Nothing can obscure the fact that the good faith built up in the
region so laboriously (and in spite of many ups and downs) during
the Rabin and Peres governments, has been dissipated by the
govermment of Binyamin Netanyahu since it took office in June
Under the former government, Israel signed the Oslo accords, handed
over most of the Gaza Strip and nine Palestinian cities to the
Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and enabled the first free
elections ever to take place in Palestinian territory. It also made
peace with Jordan and began to develop relations elsewhere in the
Arab world, such as the Gulf States and the Maghreb countries. A
new atmosphere was developing in the region.
Following Netanyahu's taking over, relations, not only with the
PNA, but also with Egypt and Jordan, began to deteriorate, as the
Arab world once again regarded Israel with hostility and suspicion.
No wonder that in such circumstances a question mark hangs over the
peace process and one sees a resurgence of violence and even the
clouds of war once again threatening in the Middle East.
Israel's renewed isolation was manifested in the United Nations
when, in December 1996, the General Assembly adopted 24 resolutions
critical of Israel, with the support of around 150 countries and
opposed only by Israel itself and usually the USA. The European
Union supported nearly all these resolutions, which dealt with
issues like Palestinian self-determination, settlements, Jerusalem
and the refugee problem. The picture was repeated in February 1997
over the Israeli decision to build a Jewish quarter at Har Homa
Gabal Abu Ghneim) in East Jerusalem. (In addition to his other
worries, Netanyahu's government faces in the "Bar-On affair" an
enquiry reminding some observers of Watergate).
Summing up the first half year in office of Binyamin Netanyahu,
Labor MK Uzi Baram called him "the worst prime minister Israel ever
had." H~ said that "it is now clear that there will not be peace
because Netanyahu doesn't want it...He pays lip service to the
political process but doesn't believe in it."
It is feared that following the Hebron agreement with the
Pales~ans, the Israeli government has no intention of promoting the
peace process as agreed upon in the Oslo accords, nor of entering
into a serious dialogue with Syria.
But there is another side to the coin. The commitment of the Likud
leader (however grudging) to honor the Oslo agreement in his talks
with Arafat, the readiness to transfer territory to the PNA and to
acquiesce in some form of expanded autonomy - these, in effect,
herald the end of the Greater Israel concept which was the banner
of Israel's nationalist and religious camp.
Further, Netanyahu is the most Americanized prime minister in
Israel's history. The whole of his political thinking was shaped in
the USA, including his positions both on socioeconomic affairs and
on Israel's position in the world, particularly as regards the USA
Aware of the American interest in a peaceful resolution of the
Middle Eastern conflict, Netanyahu would be reluctant to be seen by
the USA as an obstacle to peace. Particularly in Clinton's second
term, would it not be disastrous for Netanyahu's political future
were he to follow policies endangering the peace process? Such
perspectives would also have grave economic as well as political
ramifications. Netanyahu's policies have already brought about an
economic slowdown. The peace process boosted the Israeli economy.
Blocking it could threaten the present standard of living enjoyed
by most Israelis.
Though much depends on Israel's partners, the Israeli leader has a
cru<;ial role to play in peace making. While at home he faces
nationalist-religious pressure from more extreme elements within
his coalition, he can rely upon the more dovish opposition in the
Knesset to bolster any peace moves he might make.
Unlike his tougher predecessor Yitzhak Shamir, there is much
opportunism and unpredictability in Netanyahu's zigzag course. For
instance, his decision to build a new Jewish settlement in East
Jerusalem at Har Homa Oabal Abu Ghneim), though resting on broad
support in the Israeli political spectrum, was seen by the
Palestinians and the Syrians as "a declaration of war."
Nearby Gilo or Ramot or Giv'at Ze'ev were built in spite of
Palestinian protests on land expropriated from them. The difference
is that there was then no peace process. A unilateral act in
Jerusalem so manifestly endangering the peace process was bound to
arouse the strongest protest from the Palestinians, the whole Arab
world, Europe and the international community, and to antagonize
The crisis was exacerbated by Israel's proposals, taken without any
prior discussions with the Palestinians, over the extent of
redeployment by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The Israeli leader
is playing with fire and the result is a new vicious cycle of
extremism, desperation and violence.
Lacking authority and consistency, the Israeli prime minister is
seemingly incapable of withstanding pressure at home and impervious
to the broader ramifications of his policies. His decisions are not
part of a broad concept, for the sole "vision" which appears to
move him is that of remaining in power. After taking a positive
step like signing the Hebron agreement, which enhances the peace
process, he follows with the disastrous Har Homa Oabal Abu Ghneim)
decision which undermines all confidence in his real intentions.
Without that degree of mutual confidence which Netanyahu constantly
fails to engender, the future of the peace process is
Only time will tell whether Netanyahu will approach the fateful
decisions which lie ahead in the permanent-status negotiations in
the understanding that nothing can be attained without a genuine
respect for the other party and a sincere readiness for compromise.
Meanwhile, the omens don't look too hopeful.
We hope our readers will enjoy this double issue and we
apologize again for our being behind schedule.