Israel-PLO Stalemate

January 07, 1995

Implementation of the Israel-PLO agreement for Palestinian autonomy is running behind schedule because each side is reluctant to deal with those of its own citizens trying to torpedo it.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Chairman Yasser Arafat of the PLO are scheduled to meet next week in Gaza to overcome roadblocks that have stalemated the negotiating process at a lower level. They have done this before, but never in circumstances so conducive to pessimism.

The PLO has failed to demonstrate it is doing what it can to suppress terrorism against Israelis and the agreement. It apparently fears taking action that might make Hamas more popular. Yet persistent terrorism has deterred Israel from withdrawing troops from West Bank areas on the agreed timetable. This withdrawal and terms of Palestinian elections are next on the agenda.

The position of Israel's settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was put off until the final negotiations. Meanwhile, Israel's cabinet has agreed not to fund settlement building, not to condemn new land for settlements and not to allow new settlements. This allows existing settlements to expand at private expense. But Israel has done too little to restrain belligerent actions by individual settlers in Arab areas, to withdraw a handful of tiny but provocative settlements in Gaza and Hebron requiring more protection than they are worth, and to restrict "enlargement" to contiguous areas.

Particularly ominous in recent days have been shootings of four Palestinians by Israeli troops and the start of construction of 500 residences too far from the settlement of Efrat and too close to the Palestinian town of El Khader. The cabinet's attempt at Solomonic wisdom was to suppress that construction but allow more building closer to Efrat. Both Palestinians and settlers were outraged. The new construction gave rise to a riot between Israeli supporters of Efrat expansion and Israeli members of Peace Now, which supports the accord and wants settlement expansion halted.

What the Rabin cabinet should acknowledge is that the purpose of settlement enlargement is to scuttle the historic agreement. Those settlers want to provoke Palestinian violence, as Hamas wants to provoke Israeli reprisal, in order to shoot down the agreement. The Israeli settlers are not terroristic as Hamas is, though individuals may be. And while these two extremisms are not equivalent to each other, each nourishes and feeds on the other.

Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat must face down the extremists in the populations they are sworn to protect, and should help each other out. They always knew their agreement would entail both obligations, so now they should get on with it.

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