||Effects of the Middle East conflict felt here at Emory
By B.J. Elias
Students for Israel
The conflicts this past week in the West Bank and Gaza Strip bring much heartache to those who have been supporting the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations over the past months and years. This summer, at the Camp David II Summit, the hardest and most complicated issues of the Arab-Israeli peace process, most notably the status of Jerusalem, water rights and refugees, were finally being discussed. Israel has offered unprecedented, historic compromises on these sensitive issues, including a Palestinian state encompassing nearly 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinian sovereignty of some Arab-inhabited areas in Jerusalem. After Camp David, U.S. President Bill Clinton praised Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for showing "particular courage, vision and an understanding of the historical importance of this moment" and stated that Barak "moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat."
I support the message from Tuesday night's candle vigil organized by Emory's Muslim community that the current situation amounts to "needless argument and fighting." Now it is the responsibility of leaders on both sides, particularly Yasser Arafat, to make a call for peace and calm and to return to the negotiating table. The loss of lives on both sides of the conflict is tragic. The streets of Israel have been stained with blood for far too long.
Those who believe rioting in the streets and violence is an acceptable negotiating tactic have dealt a serious blow to the progress and hard decisions that were being made in the peace talks. While Likud Party Chairman Ariel Sharon had a right to visit the Temple Mount flanked by dozens of Israeli police, it was no wiser than if Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat visited the Western Wall surrounded by Palestinian police. However, the latest outbreak of Palestinian violence in Israel and the territories appears to be a coordinated and premeditated effort by the Palestinian Authority to use violence as a tool for extracting further concessions from Israel. Two deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis last week preceded the visit by Sharon to the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Israeli intelligence sources reported that Arafat met with Palestinian paramilitary leaders and top PA security officers to urge them to continue violence in order to produce fatalities on both sides. Palestinian Authority officials warned on Israel Radio that PA forces would not do anything to prevent Palestinian rioters from attacking Israeli soldiers and civilians. Official PA media broadcast images and songs calling for violent actions. The PA closed its schools and bused Palestinian students to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots. In all of the incidents, the tragic loss of life resulted from violence initiated by the Palestinians, with the Israeli army acting to protect Israeli lives.
These lethal Palestinian attacks breach the central tenet of all Israeli-Palestinian agreements, that political objectives can only be promoted through peaceful negotiations, not through violence. The Israeli defense forces have been acting with restraint in dealing with rioting mobs. Rocks, Molotov cocktails and guns only distance the prospects of peace.
On this, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, I believe that despite the violence we see on the streets, there is still a majority on both sides who want peace and that peace can and must be achieved.
B.J. Elias, a College senior from Chicago, is President of Emory Students for Israel.