Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin demanded Monday that Yasser Arafat pledge in writing to uphold the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord after the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization appeared to suggest that the pact is only temporary, little more than a tactical maneuver.
If Arafat fails to overcome the growing “crisis of confidence” among Israelis in the historic deal and the PLO’s ability to fulfill its commitments, Israel warned that it will not implement subsequent stages of Palestinian autonomy and might break off further talks with the PLO.
Police Minister Moshe Shahal, speaking for the government, said Israel will suspend implementation of the agreement on self-government, which is just going into effect in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, if Palestinian attacks upon Israelis do not end and if Arafat does not retract his belligerent statements.
“If the terrorist attacks continue along with these wretched statements by Arafat and others, statements that contradict the peace agreement,” Shahal told Parliament, “we will continue to talk with the Palestinians, but we will not continue to implement the coming stages before the PLO’s ability to control Gaza and Jericho is proven by fulfilling their commitments to us.”
Israel also wants Arafat to complete the appointment of the interim, 24-member government for the Gaza Strip and Jericho and to require his Palestinian police to impose order on what it sees as total chaos in Gaza.
“We are not discussing any timetable for the next phase until we can see whether the other side can stand behind its present commitment,” said Obed Ben-Ami, a Rabin spokesman.
While Israelis are angry over the pre-dawn killing last Friday of two soldiers guarding the northern entrance to the Gaza Strip, Rabin is incensed by an Arafat speech, made May 10 at a mosque in Johannesburg, South Africa. The PLO leader called for a jihad , meaning a holy war or struggle, over Jerusalem and then appeared to suggest that the agreement with Israel is simply tactical and politically expedient and might be put aside.
In his Johannesburg speech, Arafat compared the PLO’s agreement with Israel to the 10-year peace pact that the Prophet Mohammed made with the Quraysh clan in Mecca. Muslims took Mecca two years later, in AD 630, claiming that the Qurayshis had violated the agreement. Israelis interpreted Arafat’s remarks to mean that he too will back out whenever he believes he can achieve total victory.
In another portion of the speech, Arafat called for a jihad --which is often translated as “holy war” but can mean many forms of struggle--to reclaim the Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and to make the city the capital of Palestine. Although Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal capital,” it has agreed to negotiate the city’s future status with the PLO.
The Arafat speech was cited repeatedly Monday by Rabin’s critics in bitter, “we told you so” attacks on the government’s approach to peace.
“The head of the PLO, with whom the government of Israel wants to reach an agreement, has proved to us in recent days that he has no intention of making peace with us--he says so clearly,” Moshe Katsav, a leading member of the opposition Likud Party, told the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.
David Levy, a former Likud foreign minister, said: “What is becoming clear is that we have a naive government. Whoever heard the prime minister and understood his demand (for a written reaffirmation from Arafat) understands that he was misled and did not see and did not read the map correctly.”
Even Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, a leading Cabinet dove, warned that, in the wake of Arafat’s speech, “Israel won’t be satisfied by an announcement only (of Arafat’s adherence), but will insist that Arafat declare that the serious things he said in the Johannesburg mosque are null and void and that he is standing by the agreement with Israel.
“The burden of proof is now on Yasser Arafat,” Sarid said. “He must make every effort to restore the trust.”
Although there was no immediate response from Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, his adviser Ahmad Tibi said in Jerusalem that the PLO leader had already explained his statement once and that Israelis are overreacting.
“There is a crisis of confidence,” Tibi acknowledged, “but it is the Israeli reaction that creates it.”