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Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2000 / 13 Tishrei, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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Peace is war: That's the Middle East -- still -- PEACE had seemed so near in the Middle East at last, with only one square kilometer of Jerusalem left to dicker over, or maybe even, as one wise negotiator suggested, to leave to Heaven. But that was another age --- last month.

Men may cry peace, peace, but the violence sputters on. The surest of all prefaces to war in the Middle East is now in place: the usual U.N. resolution full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Amid the gathering storm, on the Jews' holiest day, fervent prayers for peace were heard around the world, but the dread of war was bitter in the mouths of those fasting for peace. In Israel and far beyond, the suspicion was growing that the whole peace process has been a war process all along, just as the doubters had always warned.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. With each Israeli concession and Palestinian gain, an air of mutual trust was going to be established. Instead, a mutual distrust has turned into violent confrontation. The violence has spread like a series of small fires about to join into one great conflagration.

Even those of us determined to be hopeful begin to wonder if all these protracted negotiations over the past decade weren't based on bad faith. The deal was supposed to be land-for-peace. Instead the Israelis seem to have traded land for war.

Once the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel began the years-long process of handing over one slice of territory after another to Chairman Arafat's a-borning state of Palestine. In return, only one concession was demanded of him: that he forswear the use of force.

Instead, at every critical juncture of these negotiations, the mob was loosed. Unlike the Jewish state, the Palestinian one has never dissolved its armed gangs, its Irguns and Stern Gangs, but even now uses them as leverage. Yasser Arafat, like Russia's czars, understands the usefulness of an occasional pogrom to divert the masses. Any pretext will do, like an Israeli leader's visit to the Jews' holy of holies atop the Temple Mount. How dare he!

A cross-border raid from Lebanon over the weekend, and the seizure of three Israeli soldiers, now threatens to turn what was a crisis into a war. Despite the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, it remains occupied territory -- occupied by Syria and the various freebooters allowed to strike when and where they can do the most harm to any chance for peace.

With each concession in these negotiations, Ehud Barak has seen his support at home wither, until now it has almost disappeared. First his slim majority in the Israeli parliament evaporated, and then his friends in Israel's disillusioned Peace Movement, from Yitzhak Rabin's widow to the novelist Amos Oz, began to abandon him.

By now, Ehud Barak may have lost the support of Ehud Barak. Like the rest of Israeli public opinion, he is fast molting from dove into hawk. It happens every time sweet reason produces bitter fruit. One can sense Israel's bright hopes of conciliation with its Arab neighbors turning into a familiar, steely determination.

Once again, a beleaguered Israel is turning into a coiled spring. Once again, there is talk of a government of national unity, which usually forms only when war threatens. Once again the Israelis are advised by others out of the line of fire to act with restraint -- that is, protect themselves, but not too much.

This semi-peace may yet be patched together before the lights go out across the Middle East, but if so, it won't be because the United States took a strong stand. The vote on this U.N. resolution was 14-0. And what was the official American position? Our representative abstained -- rather than veto what may be the most one-sided resolution out of the U.N. since its infamous Zionism-Is-Racism resolution of 1975.

The difference between then and now is that the United States had a foreign policy then -- and the moral courage to express it. And an ambassador to the United Nations with the gifts of a Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who could put things plain: "The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.''

Surely it is no coincidence that so memorable and unflinching an address, which is worth rereading every time the U.N. acts like a diplomatic lynch mob, was delivered by an ambassador named Pat Moynihan. Perhaps only the son of another long-oppressed people could speak with an eloquence born of memory.

The more the shape of the 21st Century begins to emerge out of the glowing talk about unparalleled peace and prosperity, scientific advances and internetted communication, the more it looks like 1938. Once again a "police force,'' this time Palestinian rather than British, stands aside as Arab rioters sack a Jewish shrine in Palestine, profaning sacred texts, stomping the Word into dust. Book-burning is back.

Europe is still doing its part. It no longer has that many Jews to persecute, but in the German city of Essen over the weekend, demonstrators staged their own little (ital) Kristallnacht(unital), throwing stones and firebombs at the synagogue there. The 21st Century is beginning to look an awful lot like the 20th.

Of course, some things are different. The Jews have guns now. And use them. They fight back. And when they do, they're condemned 14-0 with one abstention. No doubt the United Nations would pass a resolution of condolence at Israel's demise, but the Israelis would prefer to live. How intransigent.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate