by Selwyn Manning
Israel has again sealed off the West Bank drawing anger from Palestinians and criticism from the United Nations.
The right-wing, hardline, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon ordered the move after a 28-year-old Jewish woman was killed in a shooting attack in the West Bank. Israeli and Palestinian truce-talks between Yasser Arafat and Israel’s deputy prime minister Shimon Peres have also been called off.
The militant Islamic Jihad, which has long opposed any peace moves with Israel, took responsibility for the early morning shooting.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesperson for Sharon, said: "The full responsibility for this murderous attack lies with (Arafat's) Palestinian Authority."
Israel then moved swiftly to reoccupy ground it released on Monday morning [New Zealand time]. By sealing itself off from Palestinians militants, closing off a block of West Bank land, the Israeli Defence Forces have in effect again moved defiantly against United States wishes.
Associated Press reports Israel’s unilateral move to close a military zone along the strip, stretching southward from the town of Jenin, for about 18 miles long and several miles wide. Thousands of Palestinians live in the zone.
They will need special passes to enter and leave, and friends and relatives will not be allowed to visit.
Arafat called it "dangerous political and military escalation," and West Bank leader Marwan Barghouti warned the Israelis, "If you want to achieve peace and security, you have to withdraw from our land."
At the United Nations, spokesman Fred Eckhard said the announcement of the buffer zone was a "unilateral and provocative act, contrary to the signed agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians and it can only undermine ongoing efforts to find a way out of the present crisis."
The United States has continued to pressure Israel’s Sharon to allow the truce-talks to go ahead. Sharon indicated he would allow this only after a 48 hour ceasefire was observed by the Palestinians.
The US wants Israeli-Palestinian conflicts arrested while it builds an anti-terror coalition with the purpose of waging war on terrorists responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Continued violence in and around the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is hindering US attempts to convince nations that support Palestine that they can work with a western-led coalition.
Many of these nations consider Israel to have orchestrated state-sanctioned terrorism for decades.
Forty-seven years ago, Ariel Sharon led a raid on a West Bank village that killed about 70 men, women and children, most of them civilians. The villagers and the PLO have not forgotten. Likewise Arafat and the PLO are the focus and cause of many Israeli fears and deaths. The accusations and hatred fly from both sides. Palestinian leaders call Sharon a ‘war criminal”. And Sharon refers to Arafat as a ‘terrorist’.
Sharon has also called off scheduled meetings between him and British foreign minister Jack Straw. The Israeli foreign ministry said the meetings were cancelled because of comments made by Straw that could be interpreted as “ascribing blame” to Israel.
Straw’s comment was published Monday in an Iranian newspaper and read: "One of the factors that helps breed terror is the anger that many people in the region feel at events over the years in the Palestinian territories."
The sentiments seem reason enough for the hardliner Sharon to dig into a closed-book style of diplomacy. By nature he has shown reluctance to work with Arafat on a peace-deal. News agency reporters in Israel say Sharon will not allow Arafat to appear the peace-maker. It is apparent that a stand-off between Israeli-US-British ministers and administrators is developing.
But there is little room for personality politics considering the current graveness of Middle Eastern politics. United States secretary of state Colin Powell called Peres on Tuesday [New Zealand time] to again urge him to meet Arafat.
Peres is willing but is prevented from doing so by Sharon. Peres had threatened to resign yesterday [Monday], a threat that he has levelled on numerous occasions over this very issue.
Sharon then had called off at the last minute a truce-talk meeting set for Sunday, because of Palestinian mortar attacks in Gaza. The attacks followed Israel’s defence force tank-shelling and bulldozing down a construction complex, a symbol of Palestinian achievement in the Gaza area.
Peres boycotted Sunday's Cabinet meeting over because of the cancellation.
Peres reluctantly accepted the delay Monday, but news agency reports observed, "Nothing could save lives or prevent damage like this meeting."
Arafat has played the master-hand in calling for peace-talks to end the killing. He denounced the terrorist attacks against the USA immediately on hearing the news, he gave blood for victims of the terrorist attacks. And he ordered his people to stop the violence, even if shot upon by the Israeli forces. All this has not been lost on US officials. And Israel has faced continuing pressure to get its region settled.
However, militant off-shoots of the PLO were reluctant to cease fighting, but hospitals in and around the West Bank and Gaza areas noted a marked drop off in casualties.
Arafat will travel to Damascus and Syria today to work on a
peaceful resolution to conflicts between Palestinians and
Palestinian officials remain optimistic that truce-talks between Arafat and Peres could take place on Thursday after Arafat returns from Damascus.