THE ISRAEL REPORTSeptember/October 2000
An immoderate proposal
(October 23) - It must be great to be an Arab leader. With straight faces, Arab heads of state gathered in Cairo to label Israeli actions as "barbaric," when Israel acted with more restraint than most democracies would have, let alone how most of them have acted against lesser threats to their security. At the same time, being against launching an all-out war against Israel is enough to qualify an Arab leader with full membership in the "moderate" camp.
The "moderate" outcome of this weekend's Arab summit was to call for a halt to the molasses-like process of normalization with Israel, repeating the conclusion of the last such summit four years ago. That summit was called after the election of Binyamin Netanyahu, which ostensibly meant the end of Israel's implementation of the Oslo agreements. In fact, Netanyahu implemented more painful territorial withdrawals than his predecessors - from Hebron and from 13 percent of the West Bank outside the seven main cities that were already in Palestinian hands.
Next comes Prime Minister Ehud Barak and surprises even the United States and Palestinian negotiators with his willingness to consider deep Israeli concessions on Jerusalem, borders, and other final-status issues. It is impossible, even with considerable imagination, to paint such a government as "against peace," and yet it, too, befalls the same fate at the hands of "moderate" Arab states.
In its final communique, the Arab leaders stated, "The summit welcomes the intifada of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories, which has expressed clearly the bitterness and frustration after long years of waiting and anticipation... The Arab leaders consider the blood [of Palestinian martyrs] a valuable asset for the sake of liberating the land, establishing the state, and realizing peace..." Again, we are to understand these sentiments as a victory for moderation and as support for the peace process.
War and peace, it seems, have become indistinguishable. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has a long record of breaking cease-fires (he reportedly agreed to 70 in Lebanon alone), but the Sharm cease-fire was never implemented long enough to be broken. As the Arab League excoriated Israel for "searching for war" (in the words of Syrian President Bashar Assad), Palestinians were firing on Israelis who "provocatively" decided to hike within shooting range, killing a father of eight children. Last night, shooting continued against the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo from the neighboring Arab village of Beit Jala.
We are to understand that this "peace intifada," as Arafat calls it, will continue until all Palestinian demands are met. What are these demands?
Arafat told the Arab summit that the Palestinian goal is the "establishment of our independent state on the blessed land of Palestine with holy Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of refugees based on international legitimacy resolutions, especially Resolutions 181 and 194." These two UN resolutions, passed in November 1947 and December 1948, respectively, provide for an Israel even more truncated than the pre-1967 lines, and for the "right of return" of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. These demands are in marked contrast to the 1967 and 1973 UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which require that all states have "secure and recognized borders" and which have been the basis of all subsequent peace agreements.
The message to Israel is simple: The more you come toward us, the more extreme our demands will become, the more we will attempt to turn the clock back, and the more our demands will be backed by violence.
The Arab summit, we are told, reaffirmed the Arab states' strategic decision for peace. In practice, however, the summit backed Arafat's collapsing of the cycle of violence and the cycle of peace into a single process, a "peace intifada" fought not with stones but machine guns and lynchings.
In this context, both Barak's call for a "time-out" in the peace process and the negative reactions from his own ministers miss the point. The issue is not whether and when to negotiate peace, but how should Israel organize itself to contend with the simultaneous escalation of Palestinian demands and the violence employed to achieve them.
Israel desperately needs to forge a new strategy that clearly keeps the desire for peace open and clear, while defending itself against naked aggression in the name of peace. This strategy cannot be formed by Barak alone, particularly a Barak who routinely refuses to include his cabinet in basic decisions, such as the "time-out" announcement. It is now in Barak's hands to convince the Likud that he is not just seeking to wrap a larger cabinet around an unchanged policy, but is seeking to jointly decide the national response toward the current crisis.
© Jerusalem Post 2000
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