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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2000 / 21 Tishrei, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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The dream in ruins: A new realism in the Mideast -- ISRAEL IS NOW at war, they say. They're wrong. Israel has been at war for weeks, maybe for years. It's just that Israel didn't realize it until now. A lulling vision of peace in the Middle East has captivated not just Israelis since the Oslo Accords were signed. Now that dream is in ruins; it has a gaping hole in its side as big as the one in the USS Cole.

Once again, American casualties will be counted, bodies buried, taps played, families consoled, statements made. The ship will be repaired, but yesterday's vision of peace is sunk beyond recovery.

There is a moment when a dream is shattered, a moment when one realizes it was a dream, not reality. The light is painful, glaring, hard to look upon, yet reviving. And what must be done becomes as clear as the danger. This is called waking up. The body hardens; the ground beneath one's feet is solid again. Better bitter truths than false dreams.

If even more terrible things lie ahead, they may shock, but they can no longer surprise, not after the scenes from Ramallah. There the true face of the "peace process'' was suddenly revealed, complete with a rioter's bloody hands raised in joy at the window, the dangling corpse, the jubilation of the mob ... and, clearest of all, the bloodlust that has always hidden behind the smooth words and solemn pacts. Now one understands what was going on: a war process.

All those commemorative photos of successive Israeli prime ministers reaching out a hand to Yasser Arafat are no longer tokens of celebration, but stark warnings. They have changed in an instant, lost their color, become the shabby black-and-white of false history -- like the films of an elated Neville Chamberlain stepping off the plane from Munich bearing Peace In Our Time, the poor sucker. So does hope turn to irony. A year later, the delusions of 1938 would turn into an iron resolve, and there is no doubt which was better.

What a sucker Bill Clinton was to think he could fool the East -- what did he think this was, another presidential campaign, a showdown with Congress in which the best spinner would win, something a little Dick Morris triangulation would take care of?

Nothing is a greater tribute to what a blessed history Americans have had (not counting that little unpleasantness in 1861-65) than the very hallmark of American diplomacy, which has been American naivete.

What suckers we all have been. When Yitzhak Rabin, another general and man of peace, extended his hand to Yasser Arafat that first time, you could see it tremble. You could admire the courage it took to overcome his distaste. But maybe his hand was trying to tell the general something, something Ehud Barak can no longer deny, despite his best efforts.

Not all the current Israeli premier's concessions, even unto Jerusalem itself, have been met with a single inch of movement from the other side. On the contrary, with each concession, the demands escalate. Until it becomes a given that a Jewish leader dare not visit the Temple Mount.

In this new kind of peace that is only war ratified, not only Arab leaders are expected to be hostage to the Street, but Israeli ones, too. Hesitate, and the mob will be turned loose. Take a wrong turn, and it will be set upon you like a pack of wild dogs. And this is to be called peace. The more everything has changed, the more nothing has.

A mob is a mob is a mob, a many-headed beast, whether it coalesces in front of a police station in Ramallah on a bright fall day, or around a high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, or under a tree bearing strange fruit in the sweet Southern night. All along, the mob has been the a-borning Palestinian state's chief diplomatic instrument. The small-arms fire, the small craft filled with explosives pulling aside the American vessel, the Oil Weapon, the elaborate demonstrations in levantine capitals ... all those are only auxiliaries to the mindless mob. But who said mobs are faceless? Its face has never been clearer than outside that police station at Ramallah.

Now the mob has a flag and a police force, and will soon have a state. It has achieved what not all the sweet words and solemn pledges of Yasser Arafat's diplomats and talk-show representatives could: A rare Israeli unity. Once again, as whenever war is at hand, a government of national unity is being formed in Jerusalem.

The realization sinks in that all this turmoil is not about Jerusalem. It is about Tel Aviv. And Haifa and Beersheba and the Galilee and the Negev even unto Eilat. It is about the existence of a Jewish state in the world. It is not about peace, but about war. And the faces of the innocent in the Middle East, Arab and Jew, who want only to live in peace, are hidden again.

Be strong and of good courage, it is written in the Book. Peace will come. It just won't be this peace, the one that has looked inevitable since the Madrid Conference almost a decade ago. Now it becomes clear: That was never peace, but a diplomatic tango, which kept descending into disillusion. But in the end, neither Arabs nor Jews are going to disappear. They are as un-eraseable as Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, intertwined and internecine. Each is as enduring as struggle and reconciliation in the Middle East. Jew and Arab will yet meet and embrace. So it is written.

Even if all the king's men and all the king's horses put this peace/war process back together again, and the usual fools paper over the cracks in another eggshell-thin agreement, it will not be peace. The realization dawns that it will not be enough to assure peace, even if a Palestinian nation is formally recognized and welcomed with trumpets and embraces into the vast collection of squalid little police states that now compose the once-great Arab world. At the first disagreement over tariffs, or where a street should be built in Jerusalem, or whether a Jew dare visit a holy site in his own land, the rock throwers will appear again.

Even Israel's doves can see as much as they molt into hawks; the scales have fallen from their eyes. The voice has been the voice of Jacob, but all along the hands have been the hands of Esau.

This peace that is war will have to be long endured before a real one takes shape in some suddenly distant future. Very well. This won't be the first generation that had to wander for 40 years on its way to the promise.

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