Thirteen weeks after the start of the popular uprising in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—which right-wing Israeli politicians and a part of the local press still insist on calling the “unrest,” the “events,” the “discrepancies,” the “disorders” in the territories—it is safe to make at least one sweeping generalization. The status quo, which Likud politicians have long regarded as the best of all possible worlds, is shattered forever.
Twenty years of shortsighted Israeli policies lie battered in the streets of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The writing was on the wall for years, but most Israelis never bothered to read it. Some were distracted by real or imaginary security concerns. The disorienting abstractions of national and international political rhetoric and the ceaseless talk of a nonexistent “peace process,” even among the sensitive, produced a numbness. Self-deception became a prerequisite for survival. Many overlooked the simple fact that since 1967 Israel has not been able to win a war. Other Israelis were blinded by nationalist and religious rhetoric and by the apparent ease and low maintenance costs of a military occupation that for more than two decades has held 1.5 million Palestinians as pawns, or bargaining chips, and as a source of cheap menial labor, while denying them the most basic human rights.
The pawns have now risen to manifest their frustration, their bitterness, and their political will, with a vengeance and determination that surprised everybody in Israel, including themselves and their “leaders” and “spokesmen” in the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization in distant Tunis. The actual uprising appears to have been entirely spontaneous. A bad traffic accident in the Gaza Strip gave rise to wild rumors blaming the Israeli security services for the deaths that took place. The protest demonstrations quickly spilled over to the West Bank. In retrospect it is not surprising that the lid first blew off in Gaza, where the situation is at its most nightmarish. Into this narrow strip of land only some ten kilometers wide and thirty-six kilometers long, where the population density is already among the highest in the world, the Israelis have introduced two thousand Jewish settlers. They live on public or confiscated land in resort-like enclaves surrounded by wretched refugee camps.
In Gaza the social problems seem even more overwhelming than the political ones. The Palestinians living in the strip have been stateless since 1948. Neither Egypt before 1967 nor Israel after 1967 were ready formally to annex the area for fear of burdening themselves with an immense social problem. (The current population of 633,000 is estimated to reach one million by 2004.) The bitterness, hopelessness, and frustration, especially in the refugee camps, are compounded by the results of forty-one years of repression—until 1967 by the Egyptians and since 1967 by the Israeli Army. In Gaza the uprising was marked by strong Islamic fundamentalist feelings reminiscent of those expressed in the Iranian revolts of a decade ago—the new revolts are not only against the traditional leadership but against the conditions in which young people felt permanently trapped.
In Gaza as in the West Bank, the uprising was led by a few thousand teen-agers and even younger boys and girls, armed with nothing but stones and slingshots and occasional Molotov bottles—a children’s crusade. Within a few weeks they seem to have achieved more for the Palestinian cause (though not necessarily for the PLO) than Yasser Arafat and his prosperous supporters or terrorists have in thirty years.
One result of the uprising is a deep crisis within Israeli politics and society, which will never be the same again. The surprise and the resultant trauma recall the shock of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The uprising and the continuing difficulties in suppressing it to “restore order” provide a lesson in the limits of power. Israelis have long had a problem with the uses of power. Zionism was intended to give defenseless Jews a measure of power to determine their fate. Ever since, Zionists have philosophized about power. After the Holocaust it became a Zionist article of faith that “powerlessness” had been the main cause for the destruction of European Jewry. As a result, Israeli attitudes toward power have consistently been complex and sometimes neurotically contradictory, marked by a curious inability to make the needed distinction between power and violence.
The military victory of 1967, which was not translated into political results, i.e., peace, served only to confuse the issue further. Because Israel in 1967 conquered the territories while defending itself against a foreign threat, Israelis came out of that war still feeling weak when in reality they were strong, the dominant military power in the region. They might have been “generous victors” after 1967 and reached a kind of peace with the Palestinians in the occupied territories and with the Arab countries. But being human, and having been insecure for so many years, they desired absolute security, the kind that they could have only if the Arabs felt thoroughly insecure. The late Israeli historian Jacob Talmon used to warn against “the obsessive desires” awakened by the war of 1967; they constituted, he argued, a dangerous departure from what Freud had called the reality principle.
Talmon’s warnings were proven tragically right during the Israeli intervention in Lebanon, which is still not over, and most recently again in the West Bank and Gaza. Power displays a strange impotence when, as in the case of Israel, it exceeds its defensive role and becomes violence. In 1967 it took the Israeli Army a day to take Gaza and fewer than three days to seize the entire West Bank. The same army—at least three times as strong now and equipped with the latest, most sophisticated weapons—has so far been unable to quell the riots in these territories and pacify a turbulent population.
The present uprising is the result of an astounding lack of foresight, imagination, and political empathy on the part of successive Israeli political leaders. They have allowed a situation to develop in the territories that was hopeless from the start and that could be sustained over the years only by force and more force. Political mistakes were compounded by the inadequacy and slovenliness of a military administration in the territories that in the beginning was quite liberal but that deteriorated and was increasingly corrupted over the years by neglect, by low pay, and by unlimited, or arbitrary, power. Men sometimes admit mistakes. Bureaucracies almost never do. They make their errors legitimate by administering them, later on.
More than ninety Palestinians have died so far.* Hundreds have been wounded and beaten up by truncheon-wielding troops who follow orders that are at best confused and at worst downright brutal. But the riots continue and are now in their fourth month. The hospitals in Gaza and elsewhere are filled with youngsters suffering from broken arms or legs, or both. The demonstrators so far are convinced of their “successes.” The resulting euphoria has produced remarkable acts of daring and the extraordinarily high level of social discipline—even without real leaders—that has often been observed in so-called revolutionary moments. Food and other necessities are often shared.
The riots seem carefully timed to break out in one locality and then another; and this suggests central planning. Palestinian medical teams regularly tour the turbulent areas and look after wounded people who are afraid to enter hospitals for fear of being arrested. There are plenty of firearms in the occupied territories and it could not have been hard for the rioters to lay hands on them. Yet despite the widespread revolutionary fervor, in three months of uprising the rioters have not fired a single shot. They are said to obey the strict orders of the committees. A surgeon in charge of the intensive care unit at Tel Hashamer medical center near Tel Aviv, Dr. Raphael Wolden (Shimon Peres’s son-in-law, as it happens), told the press that he was treating a painfully wounded youth, seventeen years old, who had just been brought in, and who, when asked for his name, groaned only, “Jihad, jihad.”
Thousands of Palestinians have been arrested, hundreds of thousands more have been intimidated and placed under prolonged house arrest in the recurrent curfews imposed upon villages, refugee camps, and entire cities. But the uprising, which authorities expected to quell within a few days, continues into its fourth month. Curfews often mean disconnected telephones and cuts in the supply of electricity. Men are hauled out of their houses in the middle of the night and made to stand in the village square until morning, and there are many similar acts of collective punishment. And yet the rioting continues. The press no longer reports each riot in detail, but speaks generally of rising or abating waves of violence or unrest. A typical newscast from the government-controlled radio the other day ran: “Two rioters were shot yesterday in the Shata refugee camp in Gaza…. Nevertheless in the Gaza strip yesterday there was relative quiet.”
Even when there is no curfew in Gaza, in Nablus, Bethlehem, or East Jerusalem, Palestinian cities seem deserted. Inhabitants shut themselves in; stores are closed, except at certain hours, which are determined by secret local committees so that people can buy food and other necessities. The government has tried to cut the flow of PLO funds from abroad that support the strikes by Palestinian merchants. But the commercial strikes continue as before, undeterred by tough fiscal and administrative countermeasures.
The demonstrators continue to march through the debris and the black smoke of burning tires, past shuttered stores, chanting slogans, waving flags. Little boys run ahead firing slingshots at the troops summoned to disperse them. The troops—nowadays many are reservists—look clumsy by comparison; they move slowly, with their heavy equipment, their walkie-talkies, M-16 rifles in one hand and truncheons in the other. Helicopters hover overhead dropping tear gas from the air. Between twenty and forty thousand troops are said to be engaged in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jersualem. When they are not dispersing demonstrations or chasing boys through the narrow alleys of the Nablus casbah or the refugee camps, where the sewers run open between the ramshackle huts, in an air thick with the hatreds and resentments from tragedies suffered forty years ago and since sustained, the soldiers concentrate on keeping the main highways open and on protecting some one hundred Israeli settlements established in the territories since their occupation in 1967.
They cannot be everywhere. Almost every night Palestinian villagers and inmates of refugee camps roll out more rocks and boulders onto secondary roads to block access to their villages or camps. They hang up Palestinian flags, sing songs, and declare their villages or camps “liberated Palestinian territory.” Then the army moves in again—too often with entirely gratuitous brutality, shattering furniture, slashing tires, smashing window panes and solar heating panels. Bulldozers arrive and clear away the rocks. A few youths are taken aside and brutally beaten. Others are arrested. Panicstricken mothers scream and army officers plead with old men (who protest their impotence) to maintain calm. A week later the same scene occurs once again.
At first there was some concern in army circles that soldiers—especially civilians on reserve duty—would resent doing “dirty police work” and even refuse to obey orders; for this reason only regular troops or fresh recruits were used (many of them no older than the Palestinian youngsters who were stoning them). The concern proved unjustified. In the short run, the individual reaction of soldiers stoned or cursed may well be hawkish and brutal. In the long run, their reaction as citizens may well be dovish (as it was in Lebanon) and in favor of “getting rid of these territories.” Paradoxically, the riots have lent a human dimension to the Palestinian cause; before the riots it was an evil abstraction. Now one can see particular men and women and children rioting for their rights. One lieutenant colonel was recently quoted in the daily Davar as saying: “When I read about Waldheim in the papers I worry how the future will interpret what I am doing in the territories today.”
The so-called civil administration in the territories (a misnomer on both the West Bank and Gaza, it is a branch of the military and is run by army officers) is on the verge of collapse because of the voluntary or forced resignations or absenteeism of locally recruited Palestinians who work for it. Other collaborators with the Israeli occupation regime are under constant threat. One was publicly lynched by a mob. Since the beginning of the uprising, there has been little if any evidence of the much-heralded efficacy of the Israeli secret services. In the past they were adept at infiltrating terrorist cells and quickly extracting vital information from arrested suspects. But they overlooked or misjudged the tension that was mounting in the West Bank, in Gaza, and even in “reunited” Jerusalem throughout most of last year.
The uprising itself could have been forecast years ago by even the dumbest observer who toured the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. And yet the security services were fooled by the relative scarcity or inefficacy of overt terrorist acts. Months before the actual uprising the growing tension was more than evident in the rising number of unconnected local outbursts of spontaneous violence. More and more cars were stoned. Several Israelis were knifed as they walked through the Arab quarter in Jerusalem, etc. The security services are only slightly more effective now, even though the uprising is already being institutionalized here and there through secret “guidance committees” that have been set up in villages and neighborhoods. There seem to be at least a dozen major committees. Despite house searches and more than two thousand arrests the military authorities have not yet been able to apprehend a single member. Their identity is not known. They may be more or less radical than Arafat; they certainly control the field better than Arafat and his cohorts in the PLO ever did.
Clearly a new leadership class is growing underground. It still pays lip service to the PLO bureaucracy abroad, but the true extent of its dependence on the PLO is not known. The PLO is apparently now trying to coordinate these committees from afar through the direct-dialing international telephone. But from all I have heard, the PLO is not, or not yet, controlling events. Nor apparently is the uprising controlled by well-known local Palestinians identified with the PLO, such as the Al Fair editor Hanna Siniora or the Gaza lawyer Fayez Abu Rahma, who both met with Secretary Shultz last month in Washington and who are constantly being interviewed by the international press. The futility of some of the current Israeli political debate is nowhere better illustrated than in the argument over whether it is “legitimate” to negotiate with Siniora and Abu Rahma or whether they should be jailed as supporters of the PLO. For whoever leads the uprising—perhaps no one does—is not likely to let Siniora, Abu Rahma, and the other traditional leaders benefit from it.
“Israel is now learning a very simple truth, which should have been known to us from the days of confronting the British army in Palestine in 1945–47,” Shlomo Avineri, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jersualem and a former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, wrote the other day. “An army can beat an army, but an army cannot beat a people.” Historians have known this for a long time, Avineri wrote, but “military men and politicians (and too many of Israel’s politicians are former military men)” apparently don’t grasp it. They are good at calculating guns, airplanes, tanks, and missiles. “What cannot be counted—like a people’s will—just does not appear in their quantified map of the world.”
The man in charge of the policy of “force, power, beatings”—all of which have shown little result so far—is that quintessential man of quantified thought, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He is a former military man with little if any interest in ideas, and no known deep convictions. He has been telling the Palestinians in recent weeks that rioting will get them nothing. He may be right, but his admonition might have been more effective if something tangible had been offered them during the twenty-one years of creeping annexation. It was always too early or too late to address their needs or, alternatively, to reach an accommodation with Jordan. In 1967, as chief of staff of the victorious Israeli Army, Rabin was regarded as symbolizing the tremendous achievement of gaining so much territory as a bargaining chip for peace. Today he is the living symbol of how that opportunity was missed.
In 1968 Rabin aroused the anger of the right wing by announcing that it would not be a disaster if, once there was peace and after the withdrawal of the Israeli Army, Israelis would have to apply for Arab visas in order to visit Hebron. Later he became an ardent supporter of “territorial compromise,” the partition of the occupied West Bank between Israel and Jordan, with East (Arab) Jerusalem remaining in Israeli hands. The partition project was first put forward by Yigal Allon, another former military man and Rabin’s political mentor. Allon’s plan, first formulated a few weeks after the 1967 war, envisaged the intensive settlement and annexation by Israel of a strip of land on the west bank of the Jordan. This was seen as a kind of barricade against invasion. Most of the rest of the West Bank would come under Jordanian control.
Since no agreement was reached, that strip, at first narrow and relatively short, continued to widen until (in the latest version of Allon’s plan, prior to his death in 1980) it included most of the occupied West Bank, with the exception of a few enclaves heavily settled by Palestinians around Nablus and Ramallah. The plan, in its several versions, was repeatedly offered to King Hussein of Jordan in secret meetings over the years by Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres. It was always rejected. Hussein is said to have told his Israeli interlocutors, including only last April Rabin himself: “I am ready to make peace with Israel but only in return for Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. I shall not survive if I settle for less. For anything less than complete withdrawal you must deal with the PLO.”
Like most of his colleagues in the cabinet, notably Prime Minister Shamir but not, apparently, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Rabin at first misread the uprising and, seemingly unconcerned, left for a visit to the US. Peres did not reprimand him. Just as Shamir is challenged on the right by Sharon, another ex-army man, so Peres’s leadership within the Labour party is constantly threatened by Rabin. When Rabin returned almost two weeks later the uprising was in full swing. Suggesting that it was fomented by foreign agents, including those of Iran, he promised to put an end to it within a few days. Ten days later he surmised that perhaps a few weeks more would be necessary to restore law and order. Early in January he corrected this estimate to a few months, but assured his listeners that order would most definitely be restored. A week later he reversed himself and confessed that things would probably never return to what they had been before December. The uprising, he now said, was a new kind of war and Israel would have to live with it for the foreseeable future. With each subsequent statement he seemed angrier, pounding the table with his fist in response to irritating questions from reporters.
At the same time Rabin repeated his conviction that military measures would never resolve the problem, that there was only a political solution. Remarkably, despite the events of the past three months, the Palestinians are not a key to it. The only solution, he announced in early March, is an agreement with Jordan that would leave some 500,000 Palestinians on the West Bank under Israeli rule in an Israel that would be expanded around Jerusalem and along the Jordan river. In an exchange recently shown on Israeli television between Rabin and a Palestinian father in Gaza, who was shouting that innocent children including his own were being hideously beaten by the troops and that “this cannot go on, what shall we do, what shall we do?” Rabin said: “You talk with Hussein! You talk with the Syrians! Then we all sit down at the table and find a very easy solution.” The Palestinian looked very puzzled at this advice, and Rabin walked away, surrounded by bodyguards, aides, photographers, and sound men. A Palestinian in Nablus interviewed on the same day remarked: “The Israelis deserve better leaders and the Palestinians too.” Shamir said a few days before that first and most important there was a need to reinstill fear in the hearts of the Palestinians. Another Labour minister, known for his hawkish views, was reliably quoted as saying that at the root of the crisis was the Palestinians’ euphoria. “Before we get anywhere we must wipe those smirks off their lips.”
The end of the status quo is nowhere so painful and so dramatic as in Jerusalem. Twenty-one years after “reunification” (the neat euphemism given after the Six Day War to the conquest of East Jerusalem by the Israeli Army) Jerusalem has in a sense again become a divided city. It was never, of course, as united as was claimed. Palestinians and Israelis continued to live and work apart from each other, in separate quarters, much as though the city were still divided by mine fields and barbed wire, with two distinctly separate downtown districts, two business centers, two transportation systems, two electric power grids.
Whatever interaction and coexistence had been worked out came to an end when the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem joined the uprising in December. There are now, in effect, No-Go areas in Jerusalem, as in Belfast. Arabs are reluctant to enter the Jewish quarters and most Israelis dare not enter the Arab quarters. A private security company in West Jerusalem is now offering businessmen and others “safe” rides to East Jerusalem and the occupied territories in specially equipped cars with armed escorts. The commercial strike in East Jerusalem, announced in leaflets by a secret coordination committee in December, has been meticulously observed for more than two months now—longer than anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza—despite harsh countermeasures by the authorities. Christian Arabs living in Jerusalem have in the past rarely participated in Palestinian protests; Christian church leaders were known for their good personal relationships and cooperation with Mayor Teddy Kollek. But Arab Christians now openly identify with the uprising. The leaders of the Christian churches in Jerusalem recently published a joint statement in support of the Palestinian struggle, calling upon their congregations to take part.
East Jerusalem, including much of the Old City within the medieval walls, is a ghost town these days. Heavily armed troops patrol the deserted streets. Some neighborhoods have taken on the air of a war zone. Newsmen follow their beats in cars clearly marked PRESS or TELEVISION as in Nicaragua and Honduras. To avoid being stoned by their own people Palestinian drivers prominently display keffiyehs around their necks. Curfews (unheard-of in Jerusalem since 1967) have been imposed on certain turbulent quarters (A-Tur on the Mount of Olives and Antha, the biblical Anathot, birthplace of the prophet Jeremiah). In December the authorities ordered all schools in East Jerusalem shut. They have remained closed ever since. After thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites tore up their Israeli identity cards in what was described as a collective act of destruction, the minister of social welfare curtailed the automatic transfer of social security payments into their bank accounts. He announced that Arab beneficiaries must now present themselves in person each month and show they are still in possession of an identity card. Israeli buses and cars continue to be stoned or fire-bombed almost daily as they drive through or along the edge of the Arab sectors. Though it is possible to reach the western wall by a roundabout route, the great plaza facing the wall, which attracted thousands of visitors daily before the riots, has been almost deserted in recent weeks.
When the first great riot erupted in December, Mayor Teddy Kollek was over-heard telling a friend in a broken voice: “My life-work is ruined.” No other man in the past twenty years has done as much as Kollek to keep Jerusalem united; few men have worked harder for coexistence. Few have tried as much as he did to break the walls of hatred and suspicion that divide Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. His power unfortunately never extended beyond the municipality to national politics. Criticizing the conventional Israeli view of Jerusalem as an Israeli nationalist icon, he said in 1985 that “in order to preserve peace and justice in Jerusalem we must go beyond the conventional formulas of national sovereignty, beyond the fears and prejudices that drive nations into wars, and search for new forms of freedom and of political organization.” He too never got around to working out the new formulas that would go beyond conventional sovereignty.
Nor would it have made much difference if he had, since the powers of mayors in Israel are notoriously narrow. Kollek cannot move a bus stop from one street corner to the next in Jerusalem without authorization from the minister of transport. He proposed at one point to divide the city into semi-autonomous boroughs, Arab and Jewish, with the post of president of the Greater Jerusalem Council rotating among the national and religious communities. The scheme was vetoed by the central government and Kollek was savagely attacked by right-wingers as an “Arab lover.” Kollek then requested a former Supreme Court justice to prepare a draft constitution for the borough system. The draft was shelved as soon as it was finished.
Kollek was recently seen on television talking to a Jewish woman in East Talpiot, a new suburb built after 1967 beyond the old demarcation line. “I am scared,” the woman said. “I am also scared,” Kollek replied. He looked tired and depressed and older than his seventy-six years. “Coexistence in Jerusalem,” he said, “is dead.”
In November Kollek and the municipal councilors will stand for office in separate elections. Kollek’s own election as mayor is assured. Elections to the council, however, are not direct but proportional, on the basis of party lists. If Kollek loses his narrow majority in the City Council, as he well may, since it was the Arab vote that gave him his narrow edge and the Arabs are very likely to boycott the next elections, Kollek will be powerless after November 1988.
Thirteen weeks after the uprising began, Israel is a changed country. Issues that most people thought could be put off for another five or ten years suddenly have an unprecedented urgency. One’s sense of time has been radically altered, changed by the stone throwers and by the Shultz initiative. Shultz went into action last month as a result of the Reagan administration’s unexpected shift from tacit support for the Likud’s “do-nothing-Israel-knows-best-what’s-good-for-it” policy to active sponsorship of what until very recently was still almost anathema—an international peace conference with the participation of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and “the parties involved in the Israeli–Arab conflict.” (This is a new formula: it does not exclude the PLO if the PLO will accept Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and renounce violence and terrorism.)
The Shultz initiative has not so far produced results, but it continues, and it seems to be developing a dynamic of its own which some Israeli observers warn—and others hope—could lead in the not-too-distant future to some kind of imposed settlement. Always low-key, without the histrionics of Kissinger, Secretary Shultz seems almost reluctantly to have gone further toward a peace negotiation than virtually anyone would have expected. In a few weeks of intensive diplomacy, he has launched a negotiation formula tied to a tight timetable that no one so far has dared to reject, although King Hussein wants it changed here and there and Prime Minister Shamir has made it clear there is much about it he doesn’t like. The game being played has been described by the London Economist as a bicycle race, where the trick is to pedal as slowly as you can but without toppling over, in the hope that the other cyclists will fall first. It is still possible that no one will. Only Arafat has not mounted a bicycle—only he has rejected the Shultz initiative so far. (Arafat has never missed the chance to lose an opportunity.) President Mubarak of Egypt has welcomed the Shultz initiative. King Hussein of Jordan has seen “many positive elements” in it. Shimon Peres has accepted it wholeheartedly. Even Shamir on his recent visit to Washington, where he had gone to sound out Reagan and inter alia launch his upcoming election campaign, has carefully avoided saying “no.” And even a clearcut no by Shamir could not have been a last word. Israel’s position in Washington is not what it used to be. It is likely to become even more delicate after the US presidential election.
The Shultz initiative is the fifth American attempt to make peace in the Middle East since the 1967 war. Two initiatives were successful (Henry Kissinger’s in 1975 and Jimmy Carter’s in 1978—both led to the 1979 Egyptian–Israeli peace treaty). Two initiatives failed (Rogers’s in 1970 and Reagan’s in 1982); both envisaged considerable territorial concessions by Israel in return for peace. Both were scuttled at a very early stage, at Israel’s instigation, by the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington. The Shultz initiative is the first US peace effort in the Middle East that seemed from its outset to be supported by some important members and organizations of the American Jewish community. In years past, these organizations often acted as a pro-Israeli lobby in America; but during the past few weeks some of the most important among them have emerged as, in effect, a pro-American pressure group in Jerusalem, asking Shamir to accept the Shultz plan, urging him to trade peace for territory. Even Morris Abram, on behalf of the presidents of some forty Jewish organizations in the US, while publicly defending Israel, is reported to have warned Shamir privately that the tide was turning against Israel in the US.
In the meantime, as the uprising in the territories continues, the spiraling effect of riot and repression leads both sides to resort to more and more extreme measures. The leaders of the uprising, whoever they are, are trying to bring the uprising to a new peak. They have successfully enforced mass resignations of policemen and civilian government employees in the territories—with chaotic results. And the Israeli authorities are responding with harsher and more indiscriminate punitive measures: power and telephone lines have been cut to entire villages, and travel has been banned between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both sides are constantly adding fuel to the fires of resentment. In this struggle between unequals, most observers expect the Palestinians to wear out first, though this may take time and many lives. As harder and harder repressive measures are applied in the territories, Israel’s international image is tarnished too. Israeli exports to the European Common Market countries are now said to be in real jeopardy.
The gulf dividing Peres and Shamir has widened as a result of the latter’s futile attempt in Washington to talk Reagan and Shultz out of the initiative. Both Shamir and Peres are likely to bolt the coalition government any minute now and call for elections. With the scheduled Israeli elections only months away in any event, political calculations rather than acts of statesmanship have been uppermost in the minds of Peres and Shamir, as in the minds of their allies and rivals within their own parties.
After his visit to Washington Shamir’s men proudly proclaimed his successes there: even though he had stood up to Shultz and Reagan, the alliance between the two countries is as solid as ever. Peres countered by saying that Israel’s problems were not with the US administration but with US public opinion and the US Jewish community. Peres, who ever since his secret meeting with King Hussein in London in April last year has been calling for an international conference, claimed that Shamir’s obstructionism had cost Israel a year. If the international conference had taken place last summer, perhaps the uprising would not have broken out. Moreover, the terms now proposed by Shultz with their tight timetable, Peres complained, were tougher than those he had agreed on with Hussein last April. In his heart Peres may well be praying for a solution imposed by the big powers. In early March he told a closed meeting that 1988 in some ways resembled 1948—the year Israel was founded. In the strained silence that followed he added that, as in 1948, in 1988 “Israel’s fate will be decided.”
—Jerusalem, March 17, 1988
BEWARE OF MARCH
March 1975: At a crucial moment during Henry Kissinger’s negotiations on the second interim agreement between Egypt and Israel, a boatload of PLO terrorists land on the Tel Aviv beach. They break into the Hotel Savoy and kill seven hostages.
March 1978: After Sadat’s flight to Jerusalem and at the height of the Egyptian–Israeli peace negotiations another boatload of PLO terrorists lands on the beach near Caesarea. Thirty-five passengers on an interurban bus are massacred by them on the Tel Aviv–Haifa highway.
March 1988: Barely a week after George Shultz presents his initiative to King Hussein and to Mr. Peres and Mr. Shamir, PLO terrorists cross the Egyptian–Israeli frontier south of Beersheba. They seize a busload of women and kill two hostages and one man before being overwhelmed by special Israeli forces.
The common denominator of these three attacks appears to be an effort by the PLO or elements within the PLO to try to sabotage the Arab–Israeli peace process at a point when it seems to be taking off.
April 14, 1988
Most were shot; twenty-one are said to have died by asphyxiation by tear gas (including three babies less than seven months old, a boy of twelve, and one man a hundred years old). Seven are said to have died as a result of beatings (including one fourteen-year-old boy and a man aged sixty). ↩