Slowing the peace process helps terrorists

January 30, 1995|By Michael Lerner

AMERICAN AND Israeli rightists who call for a suspension or slowing of Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories provide a powerful incentive for continued acts of terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists. As long as Hamas can count on this kind of response from American Jews and Israeli rightists, they feel rewarded in their disgusting acts of violence against Israelis.

Hamas opposes the Palestine Liberation Organization and seeks persuade the Palestinian population that any kind of peaceful resolution is impossible. They point to the murder of Palestinians in their mosque in Hebron less than a year ago, to the worsening economic conditions in the territories as Israel shuts its borders to exclude Palestinian workers and to the steady growth of settlements in the West Bank. Israel, they say, is preaching peace but actually consolidating its hold on most of the territories and expanding existing settlements. Yasser Arafat, they claim, is a fool who has been duped into supporting Israel's plan to create a few areas of limited autonomy, in the process frustrating Palestinian dreams of full national self-determination.

Aware of the fears of so many Israelis that all Arabs are intractably committed to the destruction of Israel, Hamas encourages its young militants to engage in violence against the occupying army. Israel should take all necessary steps to find and punish those guilty of these unforgivable acts. If necessary, Israel should retaliate, possibly by closing the mosques where this violence is planned and its perpetrators recruited.

But what it must not do is follow the self-defeating advice of American and Israeli rightists who wish to give Hamas precisely what it seeks: evidence that the peace process is useless and that only violent struggle will liberate Palestinians. If Hamas can win on that front, with the support of short-sighted American Jews and Israeli rightists, then it will decisively discredit the PLO and supplant all forces of moderation.

There are some naive rightists who believe that Israel will be more secure if the peace process is stopped. This is nonsense. Terrorism has taken place throughout the Israeli occupation, and no amount of Israeli repression under the previous Likud government stopped it.

The reason for the escalation in the number of acts of terror today stems from one fact: Islamic fundamentalists fear that a successful peace process will discredit them, give credibility to the PLO and prove to many Palestinians that Israel can be trusted. That is why it is so important to them to disrupt the process. And when they hear that their latest act has led Israelis to call for an end to the peace process, they feel encouraged to try more terrorism.

Conversely, nothing would do more to undermine terrorism than for the terrorists to hear that each act of terror was being met with a quickening of the peace process. Under those circumstances, terrorists would soon realize that their actions were strengthening rather than weakening their enemy Arafat.

Unfortunately, Israel has played into the hands of the terrorists by taking actions that have undermined the PLO's credibility among Palestinians. When Israel continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into West Bank construction of roads to service the settlers, when it stalls elections by refusing to comply with the peace accord's stipulation that all troops be withdrawn from West Bank population centers during the balloting, when it closes the borders, barring all Palestinians from their jobs within the Green Line and thus enacts collective punishment on 1.5 million people for the actions of a handful of terrorists, it gives greater strength to Hamas.

Unfortunately, at times Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin acts like President Clinton, shaping policy to fit the latest polls or swings in the public mood, rather than acting like a serious leader with a vision. He would do better to follow the sage advice of Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, who argues that only the escalation of the peace process can protect Israeli lives. It is only when Israel gets a divorce from the Palestinians -- a divorce that must necessarily include dismantling of all those settlements that do not agree to live in peace as Jewish minority citizens of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state -- that it can hope to find respite from these barbarous acts of Islamic terrorism.

Meanwhile, peace-oriented Jews are demanding that Arafat fulfill his promise to abrogate anti-Israel clauses of the Palestinian national covenant and that rational elements in the Islamic community publicly repudiate terrorists who claim to be acting under the mantle of Islamic religious authority.

Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine.

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