The trouble with Wye
By Zalman Shoval (Israeli Representative to the United States),
Washington Times, January 6, 1999
Abba Eban once said that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to
miss an opportunity.” It seems that the present Palestinian leadership is
determined, once again, to prove him right. It’s been more than nine weeks
now since the Wye River Memorandum was signed with great hopes in the White
House — but the results, so far, have been disappointing.
The memorandum and the not-always easy nine-day conference which preceded
it, were an honest and determined effort by President Clinton and his team
to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track. Agreement
wasn’t reached easily, and some matters had to be couched in ambiguous
language. What was completely unambiguous, however, was the imperative to
create a mechanism to verify Palestinian compliance with their commitments.
This may require some explanation. Basically, the Wye Memorandum is no more
than an amplification of the Oslo agreements — an ‘improved Oslo,’ as
someone termed it. None of the Palestinian undertakings at Wye were really
new ones. Most of them had already been included in the original Oslo and
Hebron agreements, or in a letter which Chairman Yasser Arafat had written
to Israel’s late Prime Minister Izhak Rabin.
The only trouble is that while Israel had handed over to the Palestinian
Authority 27 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian promises had
remained on paper.
In light of past experience, and though Israel now agreed to transfer
another 13 percent of its land, it was decided that each part of the phased
Israeli pull-out would only occur after Palestinian compliance with their
legal commitments commensurate with that same phase. This would include
handing over and destroying illegal arms, reducing the numbers of their
so-called police force (actually a mini-army), putting known murderers
behind bars, effectively fighting terrorism and destroying the terrorist
infrastructure, stopping anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda and
incitement, and annulling the so-called Palestinian National Charter
calling for the destruction of Israel.
To make sure this time that all these conditions would actually be carried
out, a sort of ‘check list’ or phased ’time line’ juxtaposing Palestinian
compliance and Israeli withdrawals was made an integral part of the
At first, everything seemed to go well, with the Palestinians
signaling their intention to live up to their understandings — and Israel
completing its initial withdrawal. But soon after, the Palestinians went
back to their old devices. Whether this was so because the Palestinian
Authority had been either unwilling or unable to adhere to its various
undertakings — or whether its leaders were led astray by misplaced hubris
after the president’s visit to Gaza or the euphoria after last month’s
‘donors’ conference’ in Washington which had heaped them with additional
billions of dollars, the outcome was the same.
Though some of the bilateral and trilateral committees continued their
perfunctory meetings and though there has been some progress in the economic
field, the planned high-level engagement with the Israeli side practically came to a
Indeed, the third phase of the above mentioned ’time-line’ was due to have
been completed by December 18, but most of the Palestinian obligations of this
phase are still awaiting implementation. Nor has the Palestinian Authority
resumed ‘full bilateral security cooperation’ as required by the agreement.
Although there were some initial efforts to collect illegal arms, at this
point there is scant evidence that the Palestinian Authority has gone
beyond that. These illegal arms include land-mines, mortars, grenade
launchers and heavy machine guns.
At the time of writing, Israel and the United States have not yet received
the list of the excess members of the Palestinian police — though the list
has been promised.
Not only have none of the terrorist organizations like
the Hamas and Islamic Jihad been outlawed, but the house arrest which had
been imposed after the Wye Conference on Hamas leader Sheik Yassin was
lifted, and about half of the 400 Hamas activists which had been arrested
in October have now been freed. Only a few dozen remain in jail.
All this seems to prove that the Palestinian Authority has gone back to its
pre-Wye ‘revolving door’ stratagem.
Also, the inflammatory statements
against Israel go on as before — often in the Palestinian Authority’s own
official media — not to mention statements by some of the leaders
themselves. The fact that the Palestinian National Council did nullify the
relevant clauses in the Palestinian National Charter — important and
commendable as this was — does not in any way mitigate the seriousness of
their less than complete compliance with their other legally entered
But one of the worst, and potentially most harmful, breaches
of the agreement was the large-scale outbreak of Palestinian violence on
the prisoner issue while the Palestinian police studiously averted their eyes.
At the Wye Conference, Israeli leaders had made it clear to their
Palestinian interlocutors that neither murderers of either Jews or Arabs
nor members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad would be released. None of the above
could conceivably be classified as merely political prisoners, all of them
having been directly involved in the willful killing of hundreds of
innocent men, women and children. Israel, just as the United States, does
not take murder or terrorism lightly.
The Palestinian leadership was fully aware that this was Israel’s position,
but perhaps because the former hadn’t been sufficiently candid with its
people back home, it now tried to rewrite the script. Violent riots against
Israeli troops and civilians broke out — often instigated and led by Mr.
Arafat’s own Fatah organization.
Moreover, Mr. Arafat and other Palestinian leaders periodically announce
their intention to declare statehood unilaterally in May 1999 — which could
undermine everything that has been achieved so far.
The Israeli government, supported by the overwhelming majority of Israel’s
public, has backed the Wye agreement — though, ironically, it has just
lost its parliamentary majority as a direct result of that. But Israel’s
adherence was always based on the principle of reciprocity, of mutual
fulfillment of all obligations — nor could it be otherwise.
Unfortunately, at this stage one does not yet have a convincing answer to
the question whether the Palestinians ever intended to genuinely go through with
the Wye River agreement in the first place.
Could it be that, putting a false construction on the nature of
U.S.-Israeli relations, they hope that American pressure on Israel will
enable them to shirk their undertakings to Israel?
Needless to say that if they do, totally misunderstanding the nature of
the U.S.-Israeli relationship, they would be grossly mistaken. Or maybe
they just hope that the Israeli elections will produce a government more
amenable to their positions?
Whatever the reason, the fact is that the Wye River accord, though
certainly not dead, is bogged down and precious time is being lost.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, peace is perceived not only as a matter
of expediency, but as an aim in itself.
However, also in purely pragmatic terms, peace between Israel and the
Palestinians, important as it is to Israel, the United States and the world as a
whole — is absolutely vital for the Palestinians.
It’s up to them to prove Mr. Eban wrong this time.