Violence turns sentiment against peace agreement Many Jews, Arabs grow pessimistic

November 20, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- The campaigns by Jewish and Palestinian extremists to derail the peace pact have succeeded in turning public opinion here against the agreement, at least for the moment.

The violence of both groups has discouraged many Jews and Arabs whose hopes were raised by the Sept. 13 agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This pessimism may be a temporary shift. The agreement has yet to take effect on the ground, and when Israeli troops begin to withdraw from Jericho and the Gaza Strip Dec. 13, it might bring a new wave of optimism.

Euphoria fades

"Right now I am pessimistic," said Agavni Habash, whose house overlooks an Israeli checkpoint where Palestinians line up in their cars to wait for permission to enter Jerusalem. "When the agreement was signed, I was very enthusiastic. Not now."

There are clear signs of that discouragement on both sides. The peace accord is taking a daily battering in the editorial pages of Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.

In a poll taken for another paper, Ma'ariv, last week, more Israelis opposed the accord than supported it, a reversal of the results two months ago. A second poll this week found the public evenly divided on whether the government should have signed the agreement.

Among Palestinians, bitterness has set in that worries community leaders. It is obvious in daily conversations, even among those who greeted the peace process by waving olive branches and dancing in the street.

"We thought things would be smoother. People thought there would be a change, but so far they haven't seen it," said Adnan Mussallam, a professor at Bethlehem University.

Palestinians are discouraged by the continuing rule of their lives by Israeli troops, by the attacks from Jewish settlers and by what they see as Israel's recalcitrance at the bargaining table.

For Palestinians, the daily humiliation of checkpoints, military patrols, curfews, arrests and shootings has continued. When Israeli soldiers shot at stone-throwers in a Ramallah school Tuesday, killing a 16-year-old and seriously injuring another student, Palestinians reacted angrily.

Israelis are discouraged by the continuing attacks on Jewish civilians and soldiers by Palestinians. They are angry at the inability of the Palestine Liberation Organization to stop those attacks and by the reluctance of the PLO to condemn them forcefully.

For Israelis, the intifada of the past six years seems not to have ended. Some question the value of returning territory to the Palestinians and criticize what they see as the Palestinians' lack of reciprocity at the bargaining table.

"Despite the peace agreement, and even despite the confidence-building steps, the murder of Jews in their land has continued," Yediot Ahronot said in an editorial.

The daily Hatzofeh said, "As long as terror continues to run wild . . . there is no place for continuing the talks with the PLO."

None of this is likely to stop the peace accord, at least in its initial stages.

"We, and the Palestinians, have passed a point of no return," Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said on his recent trip to Washington. The pressure from the United States and other countries is too great for even the parties to the agreement, Israel and the PLO, to call a halt to it now.

But the agreement only starts the journey down a five-year road to resolution of the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If momentum disappears, the whole process could wither and die en route.

More accurately, it could expire from wounds. Since PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Mr. Rabin shook hands in Washington 10 weeks ago, Jewish and Palestinian extremists have been inflicting those potentially fatal wounds.

Eight Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed by Palestinians, and at least 20 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and settlers.

The violence has been gruesome: an Israeli soldier whose throat was slit as he sipped a soft drink at a roadside stop; an Arab school student killed by soldiers as he tried to help a wounded friend in a schoolyard; a religious Jew stabbed on his way to dawn prayers; a 3-year-old Palestinian boy and his father whose car was raked by gunfire.

Extremists' common ground

In a bizarre confluence of interests, the extremists on both sides seek to turn public support against the plan.

Israeli settlers oppose the agreement because, they say, all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was given to Jews by God and they do not want to cede any to Palestinian control.

Palestinian radicals say all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel are historical Palestine and that they do not want a compromise that recognizes Israeli control of any of that land.

"Settlers are being murdered, and the settlers strike back with a small pogrom," said Daniel Ben-Simon, writing in the newspaper Davar. "Both groups are captives of a messianic religious ideology. Both groups have a common aim: to eliminate the Israeli-PLO agreement. Rabin and his government are beginning show a tottering."

Israel's leaders had expected difficulties. Mr. Rabin and the architect of the plan, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, have warned repeatedly that there would be ups and downs in the negotiating process.

But the Ma'ariv poll finding that 45 percent of Israelis were against the agreement and only 39 percent for it is worrisome for the government.

Even President Clinton seemed concerned. As he rushed to give financial and military aid to Israel, he explained, "I believe that a big key toward achieving peace is maintaining support within the state of Israel for the peace process and for the risk it entails."

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