Mid East Peace?

On October 24, 1998 after nine straight days of negotiations, Israel and Palestine signed yet another peace agreement. The modest document, referred to as the “Wye Agreement,” was heralded as a life-saving measure that would “restore life to the Middle East peace effort and open the way for talks on a final resolution of the 50-year-old fight over whether the Palestinians will have a state.” Yet, as has been consistent with the majority of the past agreements, before the ink was dry the peace agreement was in trouble.

The agreement

Although the agreement was signed in late October, it was but the end product of highly significant actions. Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to cross over to a Palestinian settlement. And, as captured by an October 8 headline in the New York Times, a biblically significant event occurred, “Netanyahu and Arafat Break Bread for First Time.”

What is not remembered by many is that the deadline for the entire Oslo process is about to expire. The Oslo peace accords, signed in 1993 and 1995 by then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Arafat, set out specific terms and dates that had to be met. By May, 1999, should the Oslo accord not be fully ratified and enacted, then the land for peace swap would expire, effective with that date. It is primarily for this reason that the Americans were keen on revitalizing the accord. It was the hope of the negotiators that some of the more difficult questions regarding Palestinian borders could be resolved and thus a Palestinian state could be fully established. Currently, the Palestinians control both the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank area of Israel. (The West Bank is an area of 2,263 square miles, immediately north of the Dead Sea and west of the Jordan River.)

Israelis insist on change in charter

As one may appreciate, the Israelis had insisted upon a public change in the Palestinian charter removing all 26 clauses calling for Israel’s destruction. As reported in the October 24 New York Times, “Mr. Arafat stated that although the clauses had long since been deleted from the charter, the Israelis demanded a formal vote by the large Palestine National Council, which contains expatriates and terrorists living abroad.” As well as removal of the clauses, Israel also won a Palestinian pledge to jail 30 of the 31 Palestinians wanted in Israel for killing Israelis. However, Israel did not get Mr. Arafat to agree to jail the chief of the Palestinian police in Gaza, Ghazi Jabali.

The New York Times continued: “The Palestinians, for their part, got an agreement from the Israelis to release 750 prisoners in three stages and a guarantee that they will get a third Israeli redeployment from the West Bank, as called for under the Oslo accords. But Israel gets to determine the redeployment’s size, which Netanyahu has told his Cabinet will be an additional one to two percent of the West Bank.” All told, this will bring areas under Palestinian control to more than 40 percent of the West Bank.

United States deeply involved

As noted, the main purpose of the agreement serves to commit the two sides once again to actions they had already promised in 1993 and 1995 but not yet enacted. This agreement sets a detailed timetable for the Israelis to withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank in three phases over 12 weeks starting as soon as the agreement is ratified (which may end up taking longer than expected).

This agreement is different from the Oslo accord in that the Americans are directly involved with the implementation. As noted in the New York Times, “This accord marks an important and little understood deepening and institutionalizing of the U.S. role in the Middle East. Not only did Clinton promise yet more financial aid — to Israel for security measures and to the Palestinians for development. But the CIA will play an uncomfortably visible role as the validator of Palestinian performance on fighting terrorism, as it sits on a committee with the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian security services.”

Ratification delays

The November 5 New York Times reports, “A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu had been hesitant to present the Wye agreement to the Cabinet because he feared that the Palestinians would evade their obligations to arrest the fugitives. ‘This is like a real estate deal,’ the official said. He wants the money in the bank before turning over any land, and not any promissory notes. He can’t accept it if it’s another promise that ‘the check is in the mail.’ If he starts with that now, then the whole system of Palestinian promises goes down the drain.”

On November 6, 1998, this entire accord was jeopardized when a car bomb exploded outside a marketplace in Jerusalem. The bomb killed the car’s two bombers, wounded 24 and disabled the peace effort. Immediately after the bomb exploded the Israeli Cabinet suspended deliberations calling on Arafat to prove he was cracking down on terrorism. The New York Times comments (November 6), “This morning’s blast was the second since the Israelis and the Palestinians signed a new land-for-security agreement at the White House two weeks ago.”

Another major hurdle to ratification is that Netanyahu does not have a parliamentary majority and as such must appease his coalition partners of six different parties into accepting the agreement. Furthermore, support from his own party is not assured as Netanyahu has been attacked from his own right wing for agreeing to meet with Arafat.

There are so many factors in play concerning the Middle East peace initiative; it is a wonder that the process has proceeded this far. As Bible students looking ahead to the new year, we realize that any peace in the Middle East will merely be a temporary situation brought about by economic expediency, political alliance, or some as yet to be revealed catalyst. We know that true peace will only occur with the return of Christ, the true “Prince of Peace,” and the establishment of God’s Kingdom which will center its rulership and influence from the very city of Jerusalem, then to be known as Mount Zion, exalted above all the surrounding hills untrammeled forever by human strife and warfare. Let us pray that day may come quickly.

George Rayner