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Copyright 1996 The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post

January 10, 1996



Today, when Israel is to release 800 out of a scheduled 1,130 Palestinian prisoners, those alert to the plight of Israel's missing soldiers are in despair.

In December 1993, when Yasser Arafat returned half of Zachary Baumel's dog tag to Yitzhak Rabin, he promised additional information on our MIAs. Rabin then said that any release of Palestinian security prisoners would depend on Arafat's providing such information.

Close Arafat advisor Dr Ahmed Tibi, reported in The Jerusalem Post, said: "The chairman regards [the return of the tag] as a humanitarian act of the first order, and we are doing everything possible to help with this painful problem."

Later Rabin was emphatic: "There are approximately 9,000 Palestinians currently in prison ... Before any releases are discussed, we are still awaiting the PLO's answer on the MIAs."

In the Cairo Agreement, on May 4, 1994, Arafat assured Israel of his cooperation in locating and returning Israeli MIAs.

Despite Rabin's repeatedly linking the release of Palestinian prisoners to receiving additional information on the MIA issue, his government went on to release prisoners without so much as mentioning linkage.

The public favors linkage. In an IMRA-sponsored poll on April 3-4, 1995, 69.1 percent of Israeli Jews favored linking prisoner release to getting further MIA information even if it would hurt the peace process; 13.7 percent favored releasing prisoners without the information, and 17.2 percent didn't know.

Yet the government has proved deaf to public concerns. It hasn't reminded Arafat of his obligations under the agreement, or apologized to the nation for allowing the violations to occur.

Shimon Peres's stance on Baumel was different. He declared that Arafat had no additional information about the MIAs. Israelis rejected Peres's assertion.

In an IMRA-sponsored poll on May 4, 1994, the results were: 50.3 percent felt Arafat was lying and Peres knew it; 22 percent felt Arafat was lying and Peres naively believed him; 10.1 percent thought Arafat wasn't lying; 17.6 percent didn't know.

Peres's standard glowing optimism doesn't appear to shine on the MIA issue. Asked about additional information promised by Arafat, Peres replied: "The Americans didn't get everyone back in Vietnam. Maybe we won't get everyone back either."

Peres's casual acceptance of Arafat's violation characterizes the government's refusal to require that the PLO meet its documented obligations. Thus the violations mount: Illegal Hamas and PLO militias continue. The Palestinian "police" force is far larger than was agreed upon. Israel even tacitly accepts Arafat being called "president." The growing list of Jerusalem- related violations ranges from the PLO-appointed mufti of Jerusalem to daily illegal Orient House activities.

Israel was told that "Gaza-Jericho First" would test PLO reliability. Instead, it became a test of the scale of violations Israel and the US would ignore.

The US Congress has instituted surveillance of PLO compliance with its peace-agreement commitments as a condition of continued financial assistance. The State Department has issued reports which are blind to PLO violations, and our government has enthusiastically supported these unreliable reports.

AIPAC was thoroughly denounced by Israeli officials for its objective report on the PLO. Americans, Jews and others who tally the actual record are characterized as right-wing minority troublemakers, even traitors who should be ostracized.

Israelis shouldn't complain about Arafat's failure to provide information on the MIAs, but about their government's failure to insist that the Palestinian Authority meet its obligations; and about our leaders looking away while provisions which were intended to safeguard Israel are being sacrificed to the "peace process."

Will it all work out? This is what Rabin said to the IDF's Staff and Command School in August 1992: "One of our painful problems has a name. A given name and a surname. It is the combination of the two words yihye b'seder [it'll be okay]. This combination, ... frequently heard in our daily life, is unbearable ... It is devouring us."

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