it Sunday, but added a list of objections.

Abbas and Sharon had tentative plans to meet Thursday to discuss the road map and prepare for a three-way summit with US President George W. Bush in Jordan next week.

The first phase calls for Palestinians to crack down on militant groups and prevent suicide attacks against Israelis. Israel must freeze all construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, dismantle illegal settlement outposts and gradually pull out of Palestinian autonomous areas it has reoccupied.

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