Tags: Peace | the | Middle | East?

Peace in the Middle East?

Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM

Recent events in Israel suggest that Palestinian-inspired terror is a pressure tactic to achieve a negotiating advantage. It is neither war nor politics.

Arafat understands that rock-throwing youths and well-armed policemen firing at Israeli soldiers offer the most significant leverage in his negotiations with Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton.

Moreover, the wave of violence promoted by Arafat with the helpful assistance of Hezbollah has been orchestrated to force Israel into concessions that go beyond Barak’s generous (foolhardy?) proposals.

In this context peace means stability to Israelis and a return to the map of 1947 for Palestinians, a time when Israel as a state didn’t exist.

Since the rioting began, Arafat has not said a word condemning the violence, claiming that he, with authoritarian control of the police, cannot stop teen-agers from throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. In fact, he said that "the Palestinian people are inclined to continue the confrontation because it is beginning to bear fruit."

Alas, that may be true. Many Israelis believe that with just a few more concessions the violence will end and peace can be achieved. This view, of course, represents little more than the triumph of hope over reality.

The violence is turned off and on by Arafat as if it were a spigot. Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was merely a pretext for riots. Months before, intelligence reports indicated the Palestinians were preparing for violence. And why not? It is Arafat’s trump card.

The cold-blooded lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah by a Palestinian mob, the abduction of four Israeli soldiers on the northern border with Lebanon, as well as the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in which 17 American sailors were killed suggest a level of premeditation for the terror not acknowledged in most accounts of Middle East events.

That American officials do not understand or fully appreciate what is going on is remarkable. The scene in which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright runs after Arafat beseeching him to return to the negotiating table displays in all its symbolism how the State Department capitulates to terrorists.

Even now, with the evidence pouring, in U.S. officials refuse to point an accusatory finger at Arafat. That explains why the administration refused to reject a U.N. resolution condemning Israel as the instigator of violence. All President Clinton could muster was a mealy-mouth abstention.

Peace is possible, but it is a peace on Arafat’s terms. It is a peace born of defeat. If Israel does not exist as a Jewish state, there will be tranquility. Without that eventuality there can only be violence. American utopians would be wise to appreciate this proposition. But hope does spring eternal and, after all, Clinton doesn’t live in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

If this claim seems exaggerated, consider that Barak was willing to grant Arafat 95 percent of the West Bank and even share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem – concessions no other Israeli leader has made or would make since these moves could jeopardize national security. Still this was not enough for Arafat.

Should Arafat re-enter negotiations these Israeli concessions will be the starting point, not the goal. President Clinton, eager for a peace of any kind as his historical legacy, will probably urge Barak to do even more than the dangerous proposals already on the table. But the Clinton view is sheer fantasy.

The United States has a strategic role in the Middle East because of Israel. If Israel is sacrificed, the countervailing force of democracy against totalitarian influence will be lost.

At the moment a false moral equivalence between Israel and the PLO has been established by Albright’s State Department. There’s a seeming unwillingness to recognize the profound difference between a popularly elected government that exercises control through the consent of the governed and an Arafat-led government that relies on intimidation and authoritarian influence.

Perhaps in the end no agreement can be reached. As I see it, that would not be tragic. While peace – a real peace – is an honorable objective, a genuine peace is not in the offing, not now in any case. Clinton insinuated himself into Israeli politics by supporting Barak, the candidate he wanted. Yet even Clinton’s man, the one who makes all the concessions, cannot give away enough to satisfy Arafat.

Israel has placed itself in a no-win situation. If it attacks the terrorists, it will be censured by the United Nations; if it does nothing, the terrorists will claim victory. If Israel agrees to negotiate, Arafat will demand more. If it does not come to the negotiating table, the world community will condemn its "intransigence."

It is time for Israel to re-evaluate the meaning of peace. It is time as well to ask fundamental questions about Israel’s relationship to the PLO and the Arab world. Soul-searching may not provide an answer, but as is noted in a famous Yiddish joke, it can’t hurt. I can think of many things that will hurt.

Herbert I. London is John M. Olin professor at New York University and president of Hudson Institute.

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Recent events in Israel suggest that Palestinian-inspired terror is a pressure tactic to achieve a negotiating advantage.It is neither war nor politics. Arafat understands that rock-throwing youths and well-armed policemen firing at Israeli soldiers offer the most...
Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM
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