A spate of conciliatory messages sent by the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Israeli public has been offset by a pair of violent events that throw into doubt the potential success of the verbal peace campaign.
On Friday, an Israeli solder patrolling in the West Bank city of Nablus was killed when an Arab dropped a cement block on his head from atop a building in the city's casbah, the open-air market area. The victim, reserve soldier Benjamin Mizner, died of skull fractures even though he had been wearing a helmet, military sources said.
The day before, Lebanese militiamen maintaining a border buffer zone on behalf of Israel killed three Palestinian commandos headed into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks, Israeli government radio said. It was the second such ambush of suspected Palestinian infiltrators in the past month.
The incidents came on the heels of a Thursday press conference, the first of its kind, between PLO chief Yasser Arafat and Israeli reporters visiting Egypt. Arafat repeated his insistence that the PLO is ready to live in peace with Israel, in an independent state next door.
PLO Message to Israelis
On Wednesday, Salah Khalaf, a top aide to Arafat, addressed the Israeli public through a videotape shown at a peace seminar in Jerusalem. Khalaf called for direct talks between the PLO and Israel to settle the Middle East conflict.
But the Israeli public, said by pollsters to be warming slightly to the idea of talks with the PLO, is nonetheless skeptical that the group has abandoned terrorism. Many Israelis see the Arab uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a terror campaign perpetuated by the PLO even when directed at soldiers rather than civilians.
Newspapers had already interpreted the fatal stabbing of an off-duty soldier in Jerusalem last Saturday and the disappearance of a uniformed paratrooper near Gaza two days earlier as signs of an upsurge in violence among Arabs.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin blamed both incidents on the PLO. "If someone believed the PLO's claim in Tunis that its men had put an end to terrorism, the abduction of the soldier in the south and the murder of the soldier in civilian clothes . . . show that was an illusion," he said.
Sees PLO Duplicity
The government, which opposes any contact with the PLO, also viewed the apparent infiltration effort from Lebanon as proof of PLO duplicity. Israeli officials set out to persuade not only the Israeli public but also the United States that terrorism continues. Washington opened contact with the PLO in December on the grounds that the PLO had renounced terrorism but warned that talks would be broken off if terror is resumed. The move put pressure on Israel to make some peace gesture.
A statement Friday from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the apparent infiltration attempt proves that the PLO has "not ceased its terrorist activities."
PLO factions opposed to Arafat's moderate tone are said to be restless and trying to undermine his moves.