Website of Rabbi Shai Gluskin


Haaretz Editorial, Tuesday, December 18, 2001 Tevet 3, 5762

A Glimmer of Hope

It is difficult to argue with those ministers and officials in Jerusalem who reacted with a large dose of skepticism to the speech delivered on Sunday night by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. However, one wonders about the sour, nearly uniform reaction of all those whose demand has finally been fulfilled: The speech included a long list of unequivocal orders, whose purpose appeared to be to put an end to the bloodshed and finally bring about some calm.

Arafat called for an end to all armed activity, particularly the suicide bombings "which we have always condemned." He specifically mentioned the mortar fire on Israeli settlements - thus clarifying that he meant not only terror operations inside Israel but also attacks on Israelis in the territories. He promised to punish those who ignore his orders and continue using terrorism. And Arafat spoke in Arabic, so he can't be blamed this time for aiming his rhetoric at a foreign audience.

The speech was not only the result of Israeli military pressure on the PA's territory but also, and perhaps largely, a result of the international isolation that Arafat brought down upon his government and even more so upon himself, through squirming that only served to impugn his credibility.

Just as the U.S. and many in the international community had lately reached the conclusion that he had fooled them - with frequent promises to restrain the terrorist elements, that turned out to be hollow - an internationally accepted test has now been formulated to examine the credibility of the orders broadcast on Sunday.

It won't be the "seven days of quiet" test that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had demanded, which was perceived in the world, as well as by many in Israel, as a threshold too high to be crossed. Arafat's test will be to the degree that he wants to, and can, enforce the orders he gave in public on all the armed groups operating in the territories.

The Israeli government is now also facing a test by all those who seek a peace agreement, in Israel and the world: Will it manage to restrain itself and avoid military actions that could create a dizzying new deterioration in the situation?

Even without international observers, which the U.S. vetoed on Saturday in the UN Security Council, it won't be difficult for the international community to determine whether this time, the words are backed up by deeds. And if they are, it won't take long before the U.S. envoy, Anthony Zinni, is back in the region and the discussions turn again to the Tenet understandings, the Mitchell recommendations, and the chances for a return to the negotiating table.

In light of the glimmer of hope lit by the speech, Public Security Minister Uzi Landau's decision to order the police on, of all days, yesterday, to confront of all people, Sari Nusseibeh, the senior Palestinian representative in Jerusalem who has been bravely and consistently preaching political moderation, is particularly disturbing. Nusseibeh's demonstrative arrest and interrogation, following an order prohibiting him from holding an Id al Fitr reception in an East Jerusalem hotel, was both unnecessary and damaging.

Landau's provocative step - like the finance minister choosing, of all days, yesterday, to brag that the government will debate evicting Arafat - raises suspicions that not everyone in the government is encouraged by the idea that perhaps at the last minute, Arafat gathered up the courage to step back from the abyss, to turn to the political horizon.