Calm Needs to Be Nurtured

July 10, 2003

The attack in Kfar Yavetz, where Mazal Afari was killed, and the initial announcement from Islamic Jihad saying it was responsible, naturally raised concerns about the viability of the cease-fire.

The political events in the Palestinian Authority, including the announcement by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of his resignation from the PLO's central committee and the postponement of his meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, seemingly placed more obstacles on the road map, so much so that it seems the tremendous effort invested to bring the sides closer won't produce the desired results.

But the developments should be put in their proper perspective. The Islamic Jihad renounced the attack and said it is committed to the hudna between the Palestinian organizations; Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin made clear to an Egyptian delegation yesterday that his organization is committed to the cease-fire; and the developments in the Palestinian Authority must be examined in the context of internal Palestinian politics; differences between Abu Mazen and Yasser Arafat and other influential members of the PLO over the political process were to be expected.

However, the cease-fire did not include an insurance policy. It needs nurturing and strengthening by both sides so it can serve as a fulcrum for the road map and from there to fulfillment of the political process. Political elements in Israel, apparently speaking on behalf of the prime minister, said that, despite the attack, the negotiations would continue and that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz would meet with his counterpart Mohammed Dahlan today. Senior officers in the army are under the impression that the Palestinian Authority is making a genuine effort to prevent attacks, and they have discerned a strategic change in the PA's approach to the armed struggle.

For their part, the Palestinians are complaining that Israel is not doing its part in the road map. There's been a halt to the dismantling of the illegal outposts, the army appears to be continuing its policy of pinpoint prevention when there is no certainty about their urgency, there is only partial freedom of movement, and the most important issue, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Israeli approach to the prisoner release, is "pulling the wool over our eyes," as one senior PA official put it.

The cease-fire has to be tested every day, and the frequency of the attacks will determine if it is for real. But its longevity not only depends on the Palestinians, but also on political openness on Israel's part. There is no substantive reason to distinguish between Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners and those from Fatah when deciding on the list of prisoners to be released. And the measure of strictness, despite the important moral aspect, won't help when the purpose is meant to prevent future attacks or at least prevent the collapse of the hudna.

Israel has great interest in strengthening Abu Mazen and the PA so they can build a relevant leadership that enjoys the support of the Palestinian public. Only thusly will it be possible to uproot the terror phenomenon.

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