Israel Yielding on Deployment of Monitors


For weeks, Israel has been attempting to make a case against deploying foreign observers to referee the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has claimed more than 600 lives in less than 10 months.

The government here points to a damning admission by the United Nations that the world body's peacekeepers made--and then concealed--a videotape of the scene of last year's capture of Israeli soldiers by Lebanese guerrillas on the two nations' border. Revelation of the tape's existence was further proof, in the Israeli view, of international peacekeepers' complicity with the enemy, either through ineptitude, passivity or design.

But increasingly, Israel is under pressure to accept some sort of observer force, an intervention that the Palestinians have long demanded.

On the heels of an endorsement of monitors issued by the Group of 8 industrial powers meeting in Genoa, Italy, senior Israeli officials are now outlining the kind of "supervision," as they call it, that they will accept.

It is American, it is the CIA, and its powers would be carefully prescribed.

The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisted Sunday that the monitors it deems acceptable are nothing more than what is provided for in a cease-fire agreement drafted last month by CIA chief George J. Tenet.

The Tenet truce never really took hold, but it established a CIA-led security mechanism that would observe and report on cease-fire violations. Israel is reportedly willing to allow the CIA contingent to double in size.

Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said that the way Israel sees it, the monitors would not judge culpability when Israelis or Palestinians violate the cease-fire but would merely "brief" the two sides plus the international community on infractions.

"We have agreed to the principle of CIA supervisors," Gissin said. "There is no need for anything beyond that."

This is far short of what the Palestinians demand. The G-8 countries endorsed "third-nation" monitors as an "immediate" step toward preventing the entire Middle East from exploding.

Prime Minister's Tactics Booed by His Party

Sharon, speaking Sunday night to a raucous meeting of his right-wing Likud Party in Tel Aviv, reiterated his refusal to accept broader outside scrutiny.

"No one will be able to force Israel to accept something that contradicts its interests: There will be no international monitoring force," he said. Throughout his address, Sharon had to shout to be heard over boos and catcalls from party members demanding that he act more forcefully to crush the Palestinian leadership once and for all.

Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who usually takes a much softer line than the rest of Sharon's government, did not rule out monitors but also expressed one of Israel's basic objections: The actions of Israel's army will be much easier to observe, and criticize, than those of underground or irregular forces on the Palestinian side.

"We have never given an absolute 'no' to the idea [of monitors]," Peres told Israeli radio. "But will [militant organizations] Hamas and Islamic Jihad allow the observers to enter their headquarters?"

Israeli officials are especially keen to prevent Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat from casting the arrival of monitors as a political victory. Arafat is demanding robust international "protection" of his people from what he calls Israeli "aggression."

Israel has long resisted international peacekeeping forces, especially from the U.N., which it regards as hostile to the Jewish state. An exception came in 1994, following the massacre of Palestinian worshipers at a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron by a radical Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein. A "temporary international presence" was allowed on the ground, and the teams remain in the Hebron area to this day. Their reports are kept secret, and they are seen as largely ineffective. However, their mere entrance seven years ago helped to drastically reduce tensions and avert wider bloodshed. Getting monitors gave Arafat incentive at the time to eventually return to peace talks.

Israel and Lebanon in Tug-of-War for Tape

More recently, the scandal over the tape made by U.N. peacekeepers along the Lebanese border further bolstered Israeli mistrust of international missions.

The video--which the U.N. consistently denied existed--was apparently taken 18 hours after the three Israeli soldiers were seized, and it showed that the captors, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, used U.N. uniforms and fake U.N.-style license plates. A chagrined U.N. has launched an investigation. Meanwhile, Israel wants to see the tape without the faces of the guerrillas obscured, as the U.N. has proposed. Lebanon has said showing the tape would relay inside information to "the Israeli enemy."

Some experts and analysts believe that Israel will eventually be forced to tolerate outside intervention because of the total collapse of communication and trust between the two warring sides.

"The basic justification for introducing some kind of third-party observers is, unlike in the past, the capacity of Israel and the Palestinians to communicate has dissolved almost completely," said Joseph Alpher, an Israeli expert on security issues. "My sense is we are going to see observers."

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