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

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Arafat hardly 'provoked' into violence -- AS WE'VE all seen in the news recently, fighting has "broken out" between Israel and the Palestinians. Some journalists like to use the phrase "broken out" because it sets aside the question of who started it. Other news outlets have suggested that the Palestinians "spontaneously" rioted after being "provoked" when Ariel Sharon, a leader of the out-of-power conservative Likud Party, visited the Temple Mount, a site considered sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

The point that most Western observers miss is that Sharon's visit may have started this latest round of fighting, but the Palestinians were waiting to fight like a boxer awaiting the ring of the bell.

Last August, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in a bold, if misguided, bid for permanent peace, proposed concessions that even Israeli doves considered breathtakingly generous. He offered to give Yassir Arafat vast amounts of territory considered both religiously and strategically essential to Israel's continued existence.

"Yitzhak is certainly turning in his grave," responded Yitzhak Rabin's widow when she found out Barak had offered control of the Temple Mount and Eastern Jerusalem. (Her husband, recall, was assassinated by a right-wing Jew who considered Rabin too willing to make peace at any cost.)

And yet, Arafat rejected these concessions and made virtually no counteroffer of his own. There are plenty of tangential reasons why Arafat rejected a gift more generous than what he's been demanding for decades, namely some poor planning on the part of the Clinton administration, which in its rush to try to complete the deal didn't rally Arab leaders. But the real reason boils down to the fact that Arafat is either unwilling or unable to deliver a lasting peace.

This obvious fact has put many "give Arafat a chance" commentators in a bind. If Arafat doesn't want peace, than he's simply the murderer and terrorist his detractors have always said he is. With this in mind, many have touted the idea that Arafat cannot be blamed for the recent violence because he is powerless to stop it. Of course, if Arafat is unable to curb the violence then he is useless as a "partner in peace," and it makes no sense to negotiate with people who can't deliver on their promises.

We will never know the full extent of Arafat's control over Palestinians because he will never let it be tested. Arafat's only instincts are to wage war, either in the form of rocks, bullets or propaganda. In the years since the Oslo peace accords, Arafat has been two-faced as he speaks of "lasting peace" in English in front of the Western press but about the "destruction" of Israel in Arabic for his domestic constituency.

It seems that Barak didn't understand this. But Sharon did. That's why Sharon "provocatively" visited the Temple Mount. Whatever personal political advantage Sharon had in mind, he still understood that if the Palestinians will not permit Israelis to visit the most sacred Jewish sites today - when Jews actually control Jerusalem - they surely won't tomorrow when Arafat controls them.

The Palestinians proved Sharon's point as if on cue. Immediately after Sharon visited the Temple Mount, Arafat ordered a general strike and emptied the schools. He ordered Palestinian television to incite violence by rerunning old footage of the last Palestinian uprising. At the al-Aqsa mosque, a preacher demanded that his followers "eradicate the Jews from Palestine."

The Palestinian authorities continue to encourage the barbaric practice of sending children into harm's way to martyr themselves on international television. Parents boast of their dead children in front of the Palestinian TV cameras, glorifying another generation of suicidal youth dedicated to the "eradication of the Jews in Palestine."

Arafat refused to denounce the even more militant group Hamas, responsible for untold terrorist killings, when it renewed its call for the destruction of Israel. Within days, Arafat's "police" - militia is what they're called by Israelis - alternated between shooting at Israelis and trying to "subdue" the rioters. Arafat's henchmen have been handing out leaflets door-to-door encouraging a "jihad" against the Jews.

Yassir Arafat may have been "provoked" but only in the sense that a runner is "provoked" by the starter's pistol.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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