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A week after the news of his excommunication, we met Fr. Balasuriya in the hope of getting an interview for publication. At his office in the Centre for Society and Religion, Fr. Balasuriya wearing his white robes and a smile, quietly informed us that it was difficult for him to give an interview at this stage.
It was only that morning that the Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka had issued an official notification of Fr. Balasuriya's excommunication. The notification was published in The Catholic Messenger, official organ of the Church.
"I have not even gone through it in detail," Fr. Balasuriya said. "I only saw the headlines this morning. I cannot give an interview unless I am duly prepared for it, after all this is a serious matter."
The CSR office, Fr. Balasuriya's abode, was somewhat in a mess. There was no doubt that the staff of the centre were standing by their leader in this crisis. "You can interview anyone else in the centre," Fr. Balasuriya said.
The others came forward with photocopies of various documents, offering information to us in lieu of an interview. Every now and again Fr. Balasuriya would be consulted by some staff seeking advice on various nitty gritty details.
"I am issuing a statement tomorrow ( Friday) evening," he told us, adding that he is looking for people to translate his statement into Sinhala and Tamil.
Unwilling to go away without the interview we were looking for, we inquired about taking a few photographs. " Oh, you're welcome to take even a hundred pictures," he invited laughing, " But no interview."
Inside the offices of this 71-year -old priest , books and papers were scattered everywhere. He opened a file and showed us all kinds of articles written about him in the world media and letters expressing support sent by various organisations. Standing tall and straight, Fr. Balasuriya certainly looked much younger than his age.
In a quiet corner of the same room two younger priests were earnestly chatting. Complaining of the lack of filing facilities he sat down at his cluttered table. Behind him, atop a wood-and -glass book cupboard were several statues, of the crucifixion, a meditating Buddha, a memento with "Allah" inscribed on it and God Vishnu.
It clearly showed that this man was not one, however orthodox his upbringing, to be bound by conventions and man made rules. Whatever his tomorrow's hold he has already made a lasting impact on society. What his future plans are , is yet to be seen.
In 1975 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike using her two-thirds majority in parliament extended the life of Parliament. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva , one of the founders of socialism in Sri Lanka, a highly-respected lawyer and the architect of the Republican Constitution, defended the action of Ms. Bandaranaike.
The same Colvin R. De Silva fought successive UNP governments whenever they took decisions contrary to the will of the people.
He was the champion of the down trodden masses and fought the mighty British imperialist government to win independence for Sri Lanka. There was a difference this time. He knew that Ms. Bandaranaike in the seat of power never wants to give up. He knew that it was morally, intellectually and legally wrong for her to extend the life of Parliament using her majority. No one could conscientiously support such a dictatorial move. But Dr. De Silva was a very powerful Cabinet Minister in the government.
He, like Ms. Bandaranaike and other mortals, wanted to remain in power for a few more years or as long as possible. He would argue in his own mind in justifying an unjust action that he never wanted power for any selfish reason, but for the good of the poor. He had not been able to establish a socialist state or a dictatorship of the proletariat where finally the state would wither away. It might take about two years. The government was also not all that popular.
The UNP, the enemy of the people, had won almost all the by-elections that were held. No right thinking socialist would permit a counter revolution. So he made the most eloquent speeches in Parliament, and outside Parliament; his rhetoric and his resonant voice reverberated right round the country in defending and approving the decision of the Prime Minister. He wrote to the press quoting Marx, Lenin, Mao and other great leaders of the left.
Then came the great messiah of democracy JRJ. He decided to sacrifice his seat in Parliament. Addressing Parliament, he said he had been elected for five years and he had no moral right to stay in Parliament a day longer than 5 years without the approval of the people in his constituency. Every one believed that it was one of those rare occasions when an MP decides to quit parliament for the sake of the nation and to safeguard the cherished values of democracy. The United Front government decided to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of JRJ. The United Front government had consistently refused to hold a by- election to fill the vacancy created by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party, when he quit parliament. But JRJ saw to it that he never remained outside parliament for a long time. The by-election was held and JRJ won with a huge majority. He contested and obtained a mandate from the people to return to Parliament.
In 1977, when the General Elections were held, JRJ made one solemn pledge to the people of this country. He would never extend the life of parliament even by a day. He would hold elections on the due dates, and would never try to suppress the sovereign power of the people. He promised to establish a just and a free society. Every one believed him. The UNP received an unprecedented five-sixth mandate. Everyone dreamt of a righteous society. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva and Dr. N. M. Perera were defeated. JRJ decided to introduce a new constitution.
When the constituion was being discussed there was a report that a provision for a referendum was to be incorporated. The writer had a discussion with Stanley Tillekeratna and expressed his fear that this same provision would be made use of by the government to extend the life of parliament. Mr. Tillekeratna who had come back to practice after being the Speaker in the National State Assembly dismissed the theory, and said, "with the referendum clause in the present constitution, we would have the ideal model for a democratic government."
"After all," he asked me, "do you think that JRJ would ever resort to extend the life of parliament without holding an election? That was JRJ's solemn pledge to the people,"
Mr. Tillekeratna knew JRJ very well. JRJ was a true democrat. He would be the last person who would ever resort to such an undemocratic measure.
Then why have the referendum clause at all.
I said that "even after JRJ, someone might get the brilliant idea of extending the life of parliament by using these provisions in the constitution. If the SLFP objects to it, the framers might decide to drop it."
But Mr. Tillekeratna did not agree with me. Mr. Tillekeratna was a true democrat. Even as the Speaker he held the scales evenly and never bowed his head to pressure from the government. He was hailed as one of the best Speakers our parliament has produced. Cleverly JRJ has won the admiration of the opposition and got the constitution adopted with the clause relating to referendum. What he did later is history.
JRJ not only held a referendum to extend the life of Parliament, but conducted the most shameless election ever to be held in Sri Lanka. The culture of violence, vote rigging and fixing the ballot boxes were a common feature of the referendum. What is most important is how he justified his action of holding a referendum. He saw a coup by a Naxalite group trying to take over power by force in the offing. Vijaya Kumaratunga was incarcerated as the one behind this Naxalite plot.
Vijaya allegedly had made a powerful speech at Nugegoda, just before the Presidential Elections, where he said on the day after the elections, he would be accompanying Hector Kobbekaduwa to the Presidential palace, he will be treading on a carpet full of blood, shed by the oppressed classes of this country. Then he would go to the Welikada jail and release all political prisoners kept in custody by the JRJ government. This was sufficient for the CID to record evidence of some close associates of Vijaya who single handedly nearly defeated JRJ.
JRJ the true democrat, the messiah used these incidents to extend the life of parliament and incarcerate his political opponents.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has publicly proclaimed that the Constitution is only a piece of paper, and that 1997 would be the year a Constitutional revolution would take place.
Any person with average intelligence could be forgiven for beleiving that the government is proposing to introduce the package and thereby expects to perform a constitutional revolution. If any person other than the President made a statement to the effect that the constitution is a piece of paper, he or she like Ishini Wickremesinghe could be detained under the PTA. In any other country the press would create a public opinion against the President so that members of Parliament would have thoughts of impeaching the President, as all Presidents and other officers of state take an oath to safeguard and uphold the Constitution.
In Sri Lanka with the blessings of Minister G. L. Peiris, the government is now trying to place a political package before the people. Some of the provisions of the package are in direct violation of the unitary concept of the present Constitution. If the people accept the provisions it is non binding and the Parliament will have to approve the package and amend the Constitution with a two thirds majority. In the present form it is unlikely that the UNP would support the package, and the package, is a dead duck. Then why is the government trying to place the proposals before the people and get them to vote at a referendum.
The government will naturally use all its resources to win the referendum. The million dollar question is whether it would go so far as to take a cue from what happened at various elections held to elect representatives to co-operative societies and the manner in which thugs ruled the roost, and how violence broke out and how the opposition candidates were driven out and how ballot boxes were stuffed, it must be clear how the referendum would be conducted. This government has the habit of outdoing what JRJ did. When there was a controversy about the appointment of Dr. Shiranee Bandaranayake, the government tried to justify the appointment by referring to some appointment made by JRJ to the Supreme Court. JRJ appointed one Presidential Commission, this government has appointed a countless number of commissions. Could this government out do the infamous referendum of JRJ?
Agovernment by these methods might obtain more than 60% of the vote and perform a constitutional revolution On the basis that no Constitution is superior to the will of the people, they might present the new constitution with the package before Parliament. It could argue that the percentage of votes received by the people approving the package would constitute more than 2/3rd of the seats in Parliament if the elections were held under the old system and not under the proportional system introduced by JRJ.
As a prelude to this hypothetical scenario the government may arrest Ranil Wickremesinghe on the basis of evidence that is being led at the Commissions. Several persons have testified that certain officials attached to these commissions wanted them to implicate Mr. Wickremesinghe and Sirisena Cooray.
A. D. Upali Ranjith informed court that certain officials of the Lalith Athulathmudali probe wanted him to make a statement implicating Mr. Wickremesinghe. According to him they wanted him to testify that on April 22, 1993, the day before Lalith was killed, Mr. Wickremesinghe came to the residence of Sirisena Cooray at Lake Road, and had a discussion and then Mr. Cooray came out of the residence and informed him to carry out the mission. The mission was to kill Lalith Athulathmudali at the Kirullapone meeting.
Janaka Priyankara Jayamanne informed court by way of an affidavit that they sought to obtain a statement on the same lines. Rohini Hathurusinghe has said the officers of the commission wanted her to implicate various politicians of the previous government, including Mr. Wickremesinghe.
Mr. Cooray has been named as a person concerned with the murder of Lalith Athulathmudali, and is abroad. The government, knows the organising ability of Mr. Cooray. If there is any politician the minority parliamentarians would trust, that person undoubtedly would be Mr. Cooray.
Mr. Desmond Fernando P.C. (President of the International Bar Association) who was a childhood friend of Mr Athulathmudali, and would never have agreed to appear for Mr. Cooray unless he was absolutely certain that,
1. Mr. Cooray had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of Mr. Athulathmudali.
2. The investigators right from the inception had tried to obtain confessions from suspects implicating Mr. Cooray.
Mr. Fernando knew that when there was friction between Gamini Dissanayake and Laltih Athulathmudali for the premiership under the Premadasa government, Mr. Cooray supported Mr. Athulathmudali. Mr. Wijetunga's appointment as the Premier was denounced by Mr. Cooray. That was one reason why Mr. Wijetunga never wanted to accommodate him.
Investigators of the Batalanda Commission are striving to prove that there was a torture chamber at Batalanda and Mr. Wickremesinghe knew about its existence.
If the government arrests Mr. Wickremesinghe and prevents Mr. Cooray from coming to Sri Lanka, a rigging of a referendum can be done without much fuss. Once the people approve the referendum parliamentarians will pass the new constitution with a simple majority. Then the PA parliamentarians will take the oath of allegiance. The judges of the Supreme Court will then be asked to take the oath of allegiance and if they do not take oath, they will no longer remain in the Supreme Court. Judges who are brave will go home, others will remain. The remaining vacancies will be filled bysympathisers and thus a new era will dawn. A new constitution could be promulgated.
Admittedly this is only a scenario, but not beyond the bounds of speculation and dark forebodings.
If one is to learn a lesson from history, there is one salient fact that Dr. G. L. Pieris must learn. There is one single person in this country whose opposition to the package cannot be ignored. He is Mr. Prabhakaran. JRJ thought that with the help of the Indians and the Indian army he could settle Mr. Prabhakaran. He published large advertisements in the government newspapers about people from the south going back to Jaffna to open bakeries. The government had a major media blitz when the LTTE handed over an old pistol to Gen. Sepala Attygala symbolising the handing over of weapons by the LTTE. It is only a person with an infertile imagination who would have imagined that Mr. Prabhakaran would give up his ultimate goal of creating Eelam.
If Dr. Peiris thinks that by legalising the political package he would be in a position to alienate the Tamils from the LTTE, I would request him to read the propaganda which was unleashed by the JRJ regime immediately after the peace accord. JRJ and Rajiv thought the same way. What they could not understand is why the LTTE did not give up its struggle to establish Eelam. JRJ thought by the force of the fourth largest army the LTTE could be driven to the jungles and then it will never get the support of the people. This is what all the strategists in the Indian Foreign Ministry and Lankan experts thought. But it was only good in theory. Acts of the IPKF made the Tamil people embrace the LTTE with much more vigour. The Provincial Councils became a burden and were imposed on the people of the south, who were quite happy with the existing set up. The Tamils continued to be ruled by the LTTE in their areas.
If the Tamils in the North are willing to accept the devolution package as a political solution to their problems and wanted the government to liberate them from the tyranny of the LTTE, why did they then leave the Jaffna town at the instance of the LTTE when the army liberated it. Then when the army proceeded to Kilinochchi why did the population leave Kilinochchi. Dr. Peiris might believe that the civilian population moved away as they were terrorised by the LTTE. Then if that is so, if the Government writ has no force or effect in Jaffna, how can one expect to implement the proposals of the devolution package without the population being subjected to terror by the LTTE.
How can a spokesman of the LTTE like Mr. Vasantharajah (former Chairman of the Rupavahini Corporation) draw thousands for LTTE protest rallies in the capital cities of the West? Aren't they aware of the political package which is hailed as the only or the ultimate solution to the on going ethnic war? Don't they want peace. I do not know whether even the N.I.B. is aware that the ultimate goal of Prabhakaran is not Eelam, consisting of Northern and the Eastern provinces, but a confederation with Tamil Nadu and the whole of Sri Lanka as one Tamil state of Eelam. As much as we have been saying that the unitary concept is not negotiable, they have been saying that the fact that the Northern and the Eastern Provinces are the traditional homeland is not negotiable. We have relented; they have not.
Ultimately the south will be saddled with a package, where each province will have a police force and an Attorney-General and Judicial Service Commission appointed on the recommendations of the Chief Minister. If a member of the opposition is killed, the police may well not apprehend the government supporters, and if they do surrender, the A.G. could advise the courts to discharge the accused for want of evidence. The judges will have to act according to the dictates of the Chief Minister. In short there will be no law and order, as is happening in many Indian states like Bihar.
To my mind the package will sound the death knell of an independent judiciary. And Prabahkaran will continue with his struggle until we relent and give them the right of self determination. As long as Prabahkaran exists, solving the ethnic strife by the introduction of the political package is like some cricketer trying to better Bradman's test average.
Rev. Fr. Tissa Balasuriya always possessed a radical streak and a yen for controversy, but he is not exactly an angry young man. Father Balasuriya has incurred the wrath of the Pope, and has now been officially declared persona non grata in the Catholic Church.
But, in these times, that is almost like being affirmed normal, because the Pope is so conservative that he has created something of a record in terms of the numbers who have been alienated from the church on account of his leadership.
In Germany, for instance, 15,000 people quit the Catholic Church for each year of Pope John Paul's papacy on the average. "The right wing is not the heart of the Catholic Church," says a German theologean quoted in Berliner Zietung. Some 34 per cent of Catholics under the age of 29 in Germany have considered leaving the Catholic Church "solely on account of the doctrinal stance of its leader".
Obviously, Pope John Paul II has been the most unpopular Pope that the Catholic Church has seen for a long time. But, the Pope has been extremely papal, cannonizing and excommunicating with equal clan and authority.
Father Balasuriya has been excommunicated without a hearing for a book he had written on the virgin Mary, even though undoubtedly this is not a book that you would normally expect from a Catholic pillar of the church. But then, Fr. Balasuriya has never been a pillar of the church. He has been somewhat like the current head of the Anglican Church in Ceylon, a left-leaning theologean to put things rather matter-of-factly.
He has been embroiled in controversy previously, for instance, during the memorable episode in which he lent his good offices for the then Minister of National Security, Lalith Athulathmudali, for negotiations with the JVP. The JVP man whom Fr. Balasuriya trusted turned out to be a conman, and among others, Mr. Athulathmudali ended up with some egg in his face.
But it had to be Fr. Balasuriya who made the Sri Lankan contribution to the increasingly shrill assault by the Catholic Church on the current orthadoxy as stood for by the Pope.
The Pope acting like the Pope, however, has not given Fr. Balasuriya a hearing. Now Fr. Balasuriya is said to be advised among other options of embarking on a hunger strike.
Priests are human, but it is uncanny that with the advent of the papacy of John Paul II, that preists have been even keener to expose their human foibles.
For example, among other things, a series of sex scandals have rocked the Catholic Church, but the Pope has not been moved. The Pope has repeatedly refused to discuss the issues of priestly celibacy despite the evidence that the incidence of sex scandals among the Catholic clergy is simply because priests are not allowed to marry. Before a papal visit of Germany, the German Newspaper Die Woche conducted a survey on the issue of celibacy for priests. Die Woche did not bargain for the results. Some 84 per cent of German Catholics opposed mandatory celibacy for priests, 75 per cent favoured ordination of women, and a full 85 per cent doubted papal infallibility.
The last statistic strikes at the core of the conflict that separate the likes of Fr. Balasuriya from the current orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. Hans Kung, a professor of ecumenical theology in Germany is one among scores of Catholic priests who have been punished by the Vatican edict in recent times. Mr. Kung was removed from his chair in Catholic religion at the University of Tubinjen for his attacks on Vatican policy. Fr. Balasuriya's book has been tepid, hardly a challenge to the policy of the Vatican compared to the vitriol that has been aimed at the Church by theologeans such as Kung. The Catholic Church, Mr. Kung has been quoted recently as saying, is a ship that has lost its course. The person to blame is the captain."
The issue, according to the Pope's detractors such as this professor, is one that can be stripped to the basic question of whether "The views of Pope John Paul II strengthen rather than weaken the Catholic Church".
But, is the crew allowed to mutiny if the captain has "lost his course?" Fr. Balasuriya himself is not prepared to take on the Holy Father in this way. But, maybe obliquely, he is happy that his excommunication has not been seen as such by the Catholic community which has besieged him with their sympathy and support since the excommunication order. Says Fr. Balasuriya that the Catholic community has "incommunioned" him though he has been excommunicated by one department of the Church headed by the powerful Cardinal Ratzinger. He dosen't have a good word for the influential Cardinal who, he says, has "misrepresented what I said in the book, and falsified its content." But, asked pointedly whether the Pope was himself not involved in the process of excommunication Fr. Balasuriya replies that he "does not know".
At the moment, the position taken by Fr. Balasuriya is "inclusionary". He has not come out against the Holy Father but has chosen, rather, to say that he is "very much a part of the church" and that he has in fact followed the path of the Pope who has pronounced many times that the Church has been wrong. "For instance", says he, "I am closer to Christ than those who advocated the crusades and those who used the name of Our Lady of Victories to further the intolerance that was propounded via the crusades."
But, those who see the issue from a vista outside Fr. Tissa's Centre for Society and Religion doubt that the chances of the Father are as sanguine as he believes them to be. Theoretically, Fr. Balasuriya has a right of appeal to the "Supreme Court" of the Vatican, the signitura postolica. Whether the appeal will be heard is a "matter for the Vatican to decide".
Fr. Balasuriya says he has been in search of an Asian theology, and striking a germane chord under the circumstances intones that the mighty rich and arrogant will be humbled and the humble shall be exalted.
What puzzles him is that the Pope has asked for an exercise in soul searching saying that the Catholic Church has erred in the past. If so, why the ire when such a soul searching is carried out in the process of what is after all a matter of interpretation?
The content of Fr. Balasuriya's book is divergent, but his interpretation on original sin, for instance, is consistent with his earlier stated views of tolerance as opposed to the crusading zeal of the Catholic Church of a different time.
On this Fr. Balasuriya expounds eloquently saying that he believes that every baby is wanted and that no baby is born under the influence of devil and therefore to be branded as pagan. The issues that have been dealt with in the book are vast; there are humerous contentious positions taken by the Father that the Catholic Church has found rather prickly and unorthadox.
But, Fr. Balasuriya is devoting his energies at the moment to the issues of "process" which he feels the church has violated, and it is noteworthy in this context that the Vatican is normally a stickler for process, given the Vatican's sacrosanct circumstances.
Take the process that systemizes the eruption of the divine in human affairs, "the miracle". The Vatican applies the strict criteria that were established by Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s among them that for a miracle cure to considered done, that there should have been a serious disease, that there was objective proof of its existence that treatment had failed and that the cure was rapid and lasting. For instance, leukaemia remissions are not considered until they have lasted a decade.
One lobbyist for would be saints has been quoted as complaining that "it is pretty disappointing when you have worked for years and years and see the miracle being rejected." But modern miracles have strict rules.
Will it need a miracle to reverse the order of excommunication that has been issued on Fr. Tissa Balasuriya? Given the recent record of the Vatican and the uncompromising stand of the Pope, this seems to be the case. But, the excommunication was a result of four years of pushing behind the scenes that was aimed against the radically intellectual Fr. Balasuriya, a product of Oxford, generally considered to be a radical in the church.
But, Fr. Balasuriya has been considered a humanist and a theologean, rather similar to the Pope in this respect. But, the Pope's humanity has not been in question, it is only his theology that has been. Clearly, this aspect of the Holy Father has alienated more of the flock than it has attracted to it. In such a context, perceived rebels such as Father Balasuriya receive a measure of legitimacy that would have been unthinkable in the context of such an excommunication if it took place in a different time and during a different papacy.
Hebron.... the eye of the storm. The historic accord signed by the Labour government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres with P.L.O. Chairman Yasser Arafat is in serious danger. That truce was universally acclaimed as the most important exercise in what is widely called "conflict resolution".
For all its vast resources, and its monstrous cruelties, South Africa with its black-and-white conflict, did not attract the attention that the Midle-East did. South Africa could not claim the same strategic importance. Ever since West Asia, Iran and its neighbours had been identified in the mid-forties as a vast oil-rich region, the Middle-East and Israel commanded far more attention from the industrial nations than any other area.
Though new to the imperialist enterprise, the United States "adopted" the Shah of Iran, an upstart who chose to call himself the Shahenshah Aryamehr, the King of Kings, the Light of the Aryans. When a humble Moslem cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini snuffed out that light with what is popularly called "an Islamic revolution", the politics of the Middle-East was radically transformed.
There was another critical factor involved. It was Mr. Shimon Peres, then an important figure in the Histradut, the giant labour federation, who reminded me in an interview in his Jerusalem office of "The Soviet threat", Moscow's challenge to America's hegemony from Iran to Israel.
Now the Soviet implosion has completely altered the strategic landscape. The dramatic turning point was Moscow's impotence, despite Gorbachev's visit, in the Gulf War ("Desert Storm") where Russia could do nothing to help President Saddam Hussein. The Americans were both stronger and wiser. It did not permit Israel, the target of a few missile attacks, to hit back. Israeli involvement would have provoked Egypt's President Mubarak, a key figure in the drama, and angered the Arab masses.
Interestingly, the same Mr. Peres, interviewed years later, did not mention Moscow or communism. He was frank enough to talk about Palestinian "protest" "dissent" "grievances" and the "debate within the P.L.O.". Were the militants (George Habash, Jibril and company) trying to isolate Yasser Arafat in the larger Palestinian movement? Which neighbouring states were (or would) assist such radicals?
In short, Mr. Peres, the gifted trade unionist, realised that the time would come to grant concessions to Chairman Arafat in order to help him retain his leadership. Yes, Mr. Peres saw the future, and did not find it too pleasing.
Land and peace
Call it "autonomy" "mini-state" "devolution and decentralization" the P.L.O. and its chairman had to be "saved". And to save him, Israel must concede enough to help stabilise the situation and protect the P.L.O. Better the P.L.O. than Hamas or some other "extremist" or "fundamentalist" group.
What he did not anticipate was electoral defeat, the Labour party as the opposition in the Knesset. But he should have read the signs.... most of all the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Mr. Peres was patriotic enough to sacrifice his right to lead the Labour party. He invited General Yitzhak Rabin, the most decorated war hero in Israel after Gen. Moshe Dayan. If Labour under Rabin made a deal with the P.L.O. who would dare brand it a betrayal?
As we know now, there was a young man who was not only ready to charge (General) Rabin of treachery but kill him. Yigal Amir was a "nut" they all said. Not at all. He was a member of a "secret" group (cell). He had attended "indoctrination classes". Doctrine? Yes, Jewish fundamentalism.... nothing new. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning....Ó. Well, it was not actually Jerusalem which has produced the current crisis, but Hebron, although Jerusalem itself is a powder-keg.
It is called the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), not quite an independent state with its own government. And yet Chairman Yasser Arafat is often introduced as President Arafat, and the P.A. does introduce "laws". Critics and opponents of the P.L.O. and Arafat call it a "municipality" or a "mini-state". But territory, land, is still the vital issue, not sovereignty.
Perhaps with greater devolution, the P.A. may acquire some of the characteristics of a "state". However, land and settlements, territory and people dominate the debate and sometimes influence Israeli policy.
It is easy to blame the P.L.O. and its Chairman for the current impasse. The truth is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no "free agent" either. His right-wing Likud-led coalition relies on at least five-to-six groups/parties for a safe majority in Parliament.
When there is a deadlock, the mediator must intervene.... and the mediator in this case is none other than the world's sole superpower, the United States, where the voters recently decided that young Mr. Clinton had done well enough in his first term to deserve another. (Besides, his rival was not much of a challenger).
Freed of electoral pressures or lobbies and pressure groups in Washington, President Clinton has a strong hand. But will he act as statesman or politician? He did invite (summon?) President Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington. But the White House encounter did not seem to have impressed Mr. Netanyahu who did make a strong bid to win the support of the U.S. Congress.
"I hope and expect that we will conclude an agreement shortly," said Mr. Dennis Ross, President Clinton's special Middle-East envoy but the future of Hebron is still in the balance. The Likud-dominated Knesset puts the interests of 400 Jews first. 120,000 Palestinians are less important.
If the 1995 Peace Accord had been honoured, Hebron would have been administered by the Palestinian Authority. And what's holding up the implementation of the agreement? "The stalling is being done by the Palestinian Authority," protests David Bar-Illan, the senior Israeli adviser.
Noam Friedman, an orthodox Jew from a West Bank settlement, told Israeli investigators that he fired his M-16 automatic rifle on Palestinians in an outdoor vegetable market to "sabotage any transfer of power to Palestinians in Hebron...Ó
The court was told that he regretted having failed to kill Palestinians! Yes, Hebron could be the eye of the storm.Return to the News/Comment contents page
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