'Where's the peace, security?' Israelis asking in frustration Netanyahu's policies questioned by some as terror attacks persist

September 08, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- The graffiti at a Jerusalem construction site appeared the day after three suicide bombs tore through the city's cafe and boutique district last week: "Bibi, where's the peace? Where's the security? What is our hope?"

Invoking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pledge to bring "peace with security," the artist questioned Netanyahu's leadership since his election in May 1996. Peace is no closer than when he took office, and the terror attacks that led to the downfall of the previous, Labor Party-led government have persisted.

The graffiti artist's cynical tone reflects the frustration of some Israelis who feel Netanyahu's hard-line policies have led to the present stalemate in the Middle East peace process.

"Whomever believed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in his possession a magic formula that would lead to calm in the Middle East now sees that the cruel realties of the region are more powerful than any political prescription, no matter the polish with which it is forwarded," wrote Helmi Shalev, a political columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv.

Netanyahu is also confronting renewed concerns over Israel's military presence in South Lebanon. This follows the deaths of 12 Israeli commandos in a failed raid last week and the slaying yesterday of an Israeli soldier by pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas in South Lebanon.

Opposition leaders are fueling the debate. But even Ariel Sharon, a Cabinet minister and head of Israel's 1982 Lebanon invasion, says the current policy in South Lebanon must change.

"Lebanon has become a real burden to Israel; and there is a need to release ourselves from this burden," Sharon wrote in a recent column in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "All minds should be mobilized immediately because in Lebanon a costly battle is going on."

Yesterday, several Cabinet ministers called for a special meeting on Lebanon, and Foreign Minister David Levy urged "a fundamental assessment." Netanyahu promised a review, but said Israeli forces would remain in a narrow buffer zone in Lebanon.

On the Middle East peace question, Netanyahu's supporters don't blame him for the recent suicide bombings. They point to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his coddling of Islamic militant groups that oppose peace with Israel.

"When you have a partner like Arafat, who kisses Hamas, how can he [Netanyahu] stand on his promise?" said Ofer Janassof, a jewelry store owner in Jerusalem who voted for Netanyahu. "It's not Netanyahu's fault."

Janassof was referring to Arafat's televised embrace of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, a founder of the Islamic group Hamas who supports armed struggle against Israel. The militant wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for Thursday's suicide bombings on Ben Yehuda Street and the July 30 terrorist attack at a Jerusalem market.

"We don't have a partner for peace," said Janassof, as he stood outside a shop on Ben Yehuda Street that was damaged in last week's blasts.

A series of suicide bombings last year helped defeat former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, an architect of the peace accords with the Palestinians. During the campaign, Netanyahu offered Israelis the chance to have "peace with security."

Netanyahu's first 10 months in office were bomb-free. Then, in March, a bomb exploded inside a Tel Aviv cafe. Suicide bombings in Jerusalem markets have followed. Nearly 30 people, including six bombers, have died.

The bombings showed that a hard-liner such as Netanyahu was as vulnerable to terrorist attacks as his dovish predecessors. Netanyahu still believes a secure peace is achievable, but he insists that the Palestinians dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in their areas. Until then, Israel will freeze the transfer of additional land to Palestinian control -- a major tenet of their peace accords.

The arrival this week of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will keep the issue in the forefront. She, too, demands that Arafat exert a 100 percent effort to stem terrorist activity in the Palestinian self-ruled areas.

But Arafat has a dilemma: Cracking down on the militant, but popular Islamic organizations might cause him problems in his constituency. Some Middle East analysts contend that Arafat's attempts to bring Hamas and the other groups within his circle may cause him trouble later.

"Allowing militias in his own territories is not a good way to build a state," said Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu accuses the Palestinians of doing nothing to dismantle the terror infrastructure in their areas. But others argue that Israel is asking Arafat to accomplish something that Israel couldn't achieve even during its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat contends that he is fighting terrorism. But Inbar disagrees and points to Arafat's failures to confiscate weapons that are not permitted under the peace accords signed in Oslo, Norway.

Other analysts argue that Netanyahu's decisions to expand settlements and limit the amount of land to be returned to the Palestinians have weakened Arafat's position. Arafat cannot deliver the dividends of peace, which leads to increased public support for armed militants.

But "there is still a belief on the part of many that a right-wing government is better in terms of security because they strike back more forcefully than a Labor government," said Yossi Olmert, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Hebrew University. "If the current wave [of terror] continues, and there is more of the same, this trust may erode."

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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