Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 20, 1998 / 22 Tevet, 5758
Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE, which seems never to tire of pressuring the Israelis to endanger their own security, came up with a plan last week that was even more high-handed and patronizing than usual. Aaron Miller, the deputy special Mideast envoy, conceived the idea that Yasser Arafat, when he arrives in Washington this week, should pay a visit to the National Holocaust Museum.
According to The Washington Post, it took some arm-twisting to get Arafat's agreement (just as Arafat has previously balked at State Department maneuvers to get him to endorse peace, reciprocal security and so forth). But when, at length, Arafat consented to this piece of manufactured symbolism, he was rebuffed by the director of the museum, who declined to greet Arafat as a head of state. If Arafat chooses to visit the museum, Miles Lerman, the museum's director, told National Public Radio, "the doors are open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m." But Lerman would not greet the PLO leader at the gate or extend VIP treatment.
It wasn't clear until now that the job of Middle East envoy was a psychiatric post. But "sources close to" Miller and his boss, Dennis Ross, told the Post that they were hoping the museum visit would effect a "psychological breakthrough for skeptical Jews and help Arafat understand the fears of an adversary he has experienced primarily as a regional superpower."
This is the heart of the State Department's view of global strife -- everything can be reduced to failure to communicate. If the Palestinians only understood the pain and fears of the Israelis, goes the reasoning, and if the Israelis only understood the sense of victimhood of the Palestinians, then peace would break out all over.
But that is not the nature of the conflict. This is not couples therapy. This is an international dispute over land and sovereignty, and most of all, from the Israeli perspective, it is about national survival.
This crude attempt to play upon Jewish memories and sensitivities is both condescending and stupid. Israelis are perfectly capable, as they have demonstrated historically, of accepting a true change of heart by a former enemy. When the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem, he was greeted gratefully by the entire nation and rewarded with the return of the Sinai desert.
If Israelis are "skeptical" about Arafat's intentions, it is not because, as an Arab diplomat put it, "some people have not gotten over their complexes yet" but rather because the Israelis cannot help noticing that Arafat has done nothing to move toward peace and reconciliation except shake hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn. He has not extradited terrorists who kill innocent Israeli civilians. He has not separated himself from Hamas, one of the most violent terrorist groups in the Middle East. And he has not changed the PLO charter that calls for the elimination of the state of Israel.
Arafat and the people he represents have shown no change of heart toward Israel. They have endorsed the peace process -- as a tactic to get land -- without endorsing peace.
On each and every visit by an Israeli prime minister to this country, the State Department circulates its dismay that the Israelis are not offering more "concessions." They never ask why Israel should be in the mood to make concessions.
The terrorists who have blown up Israeli men, women and children on city buses are not outcasts in Palestinian society -- they are heroes. As recently as 18 months ago, the bombing of one Tel Aviv bus was re-enacted in the West Bank town of Qalqilya to the delight of thousands of spectators. When the terrorist known as "the engineer" -- he had killed at least 35 innocent civilians -- was assassinated by Israeli agents, his funeral became something of a state event. Arafat declared him to be a "martyr," and his cortege was honored by a 21-gun salute.
The notion that anything positive could be achieved by having Arafat tour the Holocaust Museum betrays the weak-mindedness of the State Department. This is a man who calmly ordered the murder of Israeli schoolgirls just a few years ago. If he toured the museum, it would be only to take notes.
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