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Palestinians Exploited Tunnel Opening

Column by David S. Kelman
Columnist

In the past week, violence once again rocked Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This violence, ignited by the opening of a tunnel entrance in Jerusalem, was perhaps unique in that it involved Palestinian Authority police fighting Israeli soldiers. In all, over 70 people - Israelis and Palestinians - are dead. The unfortunate fact is that the violence was induced and allowed by the highest members of the Palestinian Authority with little legitimate justification. The tunnel opening, which was in fact essentially harmless by itself, was exploited by many Palestinians as an excuse to engage in a terrible episode of violence and death. The entire incident seems to indicate that perhaps the Palestinian Authority and many Palestinians are more interested in amassing power than gaining lasting peace.

The first question is whether or not the original incident, the opening of the tunnel entrance, was, as Yasser Arafat characterized, "a big crime against [Palestinian's] religious and holy places." The Palestinians claim that the tunnel opening may somehow undermine Islamic holy sites on the Temple Mount.

The tunnel, in fact, is over 2,000 years old. This means it was around before the birth of Islam itself, let alone when the Dome of the Rock and later Islamic sites were built. In addition, the tunnel does not run under any of the holy sites on the Mount. There seems to be little possibility, then, that reopening the second end of the tunnel violates the integrity of Muslim holy sites. Perhaps the real fear some Palestinians have comes from the fact that the second entrance is in a Muslim neighborhood. This could lead to more Jews hanging around there; God forbid.

The more important question, however, is how this tunnel opening resulted in virtual civil war. An important factor is that Palestinian Authority leaders made completely irresponsible statements that incited many Palestinians. Yasser Arafat and his aides certainly must have been aware of the truth concerning the tunnel opening, yet many of them made comments suggesting that Israel was practically destroying their holy sites. Furthermore, once stone-throwing Palestinians started the violence - in one case marching on a peaceful center of Jewish religious study - the Palestinian Authority-controlled police soon joined in with their M-16 rifles. Seemingly, Arafat did little at first to stop the police's assault on Israeli soldiers. When Arafat finally did move to stop the Palestinian police, they quickly halted their violence. This fact indicates that Arafat does have strong control over the police and could have stopped them earlier.

In light of these facts, the tunnel opening was clearly utilized by the Palestinians as a convenient excuse to go on a rampage. Such eagerness to employ violence without just cause indicates a desire to gain power and positioning, not peace. Those familiar with 19th century European history might be reminded of Prussia's Bismarck and his similar manipulation of minor incidents in order to provide Prussia with pretense for violent acquisition of power.

Arafat has stated that he is looking for "deeds, not words" from Benjamin Netanyahu '76. Ironically, the Palestinian Authority recently has shown through both words and deeds that its intentions are less than angelic. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated his desire to continue the path towards peace, albeit a fair peace. In fact, the Arab League was quick to call an emergency strategy meeting as soon as Netanyahu was elected. This amounted to an immediate vote of no confidence. The Arabs managed to give Netanyahu less of a chance than the Republicans gave Clinton after his election in 1992.

I think that clearly the rash of violence in the past week has been unnecessary and unwarranted. Furthermore, the blame for the majority of the violence rests squarely on the Palestinian Authority's head. My hope is that the emergency summit at the White House yields at least preliminary results that are honored by both Palestinians and Israelis. If I were Netanyahu, however, I would be more wary than ever.