The March 21, 1997 explosion at a Tel Aviv cafe once again brought the issue of terrorism to the forefront of the peace process.

In order to allay Israelis’ fears and resume negotiations, both Netanyahu and Clinton have demanded that Arafat take a stronger initiative against terrorism, resulting in the arrest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists.

The arrests are meant to demonstrate that Arafat is committed to eliminating terrorism. However, both Israel and the United States have refrained from issuing a greater demand on Arafat, a demand which would have a much greater effect in demonstrating that Arafat no longer tolerates violence: arresting and handing over to Israel the Palestinian terrorists who have committed murder within the areas of Israel’s jurisdiction and taken refuge in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian autonomy

Under the terms of the interim agreement the PA is obligated to comply with Israeli requests for the transfer of suspected killers.

Israel has already made 27 such requests. Not one has been honored.

Yet while the PA clearly is culpable of violating an important part of the Oslo accords, Israel cannot place responsibility entirely on the Palestinians.

Yet in some cases in which Israelis were murdered by terrorists who then fled to the Palestine Authority, the government has never issued any demand that the killers be arrested, let alone handed over.

In light of such a lack of committment on the Israeli side, the Palestinian response is less than surprising.

Perhaps the Israeli government’s attitude towards Palestinians who murder Israelis and then find refuge in the Palestine Authority was best typified by MK Michael Eitan, the chairman of the Israel Knesset Coalition,who referred to the murder of Yakov Yamin, a sixty year old Israeli whose killer fled to Bethlehem and promptly received a warm reception, as a “small infringement.”

Such a cavalier response by an MK to a murder may be surprising. However, politicians would not make such comments, nor would the government treat the matter so lightly if the population as a whole felt differently.

The murder of Yaakov Yamin occurred on the day of the Hebron agreement between Arafat and Netanyau, and it quickly escaped public attention.

So when Rabbi David Foreman, a leading member of Rabbis for Human Rights, was asked about the case of Yaakov Yamin, he simply blurted out, “who?” Rabbi Foreman said that despite the PA’s inability of keeping convicted killers behind bars, (Ten Palestinians recently convicted in the Palestine Authority of killing Israelis are now serving in the Palestinian Preventive Security Force) the Rabbi said that he did not have a strong opinion on whether Yamin’s killer should be turned over to the Israeli authorities. “I’m not big on double standards,” he said, noting the case of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a leader of the Hebron Jewish community who received a light sentence for killing a Palestinian after his car had been stoned. Other human rights groups seemed to apply a similar “two wrongs make a right” approach in dismissing charges against the Palestinian judicial system. A staffer for B’Tselem, a group that monitors both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations in the West Bank, stressed that both sides have failed to administer justice in a fair manner, saying that she doubted whether a Palestinian could receive a fair trial within Israel, adding that B’Tselem does not involve itself in matters which it considers to be of a primarily political nature and not directly relating to human rights.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Bat Shalom, a human rights peace group dedicated to protecting rights of women, said it was insincere for Israel to pretend that it was innocent in such a matter, since in the past Israeli courts have released Jewish killers. Bat Shalom, she said, cannot address “every” legal issue of the Oslo process, although she defended her group’s decision to support the release of a group of Palestinian women prisoners, including convicted murderers, because Israel is legally obligated to do so by the Oslo accords. She said that Bat Shalom had no position on the matter of the PA turning over killers, even though this remains part of the accords. “I’m sure there are people that take care of that,” she said.

The widely held assumption that the Israeli government makes every possible effort to get justice for the murder of its citizens is far from the truth. Despite Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s March, 1997 tough posturing – he threatened to “send Arafat back to Tunis if the peace process broke down” – HaNegbi failed to ask his counterpart, PA Justice Minister Abu Medein, to investigate Yamin’s murder as well as the May, 1996 murderer of 16-year old David Boim nor the mastermind of the October 1994 abduction and murder of 19 year-old Nachshon Wachsman.

Boim and Waxman were American citizens. In a letter to President Clinton, U.S. Representative James Saxton of New Jersey asked the president if the arrest of Mohammed Deif, the man behind the Wachsman killing three years ago, remained a top priority. Saxton mentioned the public promise that Clinton gave to Wachsman’s parents at Nachshon’s grave in Jerusalem, in the presence of U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, mentioning that Israel did not have to make any further concessions until Deif was in custody. However, when Indyk’s spokesman was asked about Deif, he refused to comment, claiming that “he had not seen the letter” that Saxton had also forwarded to Indyk. Another State Department official said that the U.S. was making efforts to locate Deif, who is believed to be living in Gaza, and that the killer of David Boim was in custody. When asked if he could provide any letter that detailed the United States’ attempts to locate Deif, or evidence pertaining to Boim’s killer’s arrest, he would not do so. Was any such request ever really made by the American government to Yassir Arafat?

The reluctance of United States and Israeli officials to pursue the matter of Palestinians who murder Israelis and find refuge within the PA may result from their unwillingness to do anything that might disturb the peace process.

Speaking at an Israeli Labor Party sponsored press briefing at the Knesset, Hebrew University Professor Ehud Sprinzak, a respected Israeli intelligence expert, said there was no point in trying to force the PA to hand over terrorists. Sprinzak’s remarks show a certain prioritization. Not angering Arafat takes on a greater importance than protecting individuals from terrorism. “It doesn’t mean a great deal to the peace process,” said Sprinzak, dismissing the significance of the PA’s failure to fulfill its committments under the Oslo accords.

One wonders when Israel’s citizens will begin to put as much importance on human life as its government and the United States put on the peace process.

The question remains:

Will Palestinians feel free to kill as many Israelis as they like, since neither the American or Israeli government will take any real action if they do so?

The “kill and run” principle remains a relatively unknown precedent of the Oslo peace accords.

Where are the human rights groups? Where are those who advocate adherence to the Oslo accords?

David Bedein
Media Research Analyst
Beit Agron International Press Center,
Jerusalem, Israel
Fax: (+972-2) 623-6470