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ANALYSIS: DEAL REPRESENTS SHIFTS.

Byline: Serge Schmemann The New York Times

Even in the self-congratulatory sparkle of the East Room of the White House, the words of caution rang loud and clear. If it took 19 months of blood and insult and nine days of extraordinary round-the-clock wrangling just to do things that were supposed to have been done months ago, what superhuman intervention would be required to surmount the truly formidable issues of refugees, Jerusalem, water?

Yet among the exhausted Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. participants, there was a distinct sense that, however technical or tentative the actual arrangements they had made, however certain the knowledge that they would be disputed and violated, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had crossed a painful and fateful political threshold.

``This peace agreement represents not just the drawing of a new territorial map, but the reconfiguring of the political map for both sides,'' said David Makovsky, the veteran political reporter for Haaretz. ``It is almost certain to mark a confrontation between each leader and the hard-line elements in his camp.''

Netanyahu's shift

By far the most important shift was in the Israeli camp. Netanyahu arrived in Wye a man whose true colors had never been revealed. For all the endless recriminations, crises and debates that accompanied his first 29 months in office, no one in Israel was really sure whether he was at heart an ideologue intent on destroying the Oslo agreements, or a conservative pragmatist who would ultimately recognize that there was no alternative to trading land for peace, and would do so after ratcheting up the cost.

When he left, the prime minister was firmly in the moderate camp. Even if the ``Wye Memorandum'' suffers in coming weeks, he had finally declared himself. And he was certain of a brutal war with right-wing extremists, for whom he was now a traitor as bitter as Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister who signed the Oslo agreements.

Even through the enforced stillness of the Sabbath in Israel there came the hum of speculation about new elections, new political alignments, new dangers from the extreme.

Though less dramatic, Arafat's shift was no less momentous. In the four years since he had returned triumphant to Gaza, the promise of the Oslo agreements had turned to sour disappointment among Palestinians under the weight of corruption, poverty, violence and stagnation in the negotiating process.

A chilling poll taken just before the Wye conference showed that for the first time since Oslo was signed in 1993, a majority of Palestinians again supported terror as a weapon. But already long before that, the adulation for Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Islamic founder of the virulently anti-Oslo movement Hamas, demonstrated that the Palestinian Authority was on trial.

Arafat repeatedly tried to waffle - arresting a few leaders of Hamas now and then, then reaching out a hand of friendship. He spoke of peace in English, and of ``holy war'' in Arabic. He condemned suicide killings but spoke of fallen terrorists as martyrs.

So when he finally agreed at Wye to a concrete war on terror, one to be monitored by the U.S. CIA, he effectively declared war on Hamas. Until now, the Islamic movement had tried not to publicly challenge Arafat and to mount terror operations from Israeli-held territory so the Palestinian Authority would not be blamed.

Threat from Hamas

Now there is every chance that Arafat will have to protect himself and his lieutenants from Hamas.

The result, curiously, was a triumph for the very Oslo process that both men had accused the other of undermining. The underlying theory of the agreement, which devised a staged process of reconciliation leading slowly to a final settlement, was to allow Jews and Arabs time to change their mutual perceptions, to cease seeing the other as an existential threat.

Perhaps the architects of the treaty were optimistic in their estimate of the time it would take, and the past 19 months will be viewed as the time it took for Israelis to step back and take a deeper breath and for Palestinians to adjust their expectations. History may also judge that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an extreme nationalist exposed so yawning an ideological divide among the Jews that a whole new approach was required, with a conservative at the helm.

In any case, the Wye conference represented a gamble by President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that both sides were ripe for a change. The fact that a difficult election loomed close obviously contributed to the calculation, though it also raised the stakes.

After trying virtually every other negotiating approach, Clinton went for the pressure cooker, summoning the principals and all their top aides to an isolated farm, and devoting scores of his own hours and sleepless nights to cajoling, mediating, nudging and promising.

Given the huge political risk to each leader, both Netanyahu and Arafat struggled mightily for the concessions that would demonstrate to their people that their political shift carried tangible benefits. The Israelis demanded concrete, guaranteed steps against specific terrorists; they insisted on a public renunciation of the vows to eradicate Israel in the old Palestinian Charter. Arafat battled for a Palestinian airport, seaport, for safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, for the release of Palestinian prisoners, for assurances that Israel would cede more land.

Concession denied

Surprisingly, the last concession on which success hinged was asked not of Netanyahu, not of Arafat, but of Clinton. With the package almost tied up, Netanyahu required one more achievement he could bring home to his right wing, and late Thursday, Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon came up with the key - the United States would release Jonathan Pollard, a convicted spy whose release has long been demanded by Israel and who had taken Israeli citizenship in prison. Arafat liked it, too: If Pollard were released, Arafat would not be compelled to jail or extradite a Palestinian wanted by Israel who now serves in the Palestinian police.

But apparently the U.S. intelligence agencies balked, adding another several hours to the ninth day and leading Clinton to insist at the ceremony that he had agreed only to review Pollard's imprisonment.

The need by both Netanyahu and Arafat to assuage their critics was clear in their comments. ``Today is a day when Israel and the entire region are more secure,'' declared Netanyahu, while Arafat went through the entire list of what he had gained, from the airport to the prisoners.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO (Color) Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, left, shakes hands Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in front of a jubilant King Hussein of Jordan and President Clinton at a White House ceremony.

Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 24, 1998
Words:1122
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