November/December 2000
An Israeli tank advances near Beit Jala

Oslo Reconsidered

While seeking peace, Israel must prepare for long-term hostility

Less than 24 hours after a peace deal was brokered between Israel and the Palestinian Authority last week, a car bomb exploded in a crowded Jerusalem street, killing two people and wounding a dozen. Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian terrorist group, claimed responsibility. Ehud Barak, Israel's Prime Minister, issued a boilerplate statement of outrage, and his negotiator, Shimon Peres, quickly chimed in that the only way forward was to return to negotiation.

Both men, along with many Israelis and a preponderance of the "international community" believe, or at least refuse to admit to doubting, that the peace process initiated in Oslo in 1993 offers the only reasonable avenue forward in the Middle East. But events this autumn suggest it is time to reconsider. For, whilst it is axiomatic in diplomatic and bien pensant circles to reject the idea of Isr ael returning to its pre-1993 stand-off with the Arabs, there is less and less reason to believe the current process offers genuine hope rather than a dangerous illusion.

At the heart of that illusion is Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who, despite promising to make peace with Israel, nevertheless embodies the Arab world's continued de facto rejection of Israel's right to exist. According to the terms of the Oslo agreement and other treaties that followed, Israel would give Mr. Arafat sovereignty over some 90% of the West Bank and Gaza strip, a monthly tax transfer of 50-million shekels, electricity and fresh water and -- incredibly -- small arms for Mr. Arafat's 40,000-strong "police force." Israel has done all this, and more: To this day, Mr. Arafat is shuttled between his homes in Gaza and the West Bank on an Israeli military helicopter.

In return, Mr. Arafat had to renounce violence and its incitement. But not only has he put out the call for blood on various occasions, he has also used the Palestinian media -- which controls and censors the news in the Palestinian Authority -- to provide round-the-clock incitement. He regularly shuts down Palestinian high schools in order to send teenagers out into the riots. His militias sometimes participate in the riots, often with their Israeli-supplied guns. Palestinian ambulances and Red Crescent offices are used as cover for PLO machine gunners. Throughout the riots, the Hamas terrorist organization has held planning sessions with Mr. Arafat's staff. Yet despite this, last week's instantly imploding peace deal hinged on a promise by Mr. Arafat to renounce violence on PLO radio. Once Mr. Barak had pulled back his troops, Mr. Arafat declined to read the agreed-upon text.

It has surely become clear to anyone prepared to remove their ideological blinkers that the Palestinian leader does not embrace peace, but sees it merely as a tactic to be used alternately with violence. The scaling back of riots recently can probably be attributed at least in part to the critical weakness of Mr. Barak's government, and the possibility of a return to power of the Likud party, from whom Mr. Arafat knows he could extract fewer concessions, if any.

It is time, then, to acknowledge that Mr. Arafat and the Palestinians are not working toward genuine peaceful coexistence with Israel, but toward its destruction. This involves a change of course on which, while seeking peace, Israel nevertheless prepares for long-term hostility. As a start, Mr. Arafat must be taught that his duplicity cannot continue consequence-free. Israel should, in the short term, consider cutting off its aid to him. In the long term it must end its role as good-faith dupe, and realize its survival cannot be allowed to rest on the promises of malign diplomacy.

©The National Post - November 6, 2000

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