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Jewish World Review June 22, 2000 /19 Sivan, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Off the Reservation

The Oslo endgame shifts some American Jews into open opposition to Barak -- NOW WE ARE NEARING the conclusion of the match. Pointing out Arafat's lies or ultimate intentions will not delay the date of Palestinian independence.

In December 1993, three months after the signing of the Oslo accords on the White House Lawn, the Jerusalem Post ran a feature by reporter Steve Rodan that purported to reveal what the ultimate settlement of the peace process would be.

Rodan claimed that when the dust settled and the final status accords were signed, Israel would have retreated virtually all the way back to the 1949 armistice lines and that Jerusalem itself would be the subject of compromise.

The reaction from the government of Yitzhak Rabin and most observers of Israeli politics was that Rodan was off his rocker and that his anonymous sources were either fictional contrivances or liars.

In 1993, a vision that showed the Palestinians getting more than 92 percent of the territories comprising the "West Bank" and a share of Jerusalem and showed Syria getting all of the Golan Heights (if only they would consent to receive it) was unimaginable, even after the famous handshake between Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel has now weathered countless broken Arafat promises, and accounts coming out of the not-so-secret final status peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority show that Rodan was right on the money. All those now wishing to apologize to the reporter for doubting the veracity of his vision may do so via the Middle East Newsline in Jerusalem.

So what have we learned?

Not very much except that those on the margins of the Jewish community were right all along.

The left believed that its policies of accommodation and empowerment for the Palestinians would eventually triumph, and they have.

The right believed that the Oslo process would lead to a Palestinian state and a shrunken Israel forced to give up nearly everything it gained in the Six-Day War, including sole sovereignty over Jerusalem. They, too, are being proved right. One man's dream is another's nightmare, and in this case, both are being fulfilled.

Pre-1993 believers in the peace process who suffered insults from the American Jewish establishment for supporting talks with the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization were vindicated by Oslo. Since then, their support for a Palestinian state and generous concessions by Israel has similarly been vindicated by Israeli governments that gradually moved in their direction.

Although the left will have to be held accountable for the price Israel has paid and may yet pay in blood for following this path, it's time for some in the center and on the right to face facts. Those who advocated sharing Jerusalem and a Palestinian state are about to win.

Many who deplored those stands from a position of authority in the Jewish community now find themselves orphans in the storm. Once, they could claim that those American Jews who supported Palestinian statehood and the concept of "sharing" Jerusalem were out of the mainstream or, even worse, "anti-Israel." Today, it is the Oslo skeptics who are out of step with the Israeli government.

As the peace process goes into the home stretch, with a final status agreement expected to be signed by September, what can these once mainstream figures now do? They can argue, with justice, that there is a difference between those who opposed past Israeli governments (by supporting American administrations that sought to pressure the Jewish state) and today's outsiders who are merely calling on Israel to end its own policy of concessions.

Now put in the impossible position of being more Zionist than the government of Israel, the new outsiders look to a divided and weakened Israeli opposition for what little inspiration they can find.

The focus of their hopes is an open letter sent to Barak by Interior Minister Natan Sharansky a couple of weeks ago. Sharansky decried the one-sided concessions that Barak's envoys were making to Arafat, as well as the government's disinterest in reciprocity on the part of the Palestinians. Sharansky complained that the concessions on Jerusalem made him wonder "where we are willing to draw the line." The former prisoner of Zion saw the retreat to the pre-1967 borders as something that would "turn Israel into a state that relies on the benevolence of the nations of the world."

Sharansky's letter emboldened 28 prominent American Jews to step out of the closet and bluntly tell Barak that he is wrong. While some on the list, like the Zionist Organization of America's Morton Klein, have long been identified as Oslo critics, others, such as former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) executive director Neal Sher, have been supporters of the peace process (as well as antagonists of Klein).

Now that the endgame is near, the Oslo critics have finally gone off the reservation into open opposition to Barak. For years, Klein and the ZOA carefully avoided making any statement directly opposing the peace process or the government of Israel.

They cleverly focused their attention on Palestinian lies and violations of the accords. They sought to limit or eliminate American aid to the Palestinian "kleptocracy" by linking it to treaty non-compliance. But now we are nearing the conclusion of the match. Pointing out Arafat's lies or ultimate intentions will not delay the date of Palestinian independence. This change in tactics will probably not alter the course of history.

Moreover, it may now be time for many here who have been outspoken about Israel -- on both the right and the left -- to admit that though American Jewish activism is helpful to the players in Israeli politics, it cannot ever be decisive. For good or ill, the decisions will always be made by the Israeli people, who are, after all, the ones who take the risks and pay the price of conflict or peace.

Yet, by pointing to Sharansky, the American critics have, perhaps, hit on the opposition's last hope. Only by uniting behind a man of stature who is not associated with the hypocrisies of Likud does the opposition have a prayer against Barak.

The only such person available is the former hero of the Soviet Jewry movement whose time in the gulag surely makes up for his lack of military experience and the inevitable comparisons to Ehud Barak's Napoleonic reputation.

Perhaps Sharansky does not have it in him to be more than a leader of an ethnic Russian party. But if he does dare to be more than that, he may be the last chance to stop the all-out retreat that Steve Rodan first wrote about in 1993.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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