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Jewish World Review July 17, 2000 / 14 Tamuz, 5760

Mona Charen

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Peace Now?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
MANY AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS carried the clowning picture of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on their front pages. It is the sort of thing for which American journalists have a particular weakness -- the elevation of personality above all else.

Apparently the two men had paused for a moment at a door and, then, in an Alphonse and Gaston moment, each suggested that the other go first. One widely used photo showed Barak's hand on Arafat's back, both men laughing. Despite the fond imaginings of Western journalists, the chemistry between the two men is really not very important at all to the prospects for peace.

President Clinton appears to believe that the parties can be bribed to make peace, and he has repeatedly attempted to commit the United States not just to broker a deal but to sweeten it with American cash. Though this seems a magnanimous gesture at first glance, it actually could be quite dangerous.

True peace between Israel and the Palestinians is, it need hardly be said, extremely desirable. But while Israel seems prepared to go to almost any lengths to achieve peace, Arafat has given no indication that he is prepared for compromise. From the Palestinian perspective, compromise means accepting the West Bank and part of Jerusalem as the final territory for a Palestinian state. But as David Wurmser, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute warns, the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to prepare the Palestinian people for less than total victory (meaning eventually, all of Israel).

Nor has recent history persuaded the Palestinians that holding out is unwise. In Lebanon, Israel withdrew its forces in the worst possible way -- slinking home without warning after 28 years and leaving its Lebanese allies to the 'justice" of Hezbollah. The lesson for any Palestinian inclined toward compromise with Israel was clear: Arabs who staunchly resist Israel win in the end; those who cooperate with Israel wind up at the end of a rope.

Arafat's hold on Palestinian leadership has never been secure. He is unelected and rules by force, of course. But he is also always subject to internal coups d'etat and challenges from more radical forces like Hezbollah. Since achieving autonomy after Oslo (99 percent of Palestinians are now living in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority), Arafat's popularity has declined. His rule has been characterized by summary arrests and executions, huge expenditures for security police and spies, and staggering corruption. A Palestinian audit in 1998 found that half of the $88 million budget was being lost to graft or waste.

Israel is understandably tired of war, and deeply divided internally over religion and other cultural questions. But as Wurmser points out, there is no Israeli faction today that seeks a larger Israel. Some want to hold what is left of the country, and others are willing to surrender everything except the territory inside the 1947 border. But even now, with Israel offering the PLO and Syria virtually everything an optimistic Arab might have hoped for 10 years ago, the Arabs are balking. Within the Arab world, anti-Semitic propaganda is rampant (Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is a best-seller) and even the idea of an Israeli/Palestinian soccer match (brainchild of former prime minister Shimon Peres) was considered scandalous to the PLO Football Association and the PLO Association of Sports Columnists. Israelis and Palestinians in a friendly game "must be some sort of joke," said a columnist for a major Palestinian newspaper.

Could this reluctance to make real peace be because the conflict with Israel helps autocratic Arab regimes to remain in power? Does stoking hatred of Israel keep the minds of Palestinians off other matters -- like why their standard of living has declined since autonomy? For 40 years, Arafat has held power by promising to destroy Israel. What will his people think if he agrees at Camp David to something less? Will he smother those objections with American cash?

If Arafat really wanted peace, American bribes would be unnecessary (as I believe they were in the case of the Egyptian/Israeli accord).

But he may be willing to sign something merely for the cash. Such an outcome might please the legacy-starved Bill Clinton, but it would damage U.S. taxpayers, the Israeli people and the cause of peace.


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