It takes two to reconcile



(March 19) -- Even if King Hussein's initiative results in a meeting between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, it is clear that the common ground between the two leaders - the Oslo agreement - is no longer there.

The agreement's explicit provisions are no longer to Arafat's taste, so he has abandoned them. In their place, he is trying to substitute something vague, ambiguous, and hard to define called the "Oslo spirit" via which he can introduce new demands at will.

It took great effort on Netanyahu's part to bolster the Knesset majority in favor of implementing the agreement; and Hebron was outstanding proof that he was doing just that. But when he turned around and looked for Arafat, he found that the chairman had departed, trailing the aura of the "Oslo spirit."

Arafat's repudiation of Oslo per se comes across in almost everything he says. For example, he frequently talks about "the diplomatic process," but hardly ever mentions the Oslo agreement - not surprisingly, since it puts limits on what he can demand.

* He cannot, for instance, demand immediate operation of the Dehaniya airport. The agreement emphasizes Israel's unconditional right to suit security arrangements there to its needs, and Arafat can't interfere.

But that hasn't stopped him trying, for several weeks, to do away with this limitation, even though it stems from one of the agreement's most fundamental parts.

* He cannot dictate the extent of any of the IDF's three withdrawals from Judea and Samaria. The agreement lays down only their timing, nothing else. Israel need not consult the Palestinians on how far, or from where, it will withdraw. Again, the agreement recognizes Israel's security needs as the paramount consideration.

* Arafat cannot interfere in construction in Jerusalem during the interim period. The agreement does not even mention the "danger of the Judaization of Jerusalem" that Arafat cites constantly as part of his efforts to drum up Islamic support for his anti-Israel campaign.

Israel agreed that problems linked to Jerusalem could be raised in the final status negotiations; but the agreement says nothing about discussing the Palestinians' demand to share sovereignty over the city with Israel.

Not one of Arafat's demands since Hebron has actually been based on the agreement. Conveniently, he invokes the "Oslo spirit" and "the spirit of reconciliation" while he insists on more Israeli concessions.

What doesn't seem to have occurred to the PLO leader is that it takes two to reconcile. He seems to believe that he can eternally twist Israeli prime ministers around his little finger, promising them over and over that the Palestinian Covenant will be amended - or has already been amended - then tell his own public that he will amend the covenant only when Israel formulates a constitution. He knows quite well that there is no such thing on Israel's immediate agenda.

The Palestinians' demand vis-a-vis Jerusalem was known before the signing of the agreement, yet it says nothing about freezing construction in Jerusalem until the end of final status negotiations.

Israel's representatives would have rejected out of hand any Palestinian attempt to condition their signing on a clause preventing the "Judaization of Jerusalem." So why on earth should we agree to such a condition now, in the name of the "Oslo spirit"?

The Likud government opted to uphold a written agreement concluded by its predecessor, common practice with international agreements. Even so, there were objections to ratifying the agreement with the PLO - an organization, not a nation.

Whatever honoring agreements involves, it certainly does not include indulging the other side's fantasies - in this case, far-reaching gestures to dissipate Palestinian threats of violence.

These threats, made by many Palestinian leaders, only strengthen the conclusion that Arafat no longer sees himself as bound by the provisions of the Oslo agreement.

This being the case, what possible reason could Israel have for helping him legitimize some alternative "spirit" by which he can claim that building housing for Jews in Jerusalem constitutes a crime?

The writer, a veteran journalist, comments on current affairs.




Before Calamity Descends 



(March 19) -- Zero hour has arrived - for Jerusalem, for the future of the process with the Palestinians, for the path on which our nation continues in this country.

Because of this, every member of the government must stand up now and state publicly - so it's there in black and white for a future commission of inquiry - that he or she is ready to take responsibility for sending the first bulldozer up Har Homa to begin leveling the land.

Once that bulldozer goes up, once the government - rightly or wrongly - goes up the hill, the scenario that will follow, the sorry sequence of events, is clear. It's one of those cases where the end is visible right from the very beginning.

After the unavoidable eruption of violence, after the many, many dead on both sides are counted, after the fierce condemnation of Israel in the Security Council - with no American veto to save us this time - the prime minister will have to give in and go back to square one.

For despite the victory of the right-wing camp in the elections, Israel ultimately lacks the power to defeat the US when Washington sees a particular action as risky to its own interests.

So perhaps we'll stop sending them aid; perhaps we'll even deploy our F15s to punish them - though it will be hard to find a refueling station along the way. And perhaps our shekels wouldn't make the Americans so happy, anyway.

You can't judge an issue like Har Homa by looking down on it from the ideological heights. Har Homa isn't really Jerusalem - and even if we dream that it is, surely we could wait until after the permanent settlement to try to realize our dream.

The justice of our stand on Har Homa is very shaky; that may be overstating it. More than that, it is far from wise.

After the punishment that is certain to come, we will feel the brunt of the world's anger. And after our inevitable defeat, as we gaze at our empty national coffers, what will it matter that Prime Minister Netanyahu is angry at Mayor Olmert for hemming him in on the hill?

This government calls itself "national" (as opposed to the anti-national government of Yitzhak Rabin).

So let this national government arise, down to every last member, and declare publicly: We have made this decision collectively, in full knowledge of the tragedy that will follow.

Let it stand up before - and not after - the defeat, before the punishment, before the bloodshed.

Let no one be able to say, as they did with the tunnel last September: I didn't know.

That sort of prettifying excuse, the shifting of responsibility onto others makes me think of H.L. Mencken, who observed that the fact that roses smell better than cauliflower doesn't necessarily make it a better soup.

The writer's latest book, Another Love Story, was published recently; his Land of Two Promises, written jointly with Arab novelist Emil Habibi, is currently being translated into several languages.




Hussein visit shows strength of peace with Jordan



BEIT SHEMESH (March 17) -- Jordan's King Hussein came to us yesterday like a distant relative who manages to visit every once in a while for a funeral. The gesture of the visit is greatly appreciated, but something is missing.

The relatives burying their dead can be heard whispering, "Why doesn't he ever come on a happy occasion, or even just to visit? Why does he wait so long?"

Since the peace accord was signed with Jordan in 1994, Hussein has publicly visited four times. Once for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, once to dedicate a trauma center named after Rabin at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, and now for the shiva call. One time, soon after the signing, he did come just to say hello.

"I appreciate his visit," said Beit Shemesh shopkeeper Gregory Ya'acovov, whose store was on one of the streets closed down because it was on the king's route. "I just wish he could come once for a celebration."

A handful of Beit Shemesh residents stood outside the house of Adi Malka, the king's first stop in the town, to catch a glimpse of the king, even to pay him homage. Had Hussein come under better circumstances, it is likely that the empty streets - despite the rain - would have been full of people standing under Jordanian and Israeli flags, throwing rice and flowers.

Israel likes the king, despite all the ups and downs.

Hussein, with gestures such as those he made yesterday, has charmed the country. It is to Hussein's infinite credit that he used the horror at Naharayim as a way to try and patch up relations that were severely soured last week.

His visit to the bereaved, his shiva call, was both unprecedented and poignant. Watching him kneel in the homes and - in his resonant, empathetic, royal voice - offer his condolences did have a balm-like effect, if not on the families suffering beyond comfort, then at least on much of the nation.

"Words cannot express how I personally feel, how my family feels, how my people feel. We consider this a loss that all of us suffered," Hussein said in the Malka home, his words, delivered slowly, swiftly translated into sign language for the grieving parents, who are both deaf.

"I feel that I have lost a child, and I feel that if there is anything in life, it is to ensure that all the children enjoy peace and security. I hope you consider me a brother and a member of the family."

When was the last time an Arab leader so mourned the victims of terror? Who would have dreamed a few year ago that such words would be uttered by the head of an Arab state?

It is, likewise, to Israel's credit that the king was welcomed so openly, so warmly. It is difficult to imagine such a greeting had the shoe been on the other foot, had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu needed to pay a condolence call on the families of Jordanian youths killed by an Israeli soldier.

Beit Shemesh, hot-blooded Beit Shemesh, known to many only as the place where Labor leader Shimon Peres was pelted with tomatoes during a campaign stop in the 1980s, greeted Hussein with restraint, with respect. This, even though the town of 25,000, many of whom are linked by family ties, was still in shock, still licking its wounds after the killing of the young girls.

That the king made the visit, and that the Israelis accepted him so readily, shows that the peace between Israelis and the Jordanian leadership has sunk deep roots.

"Sad, so sad," murmured Esther Afriati, watching in the rain as Hussein was hustled from his limousine into the Malka home. Her daughter is in the eighth-grade class at the AMIT Fuerst school that went to Naharayim, but because of financial constraints, didn't join the group.

"It is nice that he came; it does an aching heart good," she said. "Next time he should come for a happy event."



This article demonstrates how important it is that Jordan's King Hussein, The Hashemite King, is the keeper of the Muslim shrines.

Wednesday, November 13, 1996 

Birthday gift to a king 


(November 13) - On November 13 every year for more than three decades Israel's prime minister has sent a birthday telegram to King Hussein of Jordan. 

Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin - all observed the ritual faithfully, even during periods of tension. All the more, then, when there is peace; and today as our royal neighbor turns 61 he will be receiving the customary greetings from Israel. 

Hussein has traditionally responded by sending Israeli leaders greetings on their birthdays. And he has added his own touch: farewell messages when they retire from office. 

He sent especially warm greetings to Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Shamir, Chaim Herzog and Shimon Peres on their retirement, expressing deep appreciation of his personal relationship with each man. These were genuine sentiments, not just polite gestures. 

In the matter of farewell notes Israel has had no chance to reciprocate. While we have gone through five presidents and seven prime ministers since Hussein ascended his throne the king has remained firmly seated, surprising the world with the stability of his rule, proving wrong those who foretold the swift demise of his regime. 

Several attempts on his life have failed, as have efforts to foment revolution in his kingdom. Hussein foiled these attempts with courage and good sense; and when he needed our help he didn't hesitate but obtained it with great sophistication, without appearing to compromise Arab solidarity. 

When writing to Israeli leaders Hussein talks about "peace between the sons of Abraham." But it is not this that motivates him to communicate with us. 

Hussein is an Arab patriot who understands that Arab interests forbid flirtation with war. 

Jordan needs stability and tranquility, and since his bitter adventure in the Six Day War Hussein has taken care not to get involved in another conflict. 

He took great pains to keep his kingdom out of the Yom Kippur War. Even though Arab solidarity required his sending a regiment to the Golan he kept the Jordan bridges open and continued exchanging messages with Golda Meir to prevent hostilities breaking out. 

Before the Gulf war too the king got prime minister Shamir to promise that Israel would not infringe Jordan's airspace in the event of war; armed with this assurance he obtained a corresponding one from Iraq that its planes would not over fly Jordan. Thus the kingdom remained "out of bounds" for the war's duration. 

Hussein has demonstrated great initiative in eliciting Israeli help in guarding Jordan's sovereignty and stopping his country being swallowed up by other Arab powers that threatened the Hashemite dynasty. 

Just before signing the peace treaty with Israel the king went even further: He sought our assistance beyond his own borders, in an area under Israeli sovereignty - Jerusalem. 

Hussein's grandfather King Abdullah reached strategic understanding with Israel 47 years ago on a joint blocking of the UN resolution to make Jerusalem an international city (something that would have destroyed the Hashemite kingdom's special, preferential status vis-a-vis Jerusalem's holy Islamic sites). 

Years later his grandson requested that Jordan's status in this matter be preserved via a commitment from Israel. For Hussein this commitment constituted the jewel in the crown of his peace treaty with Israel. 

Then, two years after the ratification of the treaty, Hussein began a search for that jewel, which had got lost somewhere in Solomon's Stables. Suddenly the king realized that Israel had been negligent over its undertaking to maintain Jordan's status in the holy places. 

Instead of talking to Jordanian representatives in Jerusalem about converting the stables into a mosque the previous government applied to the Palestinian Authority's representatives; and the current government failed to appreciate this grave infringement of its treaty with Jordan. 

So Hussein turned to the PA asking the authority to assure his status in the holy places. This was a signal to Israel that it should urgently reassess its position in Jerusalem's Old City, with an eye to Jordan's interests there. 

Along with his birthday greetings to the king the prime minister should transmit this clear and unambiguous message: Israel is determined to uphold the "Jerusalem clause," that pillar of the peace treaty, by affirming Israeli rule in all parts of Jerusalem - thus ensuring Jordan's historic status, as promised. 

(The writer, a veteran journalist, comments on currents affairs.) 



The president is taking his bows, for a job well done. I wonder if he knows that he is fulfilling prophecy?


Reuters New Media 1/15/97

WASHINGTON - President Clinton hailed a new accord by Israel and the PLO as another key step toward "a lasting secure Middle East peace," but urged both sides to remain vigilant in its implementation. 

"This is not a time to relax. It's a time to reinforce our commitment to peace," Clinton told reporters just one hour after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat finalized a deal to extend Palestinian rule to Hebron in the West Bank. 

The agreement, which comes after months of difficult U.S.-brokered talks, also commits both sides to what U.S. officials described as "a road map" for future peace talks. 

Chief Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters the deal requires Israel to withdraw its troops from 80 percent of Hebron within 10 days and implement the first of three subsequent West Bank redeployments by March 7. 

Clinton praised both Netanyahu and Arafat for overcoming their differences and the many setbacks that have jeopardized the talks in recent months, but U.S. officials said it was Clinton's personal involvement that helped clinch the deal. 

"This achievement brings to a successful conclusion the talks that were launched in Washington last September and it brings us another step closer to a lasting secure Middle East peace," Clinton said. 

"Once again the forces of peace have prevailed over a history of division." 

But the president cautioned that the agreement was not an end in itself, noting that its implementation would require "active and continuous cooperation" by Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as vigorous efforts to combat violence by those opposed to the peace process. 

He pledged Washington's continued support, saying, "We'll do everything we can to build a just and durable peace, a peace that will mean a better life for Israelis, for Palestinians, for all the people of the Middle East." 

Outgoing Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who spent all day Sunday on the telephone helping clear the last hurdles to Tuesday's handshake, called the agreement historic but "thorny" and said many challenges remained on the horizon. 

He said brokering the accord, four months in the making, had been an "arduous task," but both sides had gained much. 

"What they have agreed upon today is more than a protocol on Hebron redeployment. It is in essence a road map for the future... to create a greater degree of trust and confidence between the parties," Christopher said in a statement. 

Speaking on public television's "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" just before the deal was signed, Christopher said it would be "very important both substantively and symbolically" and said he was glad that Netanyahu and Arafat were working together. 

"We've come a long, long ways in the past four years," he said. "There is a kind of logic to peace now that I think cannot be denied. There'll be bumps in the road, but I believe the new Netanyahu government begins to recognize the force and momentum of peace." 

Clinton said Netanyahu and Arafat called him to tell him the news and he thanked them, as well as Jordan's King Hussein and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for their efforts. 

Clinton praised Christopher's work and highlighted the key role played in securing the agreement by U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, who has been in the Middle East since a few days before Christmas working on the agreement. 

Ross told CNN he felt gratified the agreement had finally been concluded, and said he was looking forward to a vacation. 

The U.S. mediator, whom Albright asked last week to stay on for a third term, said both sides had recognized that "there's no alternative to being partners" and that he expected the deal to be formally signed in a couple of days. 

Christopher and other U.S. officials underscored the central role Washington played in rescuing the peace process after a spate of violence last fall and keeping it going. 

"Although the credit for the agreement belongs mainly to the parties, the role of the United States was essential in helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve their goals," Christopher said, terming Clinton's efforts "vital". 

The president had invited Netanyahu, Arafat, Hussein and Mubarak to the White House for a summit last Sept. 29 after an escalation in fighting and protests in the region. 

While that meeting did not yield an agreement, Israel and the PLO launched into weeks of marathon talks on Hebron deployment the following month. 

Christopher also credited King Hussein's weekend meeting with both sides, saying his "leadership and commitment provided momentum at a crucial moment."