Israel and Palestine: what now?: Both sides must ensure that violence does not now derail the Middle East peace process, says Moshe Raviv, ambassador of Israel in London

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The Independent Online
LAST FRIDAY, an outrageous act of murder was perpetrated by an Israeli, deranged by fanaticism, who killed 43 Muslim worshippers at the cave of the Patriarchs. For 27 years, Jews and Arabs have prayed in this shrine, which is holy to both religions, with comparatively few incidents. This wanton killing has shocked the world, but no more than it has shocked Israelis from all walks of life - apart from a small, fanatical group belonging to the same sect as the murderer.

Our sense of outrage and feeling of deep sympathy for the bereaved Palestinian families was promptly expressed by the President of the State, Prime Minister Rabin, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and many other national and religious leaders. As Israelis and Jews our condemnation of the brutal killing is unequivocal. It is alien to our tradition, which is founded on, among other principles, the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill'. It is so repugnant to all of us because the sanctity of human life is of supreme value.

The Israeli government has subsequently decided to appoint an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the killings. The commission will consist of five prominent members of the Israeli public. It will be headed by the president of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Meir Shamgar, and will include an Arab judge. The Israeli government has undertaken restrictive actions against a number of known fanatical militants, including disarming them.

The source of this evil is the extreme fanaticism that prevails among Palestinians, and, unfortunately, in small and insignificant fringes of Israeli society.

Out democratic framework is strong and resilient and it will deal with these people, who are beyond the pale of our society, without fear or favour. This government will compel them to silence their guns.

However, the problem facing us and our Palestinian partners in the negotiations is how to prevent these extreme elements from derailing the peace process, for this is their declared purpose. As we identify ourselves with the grief of the Palestinian people, we cannot but point out that for many years Israelis have been subjected to a chain of indiscriminate terror committed by extremist Palestinians. Since the signing of the Oslo agreement last September, 33 Israelis have been killed and 213 injured by terrorist acts. No Arab leader has expressed a sense of horror remotely similar to those voiced by our leaders in the past 48 hours.

Our government is determined not to be deflected from its main objective - the achievement of a true, lasting and comprehensive peace. At the same time, we shall continue to fight terror from whatever source it emanates.

The enemies of peace are hard at work, but they will fail. They will be defeated by the vast and sensible majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Both peoples are tired of war and terror, both peoples have already paid a prohibitive price in blood and tears and are resolved to assure a better future for their children.

The stonewalling against attempts to kill the peace process cannot be achieved by Israel alone, just as the struggle against terror must be conducted by both Israel and the PLO, our partners in the Oslo agreement. We are therefore stressing the urgency of resuming the negotiations on all tracks with the Palestinians and with our other Arab partners.

Israel and the PLO have worked very hard to conclude the Oslo agreement and, subsequently, the Cairo agreement on 9 February 1993.

For the past four months we have bridged many differences and agreed on issues of primary importance to both parties. We have thuscreated a sound foundation on which we can continue to build more urgently. With this in mind, the Israeli government has agreed to President Clinton's suggestion that we resume talks with the Palestinians in Washington DC and conduct them without interruption until agreement is reached. We hope that a similar positive and constructive attitude will be displayed by Chairman Arafat and the PLO leadership.

We are convinced that the best hope for the future lies in this course. If both we and the Palestinians follow it, the Gaza-Jericho agreement may be implemented before long.

(Photograph omitted)