Jerusalem, 12 October 1994

'HA'ARETZ' (p.1) -- Commentary by Ze'ev Schiff

The two recent serious attacks in Israel the shooting of passers-by in the heart of Jerusalem and the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier to the Gaza Strip indicate that the Gaza Strip has become a base for terrorism by HAMAS and the Islamic Jihad, without the Palestinian Police being able to halt the deterioration of the situation.

In the past, when terrorist attacks were carried out from the territory of an Arab state, the Israeli government viewed that country as being responsible for these attacks. This was the also the approach taken when the terrorist attacks were carried out without the encouragement of the governments of those states. Half a year ago, when the leaders of the HAMAS movement living in Jordan declared that their organization was responsible for terrorist attacks in Israel, Israel warned Jordan. The result was that the Jordanian government forced the HAMAS leaders to not issue such announcements.

This is the situation which is being created in the Gaza Strip today. Despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority, headed by Yasser Arafat, is still just getting started, it is responsible for what goes on in the territory under its control. It is believed that Arafat can also do more in the war against HAMAS terrorist squads which come from his area. If the perpetrators of the kidnapping indeed came from the Gaza Strip, and also brought the kidnapped soldier there, and are holding him there, it is the complete responsibility of the Palestinian Police and the political echelon over it.

Israel will now have to decide what preventive and retaliatory measures to take in the event that these terrorist attacks continue. That is the central question now facing the government.

For internal reasons, Arafat has refrained as much as possible from engaging in a direct conflict with HAMAS activists and supporters. Even when HAMAS was responsible for the death of a Palestinian Police officer, Arafat refrained from taking any real measures, and smoothed the affair over with various excuses.

While in the first stage, HAMAS focused on attacks in the outskirts of the Gaza Strip on IDF soldiers and patrols it appears that the organization is now changing tactics. Now, the Gaza Strip is a base and a haven from which to carry out attacks deeper into Israel. The terrorists surely assume that the IDF will refrain from chasing and searching for them in Gaza. The right of hot pursuit, according to the agreement between Israel and the PLO, is permitted as an immediate response to an attack, not as a separate action afterwards.

From the nature of the attacks, it is also clear that HAMAS has decided to intensify its terrorist activities. The organization seeks to carry out mass attacks which will kill dozens of Israelis. The attack in Jerusalem, for example, was supposed to end with dozens of people killed, but the two terrorists were stopped and killed fairly quickly.

Kidnapping people is another way. One of the ways to contend with these phenomena is to completely seal off the Gaza Strip and prevent outward movement; at the crossing points to Jericho as well. Such a proposal was also raised after the murder of two Israelis in Ramle by HAMAS members, who fled to Gaza. In a discussion with the Prime Minister, the proposal was dropped at that time, out of concern that a closure would increase the economic distress in the Gaza Strip, and that this would result in a strengthening of HAMAS.

Such a proposal will surely be raised again for discussion at the Cabinet meeting, and in other forums.

'MA'ARIV', (p.2) Commentary by Oded Granot

Yasser Arafat returned from Morocco to discover that the HAMAS squad [responsible for abducting the IDF soldier] had booby-trapped the Autonomy. If the captured soldier is still in Gaza, under Arafat's nose, the PLO leader is the man who must now defuse the bomb and prove that he is capable of doing something in the areas under his control.

Since entering Gaza six months ago, Arafat has been seeking to walk a tightrope. He arrests HAMAS members in order to calm Rabin and releases them post-haste, so as to avoid a confrontation with them. He neither extradites those terrorists who carry out attacks in Israel because he 'cannot find them,' nor does he collect their weapons (despite having promised as much).

HAMAS correctly interpreted Arafat's hesitation and, yesterday, they decided to force him into one of the most difficult tests of his leadership to date. He must now attempt to return the soldier (alive) to Israel, embark on a campaign against HAMAS, and [thereby] endanger his support among the Palestinians or continue closing his eyes, thereby losing what remains of his support among Israeli public opinion.

Now, he has no more excuses left. If an Israel Television reporter can interview HAMAS terrorists who may also be involved in the abduction of soldier Nahshon Wachsman in the orchards of Gaza, the Palestinian police and GSS should be able to find them as well. They just need to receive the order. Had Arafat known about the trap that HAMAS was preparing for him, he would have extended his stay in Morocco and thereby avoided the necessity to make the difficult choice he now faces.

'MA'ARIV', (p.3) Commentary by Chemi Shalev

Yesterday, Yitzhak Rabin was the subject of international jealousy due to his anticipated status as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. By evening, he had been cast into a most unenviable situation. The abduction of soldier Nahshon Wachsman forces Rabin to choose between a number of options, all bad-to-worse. The agreement with the Palestinians, for which Rabin is to receive the coveted award, has only complicated matters.

Rabin now stands before the classic dilemma that always arises when hostages are taken, particularly when the hostage is a soldier. As Prime Minister and Defense Minister, he must consider his supreme moral obligation to recover the captured soldier alive versus the principles of non-submission to terrorists who abduct people, and of rewarding terrorist organizations. He must navigate between the accusations that will be directed against him if the soldier is murdered and those that will be made if he accepts the terrorists' demands.

Because the soldier is being held in Gaza which is under Palestinian control the situation is doubly complex. Rabin cannot order extensive searches for the soldier without committing a gross violation of the Cairo accords. Rabin must also take Yasser Arafat's considerations into account; after all, Arafat has also been thrust into an intolerable situation. Arafat may be compelled to decide between his desire to maintain functional relations with Israel (in order to continue the process) and his hesitation lest he become engaged in an agonizing confrontation with HAMAS.

The abduction of Nahshon Wachsman, more than the terrorist attacks which preceded it, presents a real and difficult test for both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Both must contend with tense populations who will closely monitor their statements and conduct. Both will be hounded by strong oppositions. History is playing with the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, arranging a real and cruel test for them in front of the whole world just before they depart for Oslo.

'YEDIOT AHRONOT' (p.8) Commentary by Roni Shaked

The abduction of Nahshon Wachsman poses a difficult dilemma for Israel, though it presents no less of a problem for Arafat.

The situation on the ground is different today. Israel is outside the Gaza Strip, where members of HAMAS squads including Wachsman's kidnappers operate in the open. And Arafat, who committed to act against terrorism, has yet to take any action against HAMAS members; in fact, he has given them a free hand to sow killing and murder, and to give the terrorists the encouragement they needed to carry out the abduction.

The ball is now in Arafat's court. HAMAS headquarters is located in Gaza

it was from there that the orders to carry out the kidnapping were issued; it was from there that those who participated in the abduction were selected, and; it was from there that the kidnappers received the order to act. The hostage was brought to Arafat's Gaza, and the kidnappers' demands were issued from there. Should negotiations be held, even assuming that the soldier is being held outside the Strip, they will be conducted with HAMAS leaders in Gaza.

The problem is no less difficult for Israel. Rabin needs to persuade Arafat to act. At the same time, it must be remembered that the guiding principle of all Israeli governments has been and remains not to surrender to terror and not to negotiate with terrorists, certainly not those of the murderous HAMAS school. Negotiations would mean giving in to terrorism, and would both encourage and legitimize such tactics. It would introduce a wave of kidnappings for bargaining purposes.

Treatment of this affair necessitates joint Israeli-Palestinian intelligence and operational activity. Israel whose ability to operate militarily in the Gaza Strip is limited, though not impossible has supplied, and can supply, the PLO with further intelligence on Iz a-Din al-Kassam activists.

Arafat is liable to win many points from Israelis if he does not just make statements or order his people to detain and question HAMAS leaders. A great deal now depends on Arafat and his intentions to transform declarations into real deeds.

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