Back on Track

April 02, 1994

Israel's agreement to the stationing of 160 Norwegian, Danish and Italian soldiers as observers in the Hebron area has put the PLO-Israel negotiations back on track to quick-start Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and Jericho by the end of April.

The Sept. 13 White House accord is alive again. Bilateral talks between Israel and its neighbors Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are resuming with seriousness of purpose. Peace between Israel and its neighbors is again within sight.

This is quite an achievement by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the PLO, after the shock of the Feb. 25 massacre of 30 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by the American-Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein. The March 28 ambush killing of six Fatah militia in Gaza, by undercover Israeli troops, made it more urgent, but not easier.

The joint determination of Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat not to be derailed by the opponents of peace in their own constituencies is a challenge those foes will not ignore. There will be more provocations, willful attempts to start a dynamic of mutual atrocity and distrust, playing on the security fears of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

This was made clear enough by leaders of the extremist Hamas which contests PLO authority in Gaza, and by terrorist leaders in Damascus. It was made equally clear by a rally against the agreement, held Thursday at Kiryat Arba, Dr. Goldstein's home settlement in Hebron. The participation of Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud bloc, lent Israel's main opposition party's approval to calls for civil disobedience and violence to thwart the agreement.

Palestinians in the occupied territories, many of whom have begun to wonder if the promised autonomy would ever materialize, will start to believe it when the first of 8,500 trained Palestinian police arrive to prepare for takeover in Gaza and Jericho late next week.

Those police are going to have to come to grips with Hamas terrorists and their supporters. Israeli authorities are going to have to begin imposing Israeli law on Israeli settlers, some of whom have been a law unto themselves in occupied territories. Israeli and PLO peace-makers know beyond doubt that they will be provoked from these sources.

The undaunted determination that showed in the recent, expedited Cairo talks between Israel and the PLO will be put to the test in embattled Hebron and Gaza and Jericho. The peace-makers must be up to the challenge on the ground, but their goal is in view.

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