More than two months have passed since the deadline of the first of July 1995, which President Yasser Arafat and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared as the day the negotiations were to conclude over the redeploy¬ment of the Israeli forces in the West Bank. The elections, water, and other issues were also on the agenda for those negotiations.
The main obstacle in the negotiations, the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), reared its ugly head again when negotiators started talking about security arrangements in general, and in Hebron in particular. Both sides agreed to divide the area into three cate¬gories: A) the Palestinian cities from which the Israeli army will complete¬ly redeploy, and responsibility will be transferred to the Palestinian Police; B) the Palestinian villages and refugee camps where Israel will have the overriding security, while the Palestinian side will be responsible for inter¬nal security and public order; C) the Jewish settlements and military loca¬tions where Israel will have overall responsibility for security. No real argument is taking place about the responsibility for security in areas A and C, but there is still some argument in area B, where the roads between villages and settlements are used by both Palestinians and settlers. In fact, even in this area, there is a possibility for an agreement: the Palestinians are willing to be flexible on ideas like joint patrols, which have proved to be successful in Gaza.
The real problem is Hebron, where fanatical Jewish rightists succeeded in taking over a few buildings in the old city in the heart of the Islamic neighborhoods. There are now 32 Jewish families, less that 200 residents, some of whom are living in houses they claim belonged to the Jews before 1929. They have evacuated Arab families and occupied the houses. The rest of these Jewish families are living in mobile homes.
Israel insists on excluding Hebron from any arrangements of redeploy¬ment, and assuming sole responsibility for the city. The Palestinians pro¬pose to form joint Israeli-Palestinian police patrols in the city, in order to maintain security and public order. They insist on the principle which was agreed upon in Oslo, that redeployment should include all the territories, without exception. No elections can be conducted in the city under the guns of the Israeli army and armed Jewish settlers. The Hebronites (there are 200,000 of them) insist that they should not be left out of the election process - less than two hundred Jewish settlers in the center of Hebron are complicating the lives of more than 200,000 Palestinians. Evacuating the settlers from the city of Hebron will enable the Palestinians to hold free elections and conduct a normal life within the framework of the interim peace agreements, and will release about 2,000 Israeli soldiers from their work of protecting the 200 settlers.
Israel's reluctance to evacuate these settlers from the heart of Hebron stems from internal Israeli electoral considerations. However, there is no logical justification for its objection to joint patrols in the neighborhood where Israeli settlers and Palestinians live tense lives, side by side.
Whatever compromise over Hebron will be achieved in the negotia¬tions, the settlements and settlers in the OPT will continue to be an indis¬putable obstacle in the path of the negotiations. No real redeployment or withdrawal can be implemented without recognition of the fact that the main aim of the peace process is to put an end to the Israeli Occupation of the OPT, and to achieve a peaceful settlement on the bases of UN Resolution 242, and the principle of trading land for peace.
Instead, Israel maintains the upper hand and conducts negotiations with an approach which keeps things deadlocked. The Israeli attitude is not explicable solely by the approaching Israeli elections - and it is obvi¬ous that the Palestinian police and security forces are doing their best to stop military attacks against Israel, and to prove their credibility in the eyes of their Israeli counterparts and their own public.
The situation will remain difficult at least until the Israeli elections in November 1996. What is needed is a real effort to demonstrate goodwill and good intentions. More Palestinian efforts to disprove the Israelis' feel¬ing that their internal security is endangered, will contribute positively to the process. The Israelis must make an effort to disprove the Palestinian feelings that the Jews intend to keep control over their lives, and will never allow Palestinians to control their own fates.
This means joint efforts. The aim is to enable both sides to live side by side in peace, with mutual respect and mutual recognition. It is definitely possible.