The Wages of Oslo
Until 6:45 A.M. on February 25, 1996, supporters of the Oslo agreements between Israel and the PLO believed that history was on their side. Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the accords’ true begetter, had declared in a New York Times interview, “The hunting season has ended in history.” And on February 23 of this year, he was quoted more concretely as saying:
With the Palestinians everything is going well. All the commentators and experts who have been forecasting terrorism have been proved wrong. There have been no terrorist strikes. Arafat has dismantled the PLO’s own terrorist network and is fighting seriously against terrorism.
Forty-eight hours later, the first of a series of six terrorist strikes hit Israel. Within eight days, suicide bombers had blown themselves up in two Jerusalem buses, at a soldiers’ pick-up station in Ashkelon, and on a crosswalk in a Tel Aviv shopping center; an Islamic fanatic had plowed his car into a crowd waiting at a bus stop in Jerusalem; and five youths loaded with explosives had been apprehended while trying to penetrate an Israeli settlement in the Gaza district.
Except for the Gaza attack, every one of these operations resulted in deaths—62 all told. This brought the total of terror fatalities in the 31 months since the signing of the Oslo agreements to 213, the largest number in any such period since the establishment of the state. In per-capita terms, it was the equivalent of more than 10,000 American dead.
Nor did the Islamic terrorist assault against Israel begin on February 25. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two main terrorist groups, have been waging a relentless war against Israel for years. With tenacity, imagination, daring, and savagery, they have employed knives, guns, ambushes, kidnaping, car bombs, suicide bombers, and even hit-and-run drivers. The first attack by suicide bombers was in April 1993, almost a year before Baruch Goldstein massacred Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, an event used as an excuse for Arab “revenge,” and still longer before the pretext offered by the killing this past January of the Hamas arch-terrorist Yahya Ayyash, “The Engineer,” in Gaza.
The difference between the more recent incidents and the six attempts in 1993 (one in the Jordan Valley, one outside Jerusalem, and four in the Gaza district) is that the earlier attacks caused “only” a few score injuries and one Israeli death. Had the terrorists been more proficient and their intended victims less fortunate, the fatalities would have been in the hundreds. Indeed, in 1994 and 1995, having improved their technique, suicide bombers did take a heavy toll in Afula, Hadera, Tel Aviv, Beit Lid, Ramat Gan, and Jerusalem. Yet after each such attack, the Israeli government affirmed its faith in the peace process and even accelerated its “dialogue” with the PLO.
This year’s concentrated wave of attacks seemed, at first, to mark not only a quantitative but a qualitative difference. On the part of the government of Israel, the immediate reaction to the slaughter was one of undisguised shock. There was talk of postponing national elections (the date for which had just been advanced by Labor in the hope of capitalizing on its huge lead in the polls following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin), and of forming a national-unity government. Alternatively, leaders of both Labor and Likud suggested an emergency cabinet which would include members of the opposition. The Prime Minister himself, mincing no words, declared: “We are at war.” For the first time, government officials began to wonder in public about the wisdom of continuing the process they had embarked upon in Oslo.
Only for a moment, however. Whatever others may have felt, it took Peres almost no time to recover. Belittling the suicide bombers as “bums,” he reverted to his seemingly incontrovertible justifications of Oslo. While it is true, he said, that Islamic groups still practice terrorism, they represent a small minority. Thanks, indeed, to Oslo (his argument continued), a majority of the Palestinian people now disavow such measures, and the PLO, representing that majority, has decisively switched from violence to negotiations. True, the PLO may not have done enough to combat terrorism, but with a little pressure from Israel and the U.S., it will undoubtedly come to realize where its own interests lie, and act accordingly. In the meantime, continuing the negotiations, and bringing them to a successful conclusion, will eliminate the terrorist threat altogether. By contrast, if Israel were to deviate from the Oslo process, the Palestinians as a whole would revert to violence.
In short, as Peres put it in an interview with the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv after the bombings, “I continue to believe in Oslo. We are a quarter-hour before the peace, and that is the most dangerous quarter-hour.”
Peres’s view is hardly unique. It is shared, at least outwardly, by all Western governments and virtually all mainstream media, many of which have painstakingly instructed us not only that the vast majority of Palestinians are for peace, but that even Hamas itself is divided between a few desperate militant factions and a gradually moderating “political wing.” In fact, we are told, had it not been for Israel’s insistence on liquidating Ayyash in Gaza, and, before him, the Islamic Jihad chieftain, Fahti Shikaki, in Malta, the chances are that Arafat would have succeeded in enticing the terror groups into the camp of the nonviolent, and the sudden flurry of bombings, which broke a seven-month calm, would never have occurred.
This is a reasonable-sounding, hope-inspiring picture; but it has no foundation in fact. To begin with the “seven-month calm”: two days before the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by an Israeli extremist last November, two complex and coordinated suicide attacks against Israeli buses were mounted simultaneously in the Gaza district. Only sheer luck and the alertness of a military escort prevented loss of life. Throughout the seven months before February, moreover, there were ambushes, knifings, shootings, kidnapings, and attacks on Israeli vehicles with Molotov cocktails. Most ended relatively harmlessly, but six Israelis were killed in these incidents and a dozen or so seriously wounded.
If there were no major attacks in that period, it was because Hamas had promised Arafat it would keep a lower profile until his Palestinian Authority (PA), in accordance with the interim-stage provisions of the Oslo agreements, could take control of the major Arab population centers on the West Bank. Later, Hamas further agreed to maintain its lull until after the January elections for the Palestinian Council. Then came the holy period of Ramadan, a month in which ordinary Palestinians might react negatively to any actions which would spark punitive Israeli counter-measures. Three days after the Muslim festival of Id al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the murder campaign was resumed.
Throughout this period of relative calm, Israel’s government actively supported a dialogue between Hamas and the PLO, having bought Arafat’s sales pitch that doing so would result in a moderation of the extremist elements. Israel not only halted anti-Hamas activities in areas still under its control, it enabled Hamas representatives to leave the country through border checkpoints in order to hold talks with the PLO in Sudan and Egypt. All this, according to numerous Western and Israeli sources, meant that Hamas would soon renounce terrorism and join the election campaign for the Palestinian Council.
What happened instead has been well described by Yigal Carmon, former adviser on counter-terrorism to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin, in an article for the Jerusalem Post:
The PLO-Hamas dialogue culminated in an agreement formulated in a joint statement signed by both sides in Cairo on December 22. . . . As a result of these negotiations, and of the [PLO’s] courting of Hamas, the organization has been strengthened. The PLO did not moderate it. On the contrary, the PLO accepted and . . . initiated the following principle: Hamas would halt operations only inside or emanating from the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority—or would at least not claim any kind of responsibility for such operations. In all other areas, Hamas would be free to continue its activities.
It is not difficult to understand why the PLO would want Hamas to continue its operations, as long as these did not embarrass the Palestinian Authority or arouse Western suspicion that the PLO itself was condoning and abetting terrorism. Salim Zanoun, Arafat’s chief negotiator with Hamas, and acting chairman of the Palestine National Committee (PNC)—the body of 400-plus members known as the Palestinian parliament—was aggressively candid about the purpose of the PLO-Hamas agreement. Speaking to Arab journalists in Cairo, he said:
This should be understood by all. We are not the defenders of the Israeli entity [sic]. We consider it sufficient to obligate Hamas not to embarrass the PA, which is responsible for security in the areas it has received, and from which it will not allow actions. . . . If Israel wants to spare itself Hamas attacks, it had better hurry and withdraw from the rest of the territories.
Informing the assembled journalists that he had telephoned Arafat to report on the agreement, Zanoun reported Arafat’s response: “Allah bless you. This is good, this is nice.”
Hamas, too, well understood the purpose of the agreement. Khaled Mash’al, its representative to the talks, said on the same occasion, “Hamas views its action as support for the Palestinian negotiators [with Israel] and the Palestinian Authority” (emphasis added).1
What western interpreters have consistently obscured is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not, in fact, oppose the Oslo process. Although they object to any final settlement that would entail Arab recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, they most emphatically favor Israeli withdrawal from “occupied territories,” as dictated by the Oslo accords. Nor have they ever raised a hand against the PLO, the co-signatory of Oslo and an organization to which the Hamas charter refers as “father, brother, mentor, and close relative.” Hamas may regard itself as Arafat’s political competitor—it would like to rule an Islamic Palestine—but at this particular stage the two are following the traditional shoot-and-talk strategy of all dictatorships negotiating with democratic adversaries.
That strategy, rooted not only in doctrine but experience, has been all too effective. As Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report (and initially an enthusiastic supporter of the Oslo agreements), put it recently in a New York Times article:
At this stage of Palestinian nation-building, terrorism can be useful. The existence of a radical alternative strengthens Arafat’s international legitimacy as a moderate leader and adds urgency to his demands for additional financing for the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, it was the growing power of Hamas that initially persuaded a skeptical Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin to accept the PLO as a negotiating partner. Terrorism is also a psychological weapon, which helps ensure continued Israeli territorial concessions. Each new terrorist attack increases the number of Israelis demanding total separation from the Palestinians. The political consequence of that emotional response is greater Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state. Thus, while Arafat may on occasion respond to international pressure and crack down on terrorism, he won’t uproot the large-scale Hamas infrastructure that has grown in Gaza, at least for now.
It is, then, ludicrous to accuse Arafat of not having done enough to curb terrorism, as both Peres and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher did in the aftermath of the latest bombings. No leader in the world better fits the description, “sponsor of terrorism,” than he. Not only does he shelter terrorists; he lets them incite, recruit, organize, train, arm, raise funds, and launch operations from areas under his control. Even Peres finally admitted in mid-March that “the head of the snake is in Gaza,” the area under Arafat’s primary command.
It was the Hamas leadership in Arafat’s Gaza, keeping on cordial terms with his Palestinian Authority, which decided on terrorist strikes and issued operational orders for the bus bombings. It was Arafat’s Gaza where the Hamas military organization trained bombers and assembled explosives, where “The Engineer,” the mastermind of suicide bombings which killed 50 Israelis, found shelter and PLO protection, and where his successor, Mohammed Dief, was living openly. In fact, Arafat’s chief of preventive security was negotiating with Dief—a close friend—both before and after the first bus bombing in Jerusalem. Knowing of Dief’s involvement in the bombing, he did nothing either to detain him or to prevent the next outrage.
Nor, unlike Hafez Assad of Syria and other international sponsors of terrorism, does Arafat bother to keep a safe distance from the killers in order to preserve “deniability.” Arafat himself elevated Ayyash to sainthood, paying a condolence call on Hamas leaders after his death, lauding him as a martyr and hero, and arranging for the Palestinian police to participate in the funeral and fire a 21-gun salute in the terrorist’s honor. It was with Arafat’s knowledge and approval that commemorations for Ayyash were held throughout the West Bank and Gaza, including one in Kalkilya three days before the first Jerusalem attack in which a crude mock-up of an Israeli bus marked (after an earlier successful terrorist assault) “Dizengoff 5” in Hebrew was burned in the town square.
Arafat participates—usually through an amplified telephone—in Hamas rallies like the one held last year at the Abu Dis Islamic campus in Jerusalem. There the main speaker, Sheikh Jamil Hamami, intoned:
We have not forgotten for a single day Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa . . . and all of Palestine. The road is very long, but you must continue on it until victory or death for Allah. My wish is to die a martyr.
Hamami was later tried by an Israeli court; the PLO paid for his legal defense.
In virtually every one of his speeches to the Palestinian multitudes, Arafat demands the release from Israeli prison of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Hamas founder and spiritual leader, and he invariably urges jihad against Israel. Although he has assured Peres and the Western media that jihad means “nonviolent improvement” or even a “love letter,” he always accompanies the call with exhortations to sacrifice, death, and martyrdom; alludes to the precedent whereby the Prophet Muhammad signed treaties with enemies when his own following was weak, only to scuttle them and emerge triumphant when he became stronger; lionizes and glorifies terrorists who have died in the struggle against Israel, including those who have attacked Israelis after the signing of the Oslo accords; and refers repeatedly to the PLO’s 1974 “plan of stages” for Israel’s destruction. After terrorist incidents in Israel, Arafat has invariably freed the Hamas operatives who had been just as routinely rounded up by the Palestinian police.
But—say Arafat’s apologists—there is no denying that Fatah, his own organization in the PLO, has eschewed terrorism, and that at least two-thirds of the Palestinian population have decided to lay down their arms. This, too, is misleading. True, since the signing of the Oslo agreement Arafat’s Fatah organization and his bodyguards in Force 17 have not (with a few exceptions) attacked Jews. But for a clearer indication of the PLO’s disposition we have not only Arafat’s own words quoted above, but the pronouncements of his closest lieutenants.
Thus, Nabil Shaath, the PA’s Minister of Planning and a favorite Arafat negotiator, said in a recent Nablus symposium (telecast on local Palestinian television):
If the negotiations reach a dead end, we shall go back to the struggle and strife, as we did for 40 years. It is not beyond our capabilities. . . . As long as Israel goes forward [with the process], there are no problems, which is why we observe the agreements of peace and nonviolence. But if and when Israel will say, “That’s it, we won’t talk about Jerusalem, we won’t return refugees, we won’t dismantle settlements and we won’t retreat from borders,” then all the acts of violence will return. Except that this time we’ll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom.
As if to complement these statements, another Arafat spokesman, Marwan Bargouti, told the (London) Independent that Palestinian security forces have been ordered to fire if Israeli soldiers ever try to enter territories under the PA’s control. He added that the Palestinians are in possession of many more weapons than the agreement allows, and that their armed forces are much larger than advertised. Still another Fatah spokesman, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “warned London’s Sharq al-Awsat newspaper [in mid-March] . . . that violence and terrorism against Israel [would] be expected until Israel withdraws fully from the territories.”
An interesting insight into Arafat’s mind is afforded by his habit of charging that Israeli “extremists” were complicit in this year’s bus bombings. “Only a superman would have been capable of executing such a complicated operation without Israeli help,” Arafat told one visitor, and then proceeded to name the purported Israeli organization involved: the OAS, after the clandestine right-wing group in the French army which in the late 1950’s opposed French withdrawal from Algeria. Nor was this the first time he had made such a charge. Following the Beit Lid bombing in January 1995, which killed 22 Israelis, and again after the bus bombing in Jerusalem of August 1995, in which four Israelis died, he said similar things, and at one time even identified Ehud Barak, then chief of the General Staff and now Israel’s Foreign Minister, as a leader of the group.
Of course it is doubtful that Arafat really believes in the existence of an Israeli OAS, any more than he believes Israel’s ten-agora coin contains a secret map of expansion; that the blue stripes on Israel’s flag represent the Nile and Euphrates rivers, the promised borders of “Greater Israel” in the Bible; or for that matter that Jesus was a Palestinian Arab—all things he has repeatedly avowed. Rather, he must assume that such lies—no matter how outrageous—will stick if repeated often enough. He is not the first dictator in history to assume so, and to be proved right. At the very least, Arafat clearly hopes to implant in Western minds a suspicion that those responsible for the bombings were not members of an Islamic organization with which he himself has repeatedly professed close relations and solidarity.
By floating these lies, moreover, Arafat risks nothing. Diplomats and journalists who hear his earnest descriptions of conspiracy may relate the story to their colleagues with an air of amused disbelief, but no one has ever called him to task for retailing such libelous fantasies, nor has doing so diminished the respect in which world leaders seem to hold him, or their resolve to help him with grants and loans. Even Yitzhak Rabin, who once stalked out of the room when Arafat attempted to sell him a similar canard, returned to continue negotiating.
Indeed, no matter how damning any of the evidence against Arafat, before February 25 of this year neither the government of Israel nor the Clinton administration ever found serious fault with his performance. The March 1 State Department report on compliance with the Oslo accords—required by law before additional aid could be approved—simply ignores the fact that the PLO has consistently violated virtually every aspect of the agreements and in particular has refused to extradite terrorists. Even after the February-March bombings, Secretary of State Christopher waited less than 48 hours after the routine round-ups began to state that Arafat was “doing 100 percent.” For their part, Israeli officials have gone so far as to declare that anyone opposing American help for the PLO is no friend of Israel.
Nor, finally, is it only Arafat’s support for violence against Israel which both the Israeli government and the U.S. administration have chosen to overlook. Although virtually every official report from Gaza has paid glowing tribute to the supposedly “wonderful improvements” wrought by the PA, a rather different picture emerges from a harrowing story filed in the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz by Gideon Levy, a former assistant to Peres and an ardent advocate of a Palestinian state.
Levy was brought to a Gaza apartment last December to hear testimonies by victims of the new regime. The window shutters were tightly closed, and Levy’s host and his host’s mother kept nervously checking the street for unusual movement. Everyone spoke in whispers for fear the neighbors might hear. Although the tales varied in detail, they were uniform in essence:
For many hours they told stories of bribery, exploitation, extortion, incarceration without trial, drug dealings, car thefts, prostitution, and everything imaginable.
A father says he has no idea what his son is being accused of. “It’s not only my son, it’s the whole nation,” he says. “The security people said they were taking him for five minutes; seven months have passed since then. In my life I have seen the Turks, the British, the Egyptians, and the Israelis. But I have never experienced this kind of situation. . . .”
An embittered woman says, “I have come to you from under the earth. My husband does not know I am here. He was told that he and his whole family would be liquidated if he reveals anything. We are endangered people now. . . . That’s the face of the PA and that’s what’s come of it. We were happy, thinking we were being liberated from the occupation. Now God should chop off our hands which threw stones at the Jews. We brought this disaster on ourselves. Now there is no law and no justice.”
Such testimonies are almost identical to those heard by numerous Israeli and foreign journalists in southern Lebanon in the wake of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There, too, the PLO had established a ministate, known in Israel as Fatahland. It was a state which an earlier generation of credulous Arafat groupies had praised for its hospitals and schools, its network of beneficent social institutions. In reality, it proved to be as savage and as corrupt as any Arab dictatorship in the Middle East.
Before assuming power in Gaza, Arafat boasted to skeptics that the PLO would run it expertly. “We acquired our experience,” he said, “in Lebanon.” So they did.
When, in 1993, Israel’s Labor government adopted a policy of unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories, even its most ardent supporters understood that this “redeployment,” as the move was euphemistically called, could only work if the successor Palestinian regime turned out to be friendly. This is where Peres’s much-heralded vision in his book, The New Middle East, came in: a confederation of Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, on the pattern of the European Union or of Benelux. Without this elaborate rationale, it is doubtful that the Israeli negotiators at Oslo would have gambled so recklessly on the fate of their nation.
The premise of the Oslo agreement was in fact twofold: not only would the PLO be transformed into a trustworthy European-style ally, it would perform the task of subduing any Islamic and radical “rejectionists” who refused to abandon the armed struggle against Israel. As both Rabin and Peres put it, “instead of our chasing the terrorists, the PLO will do it. And they will not be constrained by courts and human-rights organizations.”
In the general intoxication, it did not seem to dawn on Israel’s government that building a Benelux-style partnership with a regime uninhibited by courts and human-rights organizations was a contradiction in terms, an insult to history and common sense alike. Police states do not a Benelux partner make. Nor can an Arab regime like the PLO, sworn to Israel’s destruction, suddenly turn into a proxy. It will not use capital force against other Arabs, with whose goals it is in full sympathy, to satisfy a beleaguered government of Israel.
It is, of course, possible to reach an arrangement with dictatorial powers. But such arrangements, usually branded “cold war” or “cold peace,” do not constitute peace in the West European sense: their maintenance depends not on friendship and cooperation but on deterrence, and as long as the dictatorial power continues to pose a danger, the democratic power is best advised not to surrender strategic assets to it.
Such elementary truths have begun to make themselves felt in Israel, where, thanks to the savagery of the recent bombings, the dream of a friendly, safe Palestinian entity across the street from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem has somewhat dissipated. Instead, Israelis of all political hues have now turned to a different solution: “separation.” It is a solution to which, not surprisingly, Peres has always been strenuously opposed, and not least when it was introduced by Rabin after the Beit Lid massacre. “We are making peace, not borders,” Peres then protested. Late last year, when leaders of Israeli communities abutting the areas of the PA complained of dangers to life and property, Ori Orr, the newly appointed Deputy Defense Minister, lectured them, “A fence is a matter of psychology, and psychology is not security.”
Yet now the press and many politicians in Israel are touting fences, and worse, as the solution to Israel’s security problems. Following the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, an editorial writer for the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv who has enthusiastically supported the Oslo agreements demanded: “Don’t give us fences; give us a wall, a wall of steel.” Trying to reconcile such a “wall” with the idyllic peace envisioned by the architects of the Oslo agreements, government spokesmen themselves now say, in effect, “We must separate for a generation, until we learn to live together. The idyll will have to wait.”
Any decision to separate, however, would, willy-nilly, mark a repudiation of the Oslo accords, and a giant step backward beyond that. Instead of marching forward to a utopian “New Middle East” of peace and plenty, the Israel that built a wall would revert to the ghetto-like existence of 1948-67, when all the country’s population centers were within a few short miles of a threatening border. Nor would that be the end of things. Although many—perhaps most—Israelis would give anything to remove the Arab presence from their midst, “separation” is no less chimerical than was Peres’s dream of a European Union in the Middle East.
It is an inalterable fact of life that Israel’s population is a mixed one: more than 850,000 Arabs live within the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 borders. To say that the vast majority are loyal to the Jewish state is as meaningless as saying that most Palestinians are not terrorists. It takes no more than a few hundred activists to wreak the kind of havoc Israel has experienced lately, and the sorry fact is that in one case, that of the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv, the bomber entered the city with the help of an Israeli Arab. Those arrested in the round-ups of Hamas activists have also included Israeli Arabs. What else can Israel realistically expect in the future, particularly after the establishment of an irredentist, revanchist Palestinian state within walking distance of Arab Israeli towns?
Even more problematic are the 150,000 Arabs of Jerusalem, most of whom do not carry Israeli passports. Hamas and Islamic Jihad operate at least ten institutions in the city, each of them an incubator of hatred for Israel. These range from Al-Quds University and the Scientific Medical Association to the “Holy Land Fund” and other purported charities. There is little doubt where the sympathies of most of Jerusalem’s Arabs lie.
But there is also no way for Israel to “separate” from these Arabs, either in the country at large or in Jerusalem, unless the government means to forfeit half the capital city and split it down the middle with a border fence, and thus relinquish sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall as well. No, in the immediate future there is only one recourse: to roll back the Oslo agreements, and restore to Israeli security services complete freedom of action in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
This would not necessarily mean returning the army to the streets of Arab towns and villages—although the spectacle of Israeli soldiers chasing rock-throwing Arab youths might now be more palatable to many Israelis than further sights of carnage like Dizengoff Center. But it would almost certainly involve a clash with the forces of the PA, and it would cause bloodshed. The military power the Palestinians already possess, though it does not threaten Israel strategically, is unprecedented in its ability to inflict casualties and damage. Never in their history have Palestinian Arabs had 30,000 to 50,000 men under arms, nor have they ever before been equipped with the kinds of weapons they have today. Moreover, in its eagerness to placate the PLO, Israel has lost much of its own former intelligence network in the territories, allowing the Palestinian police to arrest, torture, and kill with impunity those who have provided the Israelis with information.
Yet the terror infrastructure must be destroyed. It may be tempting to postpone the day of judgment, particularly if the Islamic terrorists suspend operations for a few months and thus again succeed in inspiring false confidence. But trying to uproot the cancer later—when the state of Palestine is an official fact, when ports and airfields will have been built, when it will be impossible to prevent the Palestinians from importing all the weapons they want, and soldiers to use them—can only issue in all-out war.
Such is the brutal, implacable pass to which Oslo has inexorably led.
—April 8, 1996
1 In Israel, Carmon's contention was at first dismissed by Shimon Peres, who said he knew nothing of such an agreement, and by Justice Minister David Libai, who asserted that the Hamas-PLO talks had ended without agreement. But by the end of March the existence of a Hamas-PLO understanding along the lines described by Carmon was acknowledged by virtually all experts, including, significantly, Yehoshua Porat, a leading Middle East authority and a former Knesset candidate of the super-dovish Meretz party.