Israel goes too far

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 1996, 12:00am

To a greater degree than many of his predecessors, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has shown an understanding that the Middle East conflict can only be resolved through negotiations which involve painful territorial compromises. In the past, he has been prepared to take major political risks in the hope of achieving peace, as in negotiating the Oslo accords on Palestinian autonomy. Now Mr Peres is putting those previous gains in jeopardy as he resorts to the sadly familiar strategy of acting tough in an effort to enhance his opinion poll ratings in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign.

In human terms, the cost of his decision to launch a massive bombardment of southern Lebanon has proved tragically high. Certainly, Hezbollah guerillas provoked the action by firing rockets at Israel from the shelter of civilian areas. But this cannot justify the disproportionate scale of the response. Worse, the firing of artillery shells at a packed refugee compound on a United Nations base showed a callous disregard for life, and led to the killing of a hundred civilians.

In the short run, the bloodshed on Thursday may achieve the goal of forcing Hezbollah to halt its attacks. But this will only mean a return to the informal cease-fire which has existed for the past three years, rather than the public Syrian-backed truce which Mr Peres has been calling for so loudly.

In the longer term, the damage to the peace process could be severe. Already battered by Hamas' recent suicide bomb attacks and Israel's harsh reprisals, the process has now been thrown into further doubt by the anger which the offensive in Lebanon has aroused throughout the Arab world.

Nor will there necessarily be a boost to Mr Peres' popularity as a result: the latest opinion poll shows him slipping slightly against his right-wing challenger. If Israelis want to vote for a military crackdown, they can get the genuine article in the shape of the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Peres should stop trying to portray himself as an eleventh-hour convert to hardline tactics, and revert to his real talent - pushing forward with the peace process.



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Israel goes too far

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