Turmoil in Palestine

December 03, 1993

Ten days before Israeli troops are scheduled to begin pulling out of Gaza and Jericho, the West Bank and Gaza are shambles if not battle zones. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasser Arafat cannot even agree on whether the Dec. 13 date for starting the pull-out is sacred. They are scheduled to meet Dec. 12, which allows little time to sort out such disagreements.

They can make their policy work only if they realize they are in it together. The Palestinian Hamas gunmen who kill Israeli settlers, and the extremist Israelis setting up armed zones in Gaza and disrupting the West Bank in hopes of derailing the settlement with the PLO, are secret allies. So are the majority of Israelis and majority of Palestinians who welcome the peace settlement.

Mr. Rabin has just won support from the European Union Commission in Brussels for a new trade deal for Israel, which he understood was brought about only by his agreement to Palestinian autonomy. He, in turn, asked the European countries to aid the embryonic PLO state to which he has agreed. To help get an economy going, Israel and Jordan have agreed that Jordanian banks should open branches in the West Bank.

Yet these signs of practical progress are nullified by the perception of anarchy from murders and demonstrations. Chairman Arafat, running around foreign capitals instead of getting an administration up and running, is causing doubts among his supporters that the PLO is capable of the responsibilities it is taking on.

What Israelis need to keep in mind is that any action they may take to provoke the PLO to say that Israel has reneged on commitments would be a victory for the terrorists. It is not a matter of whether an action is justified, but what its effect would be.

And Mr. Arafat and the PLO should realize that every Arab bullet fired at an Israeli settler is really aimed at their own leadership and historic achievement. If they do not want Israeli soldiers to remain to protect Israeli settlers, they must credibly insure the safety of those settlers.

There is every sign that the Israel-PLO agreement is popular among the majority of Israelis and majority of Palestinians. It has promoted Mr. Arafat to the national leadership he always claimed and marginalized his Hamas enemies. Similarly, it has made Mr. Rabin's shaky coalition government far more formidable and broken the Likud opposition into quarreling fragments. No wonder the desperate opponents of the accord resort to violence and mayhem.

Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat do not have to like each other. They just have to help each other. They are in the same boat. They will reach shore together, or sink together.

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