Leading Article: Rabin got it wrong; let him now show respect

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The Independent Online
YITZHAK RABIN, the Israeli prime minister, has not come out well from the Waxman affair. When the corporal was kidnapped by Hamas, Mr Rabin announced that he believed the prisoner was being detained in the PLO's Gaza enclave, that he held Yasser Arafat responsible for the young man's safety, and that the peace process was endangered by the outrage.

Mr Rabin was wrong on all counts. Although Mr Arafat intensified his welcome, but initially hesitant, clampdown on Hamas, the PLO leader insisted from the start that Cpl Waxman, who had been kidnapped in central Israel, was not captive in Gaza. Embarrassingly, it was discovered - probably from information passed on by the PLO - that Cpl Waxman was being held on the Israeli- controlled West Bank. The commando attempt to rescue him was a failure, which cost Cpl Waxman's life and that of an Israeli officer.

Mr Rabin can never have believed that Hamas, which is bitterly opposed to the peace process, and the PLO were in cahoots. They are clearly at each other's throats for the leadership of the Palestinian people. The Israeli prime minister's point was that Mr Arafat was not prepared to be sufficiently ruthless in exercising his authority in those areas under PLO control.

Mr Arafat may be a devious man, in need of the occasional prod from Israel.

But bullying, arm-twisting, questioning of good faith, and threats to abandon the peace process are counterproductive as well as being unfair.

Israel has dedicated security services and brave and sophisticated counter-terrorist troops. Yet it took time before they were certain where Cpl Waxman was being held and, alas, they failed to rescue him.

This is not to denigrate the efforts or ability of Israel's armed forces. It is merely to emphasise that an equally unhappy outcome could well have ensued had Cpl Waxman been detained in PLO- controlled Gaza. In which case, if Mr Rabin's initial threats were to be taken literally, Israel would have held Mr Arafat responsible for the soldier's murder and, presumably, abandoned the peace process.

Instead, negotiations between Israel and the PLO are to be resumed this week. Mr Rabin's team should enter the conference room in chastened mood, prepared to give Mr Arafat the respect and the elbow- room he needs if he is to assume effective control over his territories.