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Published: Saturday, 10/21/2000

Peace? A poorly built bridge will fall down

The renewed violence in the Middle East illustrates why it is a pity lawyers tend to go into politics and engineers do not. The reason is their differing perceptions of reality.

Really good lawyers are those who can convince a jury that “reality” is other than what the evidence indicates. O.J. is innocent. It's McDonald's fault that an elderly woman spilled coffee on her lap while attempting to drink it in a moving car. Lawyers think they can adjust reality by the words they use to describe it.

Engineers know that if they build a bridge wrong, it will fall down, no matter what their intentions were, or how much they tear up at press conferences.

The fundamental reason for the collapse of the Middle East Peace process is that the parties to it have different goals: Israelis want peace. Palestinians want Israel. And President Clinton wants a legacy that doesn't involve a stain on a blue dress.

The peace process was based on the assumption that Palestinians were as eager for peaceful coexistence as Israelis were. But there was plenty of evidence to the contrary. Mullahs at mosques routinely call for the destruction of Israel. There is no Israel on the maps that Middle East Palestinian children study in school.

Acknowledgement of Palestinian unwillingness to accept peace if it comes at the price of having Jews for neighbors is not a comment on the justice, or lack thereof, of the Palestinian cause. A reasonable argument can be made that the United Nations was wrong to create a Jewish state in Palestine, given that the vast majority of the region's inhabitants were violently opposed to it. For people who hold this view, it follows that the Palestinians have been wronged from the get-go, and have the right to try to expel the interloper by whatever means are at their disposal.

If, on the other hand, you believe Jews have the right to a homeland in the place where they used to live, then Israelis are more victims than victimizers.

Palestinians deserve a homeland, too. Genuine peace is not possible until there is an economically viable, geographically contiguous Palestinian state that is not under Israel's thumb. I believe further that the capital of the Palestinian state must be in East Jerusalem; that the Temple Mount should become a kind of Vatican under United Nations control, and that the Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan should be abandoned.

But Israel can afford to make such concessions only to a disarmed and democratic Palestine that is determined to live in peace with its neighbor. None of these conditions apply. That is the reality with which we must deal.

Israeli security and Palestinian aspirations have been subordinated in the Middle East peace process to President Clinton's ambitions. Fox News reports that White House aides, in contravention of the rules, lobbied for the Nobel Peace Prize for our Bill. Dick Morris thinks it was Mr. Clinton's hopes for winning this prize that was responsible for the failure of the United States to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel.

Stratfor.com, a private intelligence firm, thinks the ill-considered Camp David II summit last July caused the current outbreak of violence by undermining both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat:

"The result was that both sides faced the abyss of peace, and in effect, chose war as the lesser evil and safer course. Had Camp David not occurred, the situation probably would not have deteriorated this badly, if at all."

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



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