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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=63438&mador=4

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

But what about the Palestinian track?

By Amira Hass

Ehud Barak's excitement over the breakthrough on the Syrian track in the peace process has deflected the attention of the Israeli public from certain events and statements on the Palestinian track. It is important to take note of them because they clearly demonstrate how the Israeli-American mechanism to squeeze an agreement from Yasser Arafat works.l On December 6, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said that as long as the Jewish settlements in the territories still exist, he could no longer continue to discuss the other details of the permanent status agreement. "We do not want to lose the trust of the Palestinian public," he told journalists.

  • Israel blamed the Palestinians for creating an artificial crisis before Madeleine Albright's visit and gave the impression that the Palestinians were acting like a spoiled child who merely wants to get Mommy's attention. The Palestinians replied to this charge with the counterclaim that the ones who were creating the crisis were those who were singing praises of peace while continuing to build settlements.

  • On December 7, a day before Albright's arrival in Israel, Barak announced that no new tenders would be issued for construction work in the settlements. The Palestinians responded with the statement that this measure was not enough and that all construction in the settlements must be frozen.

  • On December 8, after his meeting with Albright, Barak explained that the suspension of new tenders and continuation of construction work in accordance with terms of the old tenders constituted an approach that would "strengthen our presence in the Land of Israel and fortify our bargaining position in the negotiations." According to Barak, those who are demanding that tenders continue to be issued are actually "weakening the State of Israel in its struggle over the Land of Israel."

  • On the evening of December 8, when Bill Clinton, in a live broadcast, pulled the Syrian rabbit out of a hat, Albright and Arafat met and then spoke to journalists. Mommy announced that Arafat had promised that, from now on, the talks would proceed without any interruption. The prize for doing so would be a meeting with Daddy (Bill Clinton).

  • On December 11, two members of the Palestinian cabinet came out with a statement that was unprecedented in its frankness. They declared that they were bitterly disappointed in the performance of the Clinton administration. "We are very dissatisfied," Nabil Amar, one of Arafat's closest advisers, said, "with America's order of priorities .... America has neglected the issues directly involved in the dispute between the parties ... and is instead concentrating on the Syrian track."

  • It was reported on December 12 that Albright had obtained the consent of both Arafat and Barak that the draft of the framework agreement would be completed by January 10.

    When Abed Rabbo said, with considerable frankness, "We do not want to lose the trust of the Palestinian public," the ears of his listeners were already ringing with the statements included in the "Pamphlet of the 20" - 20 prominent Palestinians who attacked the leadership of the Palestinian Authority for having sold the Palestinian homeland down the river so that a few people could make a bundle of money.

    Eight of the signatories are still in police custody, and the PA and Fatah are continuing to attack the integrity of all the signatories. The Palestinian public could not have received better proof that its leaders know that the contents of the petition reflect the attitudes of many Palestinians, not just a small group of dissidents.

    Barak announced that there would be no new tenders because he was pressed to do so by the Americans, not because he attached any importance to the position of the Palestinians on this issue. The United States sees immense importance in the external framework of the Israeli-Palestinian talks: a continuation of the meetings and the promise of a draft text in the near future. America's decision not to interfere in the disagreement between the two sides over substantive issues is clearly supportive of the stronger side, that is, Israel.

    Since Oslo, the settlements have continued to expand. Washington is content to do no more than make mealy-mouthed remarks that the settlements are an obstacle to peace.

    In light of this situation, the completion of the draft text of the framework agreement by January 10 can mean only one thing: The agreement's principles will be very close to Israel's, and to Israel's interpretation of Oslo.

    The Palestinian cabinet ministers openly expressed their disappointment with the U.S. to inform their nation that they were all in the same boat. These Palestinian officials are angry and worried, but such sentiments will not get them very far. Like Arafat, they are in a dilemma: They fear losing the public's trust, but they do not want a reprimand from Washington (in the form of a direct American threat to stop financial assistance).

    Apparently, the Clinton administration is banking on the fact that Arafat can utilize his prison cells to effectively deal with the protests expressed by the members of his nation who are afraid that the agreement will confine Arafat to a tight little pocket - wedged in between large settlement clusters and highways for Jews only. America seems to be banking on the idea that Arafat would prefer keeping order in his streets to receiving an American reprimand


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