Peace process in peril

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

Despite three weeks of violence, Israelis and Palestinians have been careful not to declare the peace process dead. But the 1993 Oslo accords, which for seven frustrating years guided interaction between the two sides, may be irretrievably damaged.

If so, there is no safety net, no legal agreements governing cooperation that could replace the shattered peace process. Israelis and Palestinians still share the same space. They will have to cooperate on some basis if and when they bring their deadly clashes to an end. The best that can be hoped after President Clinton's hastily called summit is that the working structure of Oslo can still be observed by Israelis and Palestinians.

That is a tall order, but it beats the alternatives, ranging from escalating warfare to a total separation of the two sides with border fences, minefields and tanks, a fallback plan Israel is considering.

The fragile truce arranged by Clinton ... was supposed to create a total cease-fire by midday today. Despite Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's lukewarm denunciations of violence, Arafat's forces were starting to resume security cooperation with Israel and to re-arrest some Islamic militants. For their part, Israelis pulled back forces and started easing closures around some Palestinian self-rule areas.

Both sides must do more.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has had to call on opposition leader Ariel Sharon to join him in an emergency government of national unity. Ironically, the violence may help Barak avoid the necessity of such an alliance. Violence has thrown Israelis together. That may keep Barak's government from collapsing.

Prospects are bleak, but Israel should avoid any unilateral moves to separate the sides with fences and minefields. That would surely strangle the Palestinian territories economically and spark more violence. Better to try to make a cease-fire stick and rebuild basic ties with Palestinians. It may be months before the two sides can return to real peace talks.

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