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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2000 / 19 Tishrei, 5761

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Arafat torches peace -- THE TERRORIST ATTACK on an American ship in Yemen and the mob barbarism that saw Israeli soldiers beaten and stabbed to death in a modern-day lynching only compound the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East. It is a double outrage. The first outrage is Yasser Arafat's crass betrayal of the hopes of peace. He had the chance to move toward an agreement, or toward a confrontation. Sadly, he chose the latter. The second outrage is the way the media misrepresented the crisis, which encouraged Arafat in his despicable power play.

The riots have been presented as a spontaneous popular uprising to protest the visit to the Jewish shrine at Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon and a group of Israeli members of Parliament. In fact, the Arab violence was premeditated. Sharon's visit had been approved the day before by Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security service. Rajoub stated there would be no reaction. There wasn't–at least at first. Sharon's visit went without incident, but the next day the Arabs seized on it as a pretext for massive waves of rock-throwing attacks on Jews at prayer at the Western Wall plaza, which is adjacent to and below the Temple Mount. It was organized violence, carried out by a mob abetted by Tanzim militiamen, the shock troops of Arafat's Fatah faction, who had kicked off the violence several days before with a roadside bomb attack. The Arafat-controlled media exhorted the Palestinians to come defend the al-Aqsa Mosque as if it were under attack.

Orchestrated attack. The Muslim mullah at the mosque on Temple Mount called for Muslims to "eradicate the Jews from Palestine." Schools were closed; students and others were bused to the Temple Mount to participate in rioting. After hurling rocks at the Jewish worshipers, the mob then attempted to break through the western gate of the Mount in order to descend to the Wailing Wall, menacing a throng of Jewish worshipers celebrating the Jewish New Year. The threat to the worshipers prompted a forcible defensive reaction by Israeli forces.

The Arab leadership did nothing to calm the rioting and its spread. On the contrary. Their police forces joined the Tanzim in opening fire on Israelis while putting Palestinian children forward at points of confrontation, hoping to create television images that would provoke worldwide sympathy. A European film crew managed to get footage of Arafat's Tanzim militia handing out Molotov cocktails to Palestinian teens. The journalists were arrested, their film confiscated.

The Washington Post did report, correctly, that "there is evidence to support the claim by Israelis that the Palestinian leadership has orchestrated the militia, as well as civilians and armed Palestinian police, in the rioting." But the media generally reinforced the impression that the powerful Israelis were using excessive force to suppress the underdog Palestinians. This impression was false. Take, for example, the picture of a young man, bleeding heavily, being approached by an angry, baton-wielding police officer, which carried this caption in the New York Times: "An Israeli policeman and a wounded Palestinian."

It was nothing of the kind. The wounded man was a young American Jew. With two of his friends, he had been trapped in an Arab taxi, riding through an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. They were dragged out of the car and beaten with rocks, and the victim in the picture was thrown to the ground and stabbed twice. He was able to break away but was pursued by his assailants and was in danger until he encountered an Israeli policeman–who was wielding a club protectively, thus saving the life of an innocent Jewish bystander. Yet the Israeli policeman was pilloried in the press as a brutal attacker. This goes right to the top in the long history of distortion in the reporting from the Middle East.

Arafat's motives are transparent. He hoped that "spontaneous" rioting might be read as popular frustration and swing public support back in his favor since he was thrown on the diplomatic defensive by Ehud Barak's unprecedented concessions to reach peace. It is a familiar ploy of Arafat's, and it seemed to be working. But Arafat overplayed his hand.

Barak, after a meeting with Arafat in Paris convened by the United States, relied on Palestinian promises that their security would keep the peace on the Temple Mount. But once again, provoked by calls for jihad against Israel, a mob raced to the edge of the compound, throwing huge stones down to the plaza at the side of the Western Wall that the Jews revere. They then attacked an Israeli police post, set it ablaze, and hoisted the Palestinian flag atop the Dome of the Rock, until Israeli reinforcements were able to re-establish security.

An even worse incident took place at Joseph's Tomb, which Arafat had personally promised to make secure if the Israelis pulled back their forces. As soon as the Israelis withdrew, Arab youths desecrated and destroyed the tomb. Joseph, you may recall, was the son of Jacob who received the coat of many colors and was ultimately sold to the Egyptians. His bones were actually returned to this resting place, at the request of Moses.

But the most powerful evidence that we are witnessing a modern-day pogrom came when an Arab mob at Ramallah pushed aside police guards in a prison where two Israeli soldiers had been incarcerated. They beat and stabbed the Israelis, then threw them out the window where they were brutally beaten to death with pipes, while the police did nothing.

It is all of a piece. Just as the Arabs deny the Holocaust, they now deny the existence of the First and Second Temples on the Temple Mount. Arafat said, "That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Muslim shrine." Arafat's minister of information said, "Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, despite the biblical myth implanted in some minds." He added: "The location of the Temple Mount is in question. . . . It might be in Jericho or somewhere else." This despite the fact that the Temple Mount had been the geographic heart and spiritual soul of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years. On the Jewish New Year, the Jews read the account of Abraham's test of faith when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. That took place on the same holy site, the Temple Mount.

Even doves are skeptical. The idea broached at Camp David to leave Palestinians in control of security at Temple Mount is a dead letter. Such an act would make it impossible for the Jews praying at the Western Wall ever to feel safe from attack on their sacred grounds. Since the rioting began, Arafat has done nothing of substance to contain it. Instead, he blames it all on what he described as the excessive reaction of the Israeli soldiers. Yet the Israelis were under instructions not to fire unless fired upon, not to initiate but just to react to restore order. Responding to mobs attacking them with rocks, Molotov cocktails, and live ammunition, the Israelis had to show firmness, sometimes even disproportionately, for if they were to appear weak to their attackers, they would create an invitation for more violence. No wonder even the doves in Israel now doubt that the Palestinians want peace. If anyone questions Arafat's complicity, consider the communiqué, issued this month, by the Supreme Committee of his Fatah faction: "The Fatah movement . . . calls upon its courageous sons . . . to continue their struggle and escalate it even more . . . . It calls for suspending security coordination with Israel . . . . The movement blesses our people on the liberation of Joseph's Tomb by the fighting arms of the Fatah, on the way toward the liberation of all sites of the homeland."

President Clinton tried bravely at Camp David to bring about peace. No wonder he is furious with Arafat. But has the administration acted wisely? American officials are reluctant to go public with their frustration on the grounds that it would end their role as peace brokers and reduce the leverage they may have on the Palestinians. That is their rationale for abstaining from the one-sided U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel. But this was too tactical a response. Such a failure to speak the truth dishonored U.S. integrity. It was craven. It did not win respect in an Arab world that respects power above all and despises conciliation, which the Arabs see as appeasement. No wonder Arafat was willing to continue to extend the violence.

A world that wants peace will have to understand that it will have to be tough, really tough, with Arafat and his cohorts. When they get tolerance or sympathy, they use it as a license to pursue diplomatic goals by violence.

Israel, which took unprecedented risks for peace, deserved better from the world and especially from the United States. It's time for Clinton to follow through on comments he made after Camp David: to decide by the end of the year to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and to help Israel enhance its military superiority in the region.

Barak can no longer justify to Israelis how his far-reaching concessions on Jerusalem and on the West Bank will accomplish peace with the Palestinian population, whose deep-seated hostility against Israelis became so menacing that it could not be masked any longer. The Palestinians have not built a foundation for peace but one for hatred and rage. The most powerful argument for the peace process has always been, "There is no alternative." But the peace process is no longer an alternative because Arafat, as Barak said last week, is not a partner for peace.

Israel can hardly be expected to put itself into a position of increasing danger by further concessions to the Palestinians. The burden will now be on the Palestinians to show they are genuinely willing to compromise for peace, to educate their people, in Arabic, about their commitment to peace, and to recognize that what was on the table in Camp David is no longer on the table. Peace is very much in the interests of the Palestinian people, but not for the first time they have chosen to wound themselves.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Mortimer Zuckerman