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Published: Saturday, 10/14/2000

Seems Palestinians were spoiling for a fight

ISRAELI Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon are bitter political rivals. But together they have taught Israelis much about the limitations of appeasement, and the perils of basing Israel's security upon the fickleness of foreigners.

If Mr. Sharon ever joins your volunteer fire department, better check to make sure that it's water in his bucket and not gasoline. It was Mr. Sharon's visit to what Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call Haram ash-Sharif that triggered the violence that could lead to the next Arab-Israeli war.

Mr. Sharon's provocative visit lit the fuse. But it's plain Palestinians were spoiling for a fight. Four months ago Amos Harel, a columnist for a left-leaning Israeli newspaper, citing information from Israeli intelligence, wrote:

“[Palestine Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat has ordered his men to begin preparations for a wide-scale confrontation with Israel, and at the same time also to plan for a wave of violent demonstrations.”

In a radio broadcast in August, the Palestine Authority's minister of justice said: “Violence is near and the Palestinian people are willing to sacrifice even 5,000 casualties.”

In this ugly world of ours, lasting peace occurs only in those rare instances when both parties genuinely desire it; or, more commonly, when one side has so crushed the other that further resistance is futile.

Israel had the opportunity to establish a peace of the latter kind at the end of the Gulf War, which was not a happy time for extremists in the Muslim world. Saddam Hussein had gotten his backside waxed, and the Soviet Union, long the supplier of arms and money to rogue states and terrorist movements, had collapsed.

Instead, Israel embraced PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as a “partner in peace,” and began, in what has become known as the Oslo process, to make a series of unilateral concessions.

The Israeli hope was that Palestinians had given up on their half-century of effort to destroy Israel, and were now willing to accept the permanent existence of a sovereign Jewish state. That hope has proved illusory.

“Israeli high-mindedness prompted not reciprocal feelings of constructive intent but a boisterous sense of Palestinian strength,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. “By the time of the Camp David II summit, the Palestinian mood had reached such a state of enthusiasm [for violence] that the `street' prevailed on Mr. Arafat to turn down even Mr. Barak's shockingly generous concessions.”

It's important to remember all that Israel has given and offered, in exchange for vague assurances from Mr. Arafat that Palestinians wouldn't do what they are doing now: recognition of a Palestinian state which would consist of more than 90 per cent of the West Bank plus the Gaza Strip, with a capital in East Jerusalem. Mr. Barak even offered up control of the Temple Mount, sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The proximate cause of Intifada II was not Mr. Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, but Israel's decision to withdraw from southern Lebanon. Israelis saw this as a magnanimous gesture for peace. Muslims interpreted it as weakness. Having accepted without reciprocity all Israel was willing to offer, Palestinians hope to obtain the rest of what they want - which includes all of Jerusalem and may include all of Israel - by violence.

Israel today finds itself in more perilous circumstances than in 1948. Then, as now, the Israelis were willing to share Palestine; the Arabs were not. The biggest difference is that in 1948, international public opinion was on the side of Israel. The worm has turned. As Palestinians were sacking a Jewish shrine on the West Bank, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the Israelis, which is rather like placing the lion's share of the blame for starting WWII on the Poles. The United States, shamefully, failed to veto it.

No matter who does what to whom in the Holy Land, the “mainstream” media blame Israel. Two years ago, the absence of peace was blamed on the “intransigence” of conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His successor, Mr. Barak, has offered the most sweeping unilateral concessions in the history of diplomacy, but Israel is still at fault in the eyes of elite opinion.

Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail him at jkelly@post-gazette.com.



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