Outside help needed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 12:00am

Once again any prospect of peace in the Middle East is in tatters. Nothing short of a miracle is likely to revive the Oslo process. And miracles are rare events in this tragic part of the world.

The suicide bombing of a Jerusalem pizza restaurant, which left 15 people dead and hundreds grieving, ended any prospect of restraint by the Israeli Government. It also signalled what has been suspected that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat holds little or no sway over the more radical elements among his people. His appeal is likely to further diminish as he is increasingly left with nothing to offer as an alternative to the violence waged by the Islamic militants.

Israel's initial response to the Jerusalem bombing has been subtle. But its seizure of the Palestinian's political headquarters, known as Orient House, and the placing of an Israeli flag over the building were actions that speak volumes about Israel's future intentions. It signalled the Israeli Government's sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. It was a direct rebuttal to Palestinian hopes that the eastern part of the city would one day become the capital of an independent state.

Victimless though Israel's action was, it is likely to inflame Palestinian sentiment and represents a grave escalation of an already dire situation. It is likely to cause the spread of the 10-month-old intifada into east Jerusalem, which has so far been spared the violence that has raged in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians will see that their only option is to hit back in order to regain Orient House. Popular support for extreme Islamic groups is growing among Palestinians; the Israeli position grows ever more distrustful and hardline.

From the Israeli viewpoint, the seizure of Orient House aims to stop the creeping control by the Palestinians over those areas of east Jerusalem populated predominantly by Arabs; for the Palestinians it is a declaration of war.

Those who cling to hopes that a meaningful peace can prevail can only conclude that outside leadership is desperately needed; and the US is the only power capable of prevailing. Yet, after initially attempting to replicate the high priority former US president Bill Clinton attached to the peace process, the US now appears to lack commitment to being the catalyst of a solution. It is now clear that without its renewed determination to breach the widening gulf between the two sides, there is little hope that the terror on both sides can be ended. Both sides' position in this seemingly interminable conflict has hardened to such an extent that, left to their own devices, it appears impossible that a peace can be found.