Extend the Truce to the West Bank

The Palestinian organizations are now rejecting the Israeli attempt to separate the West Bank from Gaza, and are promising that for every Israeli action in the West Bank, they will retaliate in the Strip.

It is doubtful that there are any reasonable military means for stopping the firing of Qassam missiles at Israel. However, it is perfectly clear to all Palestinian spokesmen, as well as to a good many Israelis, that there is only one diplomatic way to stop the Qassam attacks, and that is to extend the fragile truce in Gaza to the West Bank as well. To put this more clearly: It is necessary to stop preventive actions taken by the Israel Defense Forces in Judea and Samaria. This assessment is based on recent political developments in the Palestinian camp.

The Palestinians are anxiously awaiting progress concerning the Arab peace initiative. King Abdullah of Jordan's visit to Ramallah - which did not go ahead as planned yesterday - and expected visits by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan to Israel, have raised hopes. All of this, however, cannot solve the problem of the security chaos that prevails in the territories, or dispel the fears of an imminent Israel attack. This is the reason that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) spent time in Gaza last week: It was an attempt to establish or to renew the truce with Israel.

In this context a meeting was held of representatives of the large organizations - Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front - chaired by Palestinian Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abu Naja. They made a decision that calls for observing the cease-fire under three conditions: The first is that it apply everywhere - that is, also in the West Bank. The second is that it be reciprocal: Israel will refrain from any military activity in the territories. The third: that the cease-fire will take effect simultaneously, on the Palestinian side as well as Israel's.

The innovation in this decision is a certain change in the position of the Fatah movement Abu Mazen heads, and whose stance is approaching the positions of the other organizations. In the past, after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Fatah activists were saying it was necessary to maintain quiet in the liberated area, and to invest efforts in development and the welfare of the inhabitants. This position was congruent with the Israeli view, which sought to create a differentiation between the West Bank and Gaza. That is, the IDF would stop acting inside the Gaza Strip, but would continue its routine military activity in the West Bank.

Indeed, during the entire period that has elapsed since the disengagement from Gaza, on every morning news broadcast there are reports of incursions, arrests, exchanges of fire and even targeted assassinations the IDF is carrying out in the various parts of the West Bank. The first to start reacting in Gaza to attacks on their people in the West Bank have been activists of Islamic Jihad. In recent days Hamas militants have followed in their footsteps, and now it appears that Fatah is also moving in the same direction. In other words, all the Palestinian organizations are now rejecting the Israeli attempt to separate the West Bank from Gaza, and are also promising that for every Israeli action in the West Bank, they will retaliate in the Strip. This is the context of the increased firing of Qassams in recent weeks.

The prevailing Israeli argument has been that the IDF has to act in the West Bank because that is where the terror cells that prepare suicide attacks are organized. It is difficult to accept this argument because preparation for such attacks inside Israel is going full steam ahead not only in the West Bank, but also in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon and undoubtedly also in Syria.

There is a series of reasons, diplomatic and other, that the government of Israel is not sending the IDF to act against everyone who is organizing to harm us, and it is definitely possible to use these reasons to explain what goes on in Jenin, Nablus and Tul Karm as well. In other words, the government of Israel can and should try the diplomatic way to stop the firing of the Qassams - by agreeing to expand the truce to the West Bank as well.