By Ron Dermer
May, 30 2001
(May 30) - Ever since Camp David, most Israelis have seen the violent rejection of prime minister Ehud Barak's far-reaching proposals as incontrovertible proof of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's rejection of peace with Israel. While some still claim that Barak's offer was a few percentage points too short to close a deal, Arafat's orchestrated campaign of terror has proven hard for even the most diehard of Oslo supporters to justify.
But, appearing on a recent political talk show, Yossi Beilin used Arafat's refusal to make a deal at Camp David to actually buttress his own case. Arguing with a colleague from the Right, the indefatigable dove asked the following question: if Arafat had always been committed to annihilating Israel and had simply used the peace process to gain more territory and power to achieve that goal, why did he not accept the deal Barak had offered?
How Beilin managed to use Arafat's "intifada" against his ideological opponents is worth a careful examination.
Oslo's supporters saw that famous handshake on the White House lawn as a monumental event that signaled a sea change in Palestinian attitudes toward Israel. According to this view, Oslo achieved a mutual recognition in which both the PLO leadership and Israeli government agreed to respect the national rights of their former enemy.
The opponents of Oslo largely saw those accords as an elaborate exercise in deception. Arafat, they believed, was hoodwinking Israel with empty promises. In reality, he was merely implementing the PLO's infamous "Phased Plan," a political strategy adopted in 1974 which called for the creation of a Palestinian state on any territory vacated by Israel and for using that territory to mobilize the Arab world to launch a general military assault against Israel.
In truth, both supporters and opponents believed that Arafat had agreed at Oslo to a binational solution, but they disagreed over whether this was a genuine objective or a tactical ploy.
In the seven years before Camp David, both sides saw ample evidence for their points of view. Oslo's proponents pointed to that defining handshake and the international goodwill it brought in its wake as part of an irreversible process of reconciliation - a reconciliation that was being tested by the "enemies of peace," but which would eventually come to fruition.
Those critical of Oslo pointed to a slew of Palestinian violations, from a refusal to disarm militants and extradite terrorists to a state-controlled media that incited the masses against Israel. They continued to maintain that Arafat was merely waiting until he was powerful enough to end the Oslo ruse, launch a ubiquitous campaign of terror and plunge the whole region into war.
While the recent violence would seem to support the view of Oslo's opponents, it still begs Beilin's question. If Oslo was an exercise in deception, why didn't Arafat complete it? Why not take as much territory as possible, achieve international recognition for a Palestinian state, and then find some pretext to renege on his "final status" agreement with Israel?
For Beilin, the answer is that Arafat is genuinely interested in a two-state solution that a few more days around the negotiating table could bring to light.
Yet there is another answer. Put simply, Oslo was an exercise in Israeli self-deception rather than Palestinian deception. The premise that united the supporters and opponents of the peace process - that Arafat, whether genuinely or disingenuously, had actually agreed to a two-state solution at Oslo - was false. In fact, he had agreed to nothing of the kind.
Indeed, Arafat had recognized Israel, but not Israel as a Jewish state. He in no way compromised on the so-called "right of return," a "right" that he himself knows is incompatible with the recognition of a Jewish state. Instead, Arafat assumed he would receive 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza without having to compromise on the one issue that would entail a genuine mutual recognition.
The PLO leader never intended to "end the conflict." Rather, he planned to begin an "intifada" the moment Israel understood that a final deal could not be reached and refused to give back more territory.
Ironically, Barak, by adopting an all-or-nothing approach at Camp David, exposed Arafat's endgame, leaving the Palestinian dictator in a weaker position to wage his inevitable war of terror against the Jewish state. Fortunately, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post