Setback in Gaza

November 26, 1994

Never was it more obvious that Israel's government and friends of the peace process have a stake in the survival of Yasser Arafat and the Palestine self-governing authority. The embryonic Palestine in Gaza and Jericho needs law and order, economic development and optimism about the future.

The meeting in Spain Thursday between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat recognized this need. The Israel-PLO negotiations next week on Palestinian elections and Israeli withdrawal can help.

The unrest that saw Mr. Arafat's Palestine police slay 12 Hamas demonstrators on Nov. 18 was a political victory for that extremist group. In the negotiating that followed, the PLO's monopoly on authority was diluted. Fact-finding was negotiated. Israeli Arabs brokered a peace between Hamas and Fatah, the strongest component of the PLO, after which Hamas canceled a rally scheduled for yesterday. Hamas has emerged with greater legitimacy.

Earlier Hamas terrorism in Israel provoked Israel to demand Mr. Arafat crack down and close borders to Palestinian workers. This made Gazans poorer and desperate, sending more into the arms of Hamas. Mr. Arafat, the State Department and Mr. Rabin all understand that the way to break that vicious dynamic is to make Palestine work.

Easier said than done. Last year, a conference of donor nations pledged $2.4 billion to rebuild Palestine. The PLO did not live up to accounting standards. Major donors did not fork over. A decline in revenues in Saudi Arabia, facing increasing disquiet of its own, creates doubts that pledges will ever be fulfilled. The recent congressional elections in this country portend a likely shrinkage in U.S. aid.

Mr. Arafat was under Israeli pressure to crack down on terror, but the slaughter of demonstrators by panicky police was counter-productive. So far, Mr. Arafat has not been effective in convincing Gaza Palestinians of what should be the obvious truth -- that Hamas is trying to destroy autonomy to bring about more suffering on their part to help its political agenda.

In an optimistic scenario, international donors would come through with aid to kick-start the Palestinian economy, the PLO would rely more on the residents of the place it is trying to govern, Israel would reopen borders to workers, and Palestinians would see through the strident hysteria of Hamas. The obligation to bring this about is not on any one of the players in the Middle East peace process, but on all of them.

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