Scaling Old Heights

A month after the Labour party’s victory in the June elections in Israel, the then US Secretary of State, James Baker, brushed aside a document submitted by a Palestinian delegation and abruptly told them: “Take what Israel is offering now. Build on it. Don’t waste the opportunity!”

This is, perhaps the major psychological hurdle that the Palestinians find so difficult—actual decision-making as opposed to the posturing which has won them international sympathy. The latest round of talks in Washington last month once again posed this problem, in the context of the proposed Palestinian elections in the occupied territories.

Israel wants the election of a small executive body, while the Palestinians seek an 180-member legislative assembly as a small step towards a state. Interference from a marginalised Palestine Liberation Organisation in Tunis may, make the task of the Palestinian delegates even more difficult but they know. the Labour-Meretz coalition is likely to be the one Israel government with whom they can realistically negotiate.

Moreover, leaks from Washington suggested that Syria and Israel were moving towards a compromise where Israel would return part of the Golan Heights in exchange for movement towards peace, demilitarisation of the area and a normalisation of relations.

Over the pale few months, Syria  signalled to Israel through third parties that it was ready to talk.

The collapse of Soviet support had forced the Syrian president. Hafez al-Assad, to adopt a new approach. His long-time estrangement from Yasser Arafat and the PLO. and his stand against Iraq, brought about a rapprochement with the Americans and, later. money from the Saudis.

Mr Assad permitted the emigration of 20 per cent of Syria’s Jews on tourist visas for the US. The Israelis, in turn, released several hundred Arab prisoners, reopened roads closed during the intifada (uprising). unsealed the homes of suspected and convicted Palestinians and cancelled the planned deportation of II more.

Since the 1967 ‘six-day war’. Israel has established 32 settlements on the Golan Height—initially to prevent Sian bombardment of Galilee. Until the right-wing Likud came to power. they were regarded as security settle-rnents of no ideological consequence. since the standing armed forces of Syria outnumbered that of an unmobilised Israel by 3:1.

The Gulf war catalysed a movement of power from the PLO outside to those who actually live in the West Bank and Gaza. The associated pragmatism of the Palestinians and the realism of the new Labour government seems to have broken the log-jam of the years of Yitzhak Shamir and given peace a real chance.

Fortnight October 1992

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