Beliefnet

JERUSALEM, Oct. 17 (AP)--The good tidings should have sent a wave of relief through Israel and the Palestinian areas--a truce after 20 days of fighting.

Instead, each side was deeply skeptical about the other's will and ability to keep promises made Tuesday to President Clinton at the Mideast summit in Egypt.

And in an atmosphere filled with suspicion, an unraveling of the deal could quickly send the Middle East into a new, even more violent downward spiral.

First signals on the ground were not encouraging.

Just hours after the cease-fire announcement, Palestinian militiamen fired from an Arab village at a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, critically wounding an Israeli policeman. Israel responded with machine gun fire, warned it would retaliate with tanks and helicopters, and told Palestinians living nearby to leave their homes and get out of the line of fire.

A Palestinian policeman was killed in a firefight in the Gaza Strip.

Israel said it would give Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat two days to take control. "We will have to see results on the ground in a very short time," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's chief adviser, Danny Yatom.

For the past 20 days, Israelis have been pondering the extent of Arafat's influence over his people, and particularly over roving bands of armed gunmen, many of them members of his own Fatah faction.

In defiance of Arafat, the West Bank Fatah chief, Marwan Barghouti, triumphantly told a rally Tuesday that he and members of his Tanzim militia would ignore the U.S.-brokered truce and keep the uprising against Israel going. The Fatah youth movement said the fighting would only escalate.

While some Israeli commentators have portrayed Barghouti as a possible rival to Arafat, many Palestinians scoffed at the idea, saying Barghouti would relent if given a direct order by Arafat to cease fire.

Islamic militants, Arafat's traditional rivals, may be more difficult to keep in check. Sheik Ahmed Yassin, leader of the Islamic militant Hamas, said Tuesday that he does not feel bound by a cease-fire. Hamas suicide bombings--Israel says it has concrete warnings that such attacks are being plotted--would quickly end a truce.

Some Israelis suspect Arafat may not be interested in trying to quell the violence. Palestinian public opinion favors continued confrontation with Israel. Arafat may also be reluctant to head into Saturday's Arab summit in Cairo--a conference he has long pushed for--as a leader who caved in to U.S. pressure.

"Arafat is interested in chronic friction, with varying levels of violence," said Ehud Yaari, an Arab affairs commentator on Israeli television.

Barak, in turn, may also have trouble reining in extremists, though to a lesser extent than Arafat. At least two Palestinians have been killed in shooting attacks by Jewish settlers in the past three weeks, including a farmer slain Tuesday in his field.

Palestinian officials said Israel could help restore calm by withdrawing its troops from friction points--something Barak has promised to do.

Palestinians will not listen to Arafat if there are more casualties and funerals, said Palestinian commentator Ghassan Khatib. More than 100 people have been killed since Sept. 28, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist, said the truce was so fragile that violence could easily flare up again. "It will be impossible to supervise every single settler or Tanzim member who carries a gun," Klein said.

Any infraction could trigger new, wider confrontations that would be much harder to contain. A Clinton intervention might be much less effective a second time around.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said the arrangements worked out at the summit--which Israeli officials say also include a secret deal of renewed security cooperation--are simply unrealistic.

"This is more wishful thinking," she said.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus