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Tuesday, November 14, 2000
Ze'ev Schiff: An international force is a terrible idea

By Ze'ev Schiff Ha'aretz 14 November 2000

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has had considerable experience
with international observer forces created in order to protect the
Palestinians.Ze'ev Schiff: An international force is a terrible idea

By Ze'ev Schiff Ha'aretz 14 November 2000

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has had considerable experience
with international observer forces created in order to protect the
Palestinians. Each of those forces ended up a failure in one way or another
and, in some cases, even came into confrontation with Israel. The most
recent example is the temporary international observer force that was
established in 1994 and stationed in Hebron in the wake of the massacre by
settler Baruch Goldstein of Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Israel was deeply embarrassed over the incident and therefore agreed to the
dispatching of the force. However, in light of past experience, Israel
stipulated that its approval would be required for the extension of the
force's mandate as well as for the force's composition.The observer force's
mandate is to provide Palestinians in Hebron with a sense of personal
security and promote stability in that city. The force numbers 160 observers
from Italy, Denmark and Norway. Its success is negligible, as shown by the
reality in Hebron: Israelis and Palestinians are continually shooting at and
wounding one another.

After the massacre in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982, an
international peace-keeping force, which was not attached to the United
Nations, arrived in Beirut to protect the Palestinians. In the end, the
force, which included American and French units as well as an Italian unit
and a British one, was compelled to withdraw from Lebanon because of
casualties resulting from Hezbollah terrorist operations against the
Americans and the French.

Before the withdrawal of this peace-keeping force, tensions flared between
the American soldiers and the Israel Defense Forces troops stationed south
of Beirut. U.S. secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger awarded a medal of
valor to the U.S. Marines officer who singlehandedly "stopped" an Israeli
tank from advancing. The photograph of this national hero is hanging in the
Pentagon.

The third time Arafat caused the creation of an international force was in
1978, when, after a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus traveling on the
coastal highway, the IDF launched Operation Litani. When the IDF withdrew,
it was replaced by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was set
up without any prior consultation with Israel. Over the heads of UNIFIL
personnel, the Palestinians continued attacking Israel from Lebanon until
Israel finally invaded Lebanon in 1982, encountering no resistance from
UNIFIL.

Now Arafat wants another international force - this time in the territory
under dispute by Israel and the Palestinians. This will lead to problems,
not solutions - to intense international politicization of the conflict and
to the blockage of the way toward true negotiations.

As was the case with UNIFIL, hostile actions will undoubtedly be carried out
behind the backs of the personnel of this new force (if it is ever sent).
And, if international observers were sent to the territories, what would
they record except for complaints against Israel? Would they report the
release of Hamas members from Palestinian prisons or Palestinian
arms-smuggling activities? It is doubtful whether the observers would report
cases of land expropriation by the Palestinians. Such an international force
would only aggravate further the conflict between Israel and the
Palestinians.

Israel made a recent attempt to establish a cooperative relationship with
the UN force in Lebanon; yet this force did not lift a finger to counter the
renewal of Hezbollah attacks and the violent behavior of Lebanese civilians
along the border fence.

Whenever a UN force is to be sent anywhere, the country in whose territory
that force will operate must first authorize the dispatching of the unit.
UNIFIL was established without prior approval from Israel, because the force
was deployed in Lebanon, which authorized its presence.

Israel's approval was needed for the creation in 1974 of the UN
Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which was deployed on the Golan
Heights following the disengagement of Syrian and Israeli troops there after
the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. Similarly, Israeli authorization was
necessary before the multinational observer force was dispatched to Hebron.

It is obvious that the Palestinians also want an international observer
force in both East Jerusalem and at the land border crossings with Israel,
and that no one in Israel would dream of agreeing to such a proposal.

In the past, international forces not officially associated with the UN have
been dispatched in accordance with the specific circumstances of each
situation. In Yugoslavia, NATO stepped in and deployed a force not
authorized by the UN, and this would certainly be an ideal model for Arafat.

The Arabs themselves set up a pan-Arab force to keep the bloody dispute in
Lebanon from spreading, and the Palestinians were involved in that dispute.
In the end, this force tacitly agreed to the Syrian takeover of Lebanon.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that an international observer force
is set up despite the opposition of Israel. Why should Israel allow the
members of that force to use the land border crossings under its
jurisdiction? Even if the force entered the territories via those border
crossings, it could deploy itself only in Area A (which is under full
control of the Palestinian Authority), because the role of such
international forces is to protect the local population. This force would
not have any jurisdiction, on behalf of the Palestinians, in Areas B or C.

Thus, even if such an international force were deployed in Area A, Israel
would continue to hold on to about 60 to 80 percent of the West Bank and the
peace negotiations would be a dead letter.

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