Two weeks after Israel and the Palestinians signed their most recent recommitment to the Mideast peace process, a dovish Jewish group’s finding that Israel is failing to meet many of its obligations has set off storm of criticism from some other Jewish groups.
According to an “interim report card” compiled by Americans for Peace Now on the agreement brokered by President Clinton at Wye River last month, “Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu has held up implementation [of Israel’s obligations] several times” while making demands “that are clearly outside the letter of the new accord.”
Meanwhile, citing U.S. administration findings, the report concluded that the Palestinians have not only fulfilled most of their obligations, but “are actually ahead of schedule in some areas.”
Shoshana Bryen, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), accused APN of acting as “a mouthpiece for a terrorist organization,” in its report.
But Marc Rosenblum, APN’s political director, said that except for several Palestinian public statements that incite violence in violation of the Wye River Memorandum, “The State Department has been largely correct to say the Palestinians have been meeting the rest of their commitments. We stand by that score card.”
In some respects, the imbroglio looked like a domestic Jewish version of what is likely to be a renewed diplomatic battle over the issue of compliance with this and several previous Middle East peace accords. It is a battle the Wye accord itself was supposed to resolve by instituting clear criteria for each side to move forward with agreed-upon concessions, implemented in stages contingent on each side meeting those criteria. The United States is to verify compliance at each stage.
This week, it looked like the Wye agreement could become just one more document over which to continue the compliance battle. Still, even with the dispute heating up, the administration has praised the Palestinians for a recent security crackdown on terrorist groups that they promised at Wye. And Israel prepared to take its own first steps this week, though slightly behind schedule, to implement commitments it made in the accord.
In its report, APN criticized Palestinian compliance with the Wye accord’s injunctions against statements that could incite violence. It cited a radio address Sunday by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat warning that “our rifles are ready” should Israel abandon its commitments or try to block Palestinian rights in Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, however, Arafat appeared to pull back from his threat, saying, “I … reiterate that any problems concerning final-status negotiations [on Jerusalem and the West Bank] will be resolved through amicable and peaceful ways and through negotiations, but not through any other means.” Netanyahu said he accepted Arafat’s retraction.
APN’s report cited one other statement it condemned as incitement, published in an official PA newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. The statement blamed Israeli intelligence services for being behind a recent terrorist bombing at Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
But Israel’s UN ambassador, Dore Gold said he was submitting a letter to Secretary General Kofi Anan this week citing several other Palestinian statements. One of them, also published in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on Nov. 7, said Gold, charged, “Corruption is a Jewish trait, so much so that one seldom find corruption that was not masterminded by Jews.” According to Gold, the article was written Naseer Ahmad, an employee in the PA’s political guidance office.
Rosenblum said APN “would have included these statements” in its report but did not have them in hand at the time.
The report also focused on Arafat’s avowal that he will unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on May 4 if final negotiations that were due to be completed with Israel by then are not done. APN cited a U.S. warning in a side letter to the Wye agreement that such unilateral actions “are courting disaster.”
In his retraction statement Tuesday, Arafat also appeared to pull back from this threat.
Israel, which received many more negative findings, is cited for, among other things, refusing to implement the Wye accord on schedule, with Netanyahu asserting it first had to be approved by his government. “Nothing in the agreement calls for further ratification by either side,” APN stated.
The report also noted that when the government did approve it, only narrowly last week, it did so on the condition that the ministers meet again at three different stages in the implementation to decide whether Palestinian compliance merited going further. APN asserted this trespassed the major verifying role the accord sets for the United States.
“By delegating to itself the right to unilaterally revoke [the accord] … the Israeli government has violated the accord,” the group charged.
Gold would not comment on APN’s report but noted that the Wye agreement “does not say anywhere who will be the judge.” He said it was his government’s position that “Israel has a sovereign right to make its own judgement if the Palestinians are in compliance. After all, its Israeli lives at stake.”
In line with recent administration comments, the report also cited continued Israeli settlement activity as unilateral actions to change the status of the West Bank, which is prohibited by Wye.
Several Jewish leaders critical of the Wye agreement attacked APN’s interpretation of these obligations as one-sided and self-serving. Israel’s late prime minister, Yitzchak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accord, they noted, specifically said expansion for “natural growth” under Oslo was not barred.
“APN is simply a mouthpiece for the PA and [PA leader] Yasir Arafat,” charged JINSA’s Bryen. “When you credit the Palestinians with zeal in trying to implement the Wye accord, and you only criticize them for clamping down too hard, causing human rights concerns, then you’re a mouthpiece for a terrorist organization. … They’ve really gone over the edge here.”
“The APN report whitewashes Arafat,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. Klein cited several “vicious anti-Semitic statements in the official PA media” that APN did not include in its report. He also criticized APN for giving credit to the PA’s jailing of 100 to 300 members of the radical group Hamas because, he said, the PA had recently released “the three most senior Hamas officials” from among those arrested.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which welcomed the Wye accord, did not attack APN’s report in these terms. But he said, “I think what the peace process needs least of all right now is report cards from pre-positioned organizations. I have no objections to them. But I don’t know what impact they’ll have. They certainly won’t impact either of the sides involved.”
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