Mideast peacemakers have sometimes paid with their lives MIDDLE EAST CONFERENCE

October 27, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Making peace is a deadly game in the Middle East.

From the 1940s to the present, would-be peacemakers have had to contend with threats from Arab or Israeli radicals. Some have been killed.

Threats against the Palestinians preparing to attend the Madrid conference already have been made by Muslim fundamentalists in the Gaza Strip and dissident Palestinians in the West Bank. At a meeting of hard-liners held in Iran, a small Palestinian faction traditionally backed by Syria issued death threats to the Madrid participants.

The best-known victim of extremists is President Anwar el Sadat of Egypt. In 1981, two years after signing a peace treaty with Israel, he was assassinated in Cairo by fundamentalist Egyptian soldiers while reviewing a military parade marking the eighth anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel.

Mr. Sadat's enemies were numerous. He was widely disliked at home for rampant corruption and heavy-handed police tactics. He was vilified elsewhere in the Arab world for having established relations with Israel. Syria and other Arab states considered the murder his rightful punishment for having signed a peace treaty with Israel without their approval.

In Lebanon, in 1982 shortly before Bashir Gemayel was to formally take office as president of Lebanon while Israel effectively occupied Beirut, he was assassinated in an explosion that rocked his political headquarters. The bomb was believed to have been set off by Syrian agents.

Egypt's Mr. Sadat was killed for doing publicly what King Abdallah of Jordan had begun in secret in the late 1940s. Abdallah, the grandfather of Jordan's current monarch, King Hussein, regularly invited Israeli officials for secret talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The Israelis came as King Abdallah's guests at lavish banquets, and they obligingly lost when he challenged them to games of chess. Their discussions focused on Abdallah's willingness to consider a peace treaty despite opposition from all his Arab brethren.

King Abdallah was assassinated in 1951 as he left prayers at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque. The young Hussein was a witness to his grandfather's death and thus was an early student of the assassin's intended lesson: No one acting alone was safe. Other Arab leaders took the lesson to heart.

King Hussein took the lesson into account in his own dealings with Israel. Israeli officials have given detailed accounts of clandestine meetings between King Hussein and Israeli leaders. But the king has never publicly acknowledged them.

For Palestinians, political activism has brought dangers from both sides. Disputes within the Palestine Liberation Organization have occasionally led to murderous internal wars. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is said never to sleep in the same place for more than one night, out of fear of his Arab enemies as much as of the Israelis. Palestinians living in the West Bank and advocating talks with Israel have faced assassinations, beatings and threats.

Take the case of Sari Nusseibeh, a West Bank philosophy professor. His recent past is a chronicle of the difficulties Palestinians find with prominence.

In 1987, Mr. Nusseibeh met secretly with an adviser to Israel's prime minister. When the secret leaked out, he was beaten by masked Palestinians and had to be hospitalized.

This year, Mr. Nusseibeh was imprisoned for three months by Israel. While the authorities never formally charged him with a crime, they alleged that he was providing information to Iraq during the Persian Gulf war. He now is to go to Madrid as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation.

Israeli extremists determined to punish opponents of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories have been responsible for some of the violence. Car bombs placed in 1980 by Jewish settlers maimed the mayors of the West Bank cities of Nablus and Ramallah, while a bomb targeted against a third mayor blinded an Israeli soldier sent to defuse it.

The West Bank mayors were elected in 1976, in an experiment in democracy authorized by Israel, a tryout that became another example of the perils of leadership. For Israel, the experiment went wrong when the mayors endorsed positions of the PLO. The mayors were made to pay by being removed from office, and in some cases deported.

The early history of the Jewish struggle for an independent state also is marred by internecine killing and the deaths of foreigners involved in trying to settle the conflict. Two assassinations in the 1940s were attributed to the radical right of the Jewish underground, whose followers, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, are among the leaders of Israel today: the murder of Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, a U.N. mediator, in September 1948 in Jerusalem and the killing of Lord Moyne, the British minister to the Middle East, in Cairo in 1940.

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