CNN World News

1993 Irreversible steps toward Mideast peace

September 27, 1995
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EDT (0015 GMT)

From Correspondent Ralph Begleiter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This week's agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in many ways means more than the original handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. The new agreement speaks volumes about how far the Arab-Israeli relations have come, and where they might be going.

construction Palestinians are beginning construction in the West Bank and Gaza. Egyptians are building new homes and businesses instead of building armies. Jordanians are establishing joint businesses with Israelis across their new free-trade zone. These are events that Arabs and Israelis never imagined 10 years ago.

The 1993 agreement between the PLO and Israel was a historic breaking of the ice. And this week's agreement, with its details about Israeli troop withdrawals from the most populated parts of the West Bank and plans for Palestinian elections, sets a new standard for Arab-Israeli relations.

The agreement's main point is that it establishes how Israel and the Palestinians can separate from one another and disengage their conflict, while continuing to live side by side. In so doing, it sends dramatic signals far and wide in the Arab world. From the Persian Gulf to the farthest reaches of North Africa, Arab leaders who lean toward accommodation with Israel see Israel withdrawing from occupied territories and turning over governing authority.

Even hard-line Arab rejectionists such as Libya and Iran can't help noticing the concrete steps being taken by Israel and the Palestinians, steps which have a certain irreversibility about them. Even Israel's opposition leaders say they'll abide by agreements reached, so far, by Prime Minister Rabin's government.

Assad Syria's President Hafez Assad, watching Israel reach accommodations with the other Arabs, wants his own piece of the pie: Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The new agreement could jump-start the next round of negotiations between Israel and Syria.

There is plenty of room for uncertainty about the future, because much remains unresolved by the agreement. What will happen to hundreds of Jewish settlers, many of them from the United States, who staked their claim to homes in the West Bank? What about the future of Jerusalem, holy to Arabs, Jews and many others?

And what happens to the dream Palestinian leaders fostered of a separate Palestinian "state," and the return of thousands of exiled Palestinians, not to mention peace agreements with Syria and with Lebanon?

The road to those agreements is likely to be littered with continuing terrorism. But now the Arabs and Israelis are inured to the drumbeat of terror sounded by opponents of the peace process, a beat which seems to intensify whenever another step toward reconciliation occurs.

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