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Jewish World Review May 22, 2000/ 17 Iyar, 5760

Charles Krauthammer

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A Palestinian 'Peace' -- ON MAY 15, "seething tensions across the West Bank and Gaza Strip exploded into the deadliest violence in the territories in nearly four years" (The Washington Post). "Tensions exploded" or "violence broke out" (another journalistic favorite pressed into service by USA Today) is a curious and passive locution. Sounds like a lightning strike.

But the violence that "broke out" in the West Bank and Gaza was no spontaneous combustion. It was no act of God. It was an act of Arafat. The Nobel Peace laureate encouraged it. His Fatah faction helped organize it. His people responded.

In the 1980s, it was rocks and bottles. Now, thanks to the "peace process" that granted the Palestinians a 40,000-man police force, the Palestinians had live ammunition at their disposal too.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

We are seven years into the Middle East peace process agreed to in Oslo. Israel has its most dovish government ever. It has granted the Palestinians the first free government in their history. It has transferred to Palestinian control almost all of Gaza and half the West Bank even before final negotiations.

And it ended the occupation. Fully 99 percent of Palestinians live under Yasser Arafat's authority. And yet "violence breaks out," i.e., the Palestinians decide to start a one-day mini-war. Why?

May 15 is Israeli Independence Day. It is to Israel what the Fourth of July is to America. On May 15, 1948, with the end of the British occupation of Palestine and in accordance with the mandate issued by the United Nations six months earlier, the Jews of Palestine declared independence.

The riots of May 15, 2000, were not a protest against living under Israeli occupation (which is over). The riots were a protest against the birth--the very existence--of the state of Israel, something the Palestinians had supposedly accepted seven years ago with the Oslo peace accords.

The riots, moreover, mark not just an anniversary but a tactic. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat are talking, and Arafat is impatient. He was unleashing the "street" to get more from the Israelis at the negotiating table.

Arafat has done this in the past. Whenever he feels that the Israelis are not granting him enough concessions fast enough, he acts. Sometimes he ostentatiously releases terrorists. This time he gave the green light for the one-day mini-war.

What was Barak's response to this bloody provocation? He very ecumenically turned the other cheek. He has a lot invested in Arafat.

Having seen his negotiations with Syria end in humiliation, Barak has staked his peacemaking reputation on Arafat, to whom he has been extraordinarily accommodating.

He has not only surrendered the territories that the Clinton administration had pressed hard for Israel to give up. His negotiators have been assiduously giving away trump cards, indicating they are prepared to recognize a Palestinian state (even without a full peace agreement with Israel) and to give up practically all of the West Bank including the strategically crucial Jordan Valley (something Barak's own Labor Party had for 30 years pledged never to do because it would leave Israel vulnerable to tank attack from the east).

And what does Barak do on the very day of the riots? Gets his Cabinet to give to Arafat three symbolically important villages in the Jerusalem area in return for--nothing.

Goodwill. Or as Barak called it, a down payment. Which led a member of his own coalition to observe tartly, "If you give Abu Dis as a down payment, the final payment will be half of Jerusalem."

The collapse of Israel's negotiating posture is breathtaking. Israel has been giving away authority and territory, and violating its own "red lines" on practically every issue in dispute. Meanwhile, the Palestinians, supposedly the weaker party, have stood absolutely firm.

In 1993 their demands were: 100 percent of the West Bank, all of East Jerusalem, the return of millions of Palestinian refugees and statehood. They have moved not an inch in seven years. Indeed, as one Palestinian negotiator explained defiantly, they already made their one concession in 1993--meaning, they had deigned (on paper) to recognize Israel's right to exist. That should be enough for the Jews.

The riots of May 15, Israeli Independence Day, show how flimsy and insubstantial this concession really is. No matter. Barak is hard at work.

On a final peace? Dream on. He is negotiating giving the Palestinians yet more territory in return not for peace but for time: Arafat pockets his new territory, statehood and international recognition. What does Barak get? Agreement to postpone talks on--i.e., Palestinian demands for--Jerusalem, refugees and final borders. For a while.

Until Arafat can digest his gains and then arrange for violence to "break out" again.

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