What most distressed veteran US diplomat Madaline Albright on her maiden sojourn Secretary of State to the Middle East was the depth of the crisis of confidence that now exists between Israelis and Palestinians.
The current dynamics of the Oslo peace process are such that if you light a match, you might kindle a tinderbox that will devour any of the deteriorating relationship that remains between the state of Israel and the new Palestine Authority.
The trust that had been fostered over four years of the intensely negotiated Oslo Middle East Peace Process between Israel and Yassir Arafat had essentially ground to a halt on August 20, 1997, the day that Arafat’s Palestine Authority announced a formal working alliance. The Hamas bombings in Jerusalem’s crowded Machane Yehudah marketplace on July 30 and on Jerusalem’s crowded Ben Yehudah mall on Sept 4 and Arafat’s refusal to take any action against Hamas signaled that this was a new turn in the peace process that few had expected.
On Monday, September 15, 1997, Israel prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu dispatched an Israeli intelligence official to testify before the Israel Knesset Intelligence Committee that Arafat had not taken any concrete steps to dismantle the Hamas terror infrastructure. The official added that the Israeli public should brace itself for more Hamas terror attacks, which are to be expected imminently, adding that Arafat must immediately do what he is supposed to do – to dismantle terror operatives before they go into action. However, he added, Israel held no illusions that Arafat would do so.
All week long, the Israel’s Defence Forces went on high alert, sending Israeli intelligence units to conduct a massive preventive surveillance operation to stop terror groups that may infliltrate any part of Israel at any minute. The operation bore fruit, when the IDF announced on Friday, the apprehension of a terror group en route to kill the Mayor of Jerusalem.
On the very night that the IDF began its massive sweep to seek out and prevent new Hamas terror operations in Jerusalem, several Israeli families made it a point to establish their first small community on Ras El Amud.
What upset Netanyahu about Ras El Amud was its timing, not its substance. The issue of confidence building measures has also fallen victim to the crisis of the current Middle East crisis.
Jerusalem had always been a subject that would be the final stage of negotiations. A gentleman’s agreement had it that Israel would take no more unilateral motives. In the current stage of the Oslo process, gentleman’s agreements are off.