September/October 2000

The Sleepwalkers

By Charles Krauthammer

Friday , October 13, 2000

What does it take to make the dreamers admit, if only to themselves, that the Oslo peace process was a mirage?

The lynching of Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah, their bloodied bodies thrown onto the street from a second-story window?

Half a million Moroccans, for 50 years the friendliest of all Arab peoples to Jews, taking to the streets to vilify Israel, burn Israeli flags, and wave Palestinian and even Iraqi flags?

Palestinians desecrating, burning and destroying brick by brick the Jewish shrine at Joseph's Tomb? (Jews are now barred from it. There are reports that a mosque is to be built on the site.)

Yasser Arafat contemptuously rejecting every entreaty of a "frustrated" President Clinton to utter a word to his people to stop the rioting, the shooting, the firebombing? Indeed, throughout the little war he started, his state-controlled TV, radio and newspapers have urged his people to ever greater frenzies of blood and martyrdom.

There were people who remained loyal to Stalin and the Communist idea through the show trials of the 1930s, the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague spring of 1968, even the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago." Nothing could shake them. They died as they lived--bankrupt, bereft and with blood on their hands.

Today there remain people--indeed, the people running the foreign policies of the United States and Israel--equally reluctant to give up their dream, in this case of Palestinian peacefulness and acceptance of Israel. No reality can shake them.

"Administration officials, who acknowledge that they have had trouble really understanding Mr. Arafat, say that in the last several months, they have been unable to read him at all," reports the New York Times.

Good God. What does it take? The man is an open book. Within months of the great White House Handshake of 1993, Arafat gave a speech in South Africa promising jihad for Jerusalem. Back home, he repeatedly threatened to abandon "peace" and return to intifada. His state-controlled media not only denied Israel's legitimacy but conducted a seven-year campaign of incitement and vilification. Then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, architect of the Oslo peace process, dismissed this rather compelling evidence that he might have misjudged the intentions of his "peace partner" as mere words.

Now the words have turned to rocks and bullets and Molotov cocktails. These are harder to ignore.

What does it take? At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused even to make a counter offer!

Instead, he went around the world trying to get international support for a unilateral declaration of independence and a complete abolition of the Oslo peace process. When he didn't get it, he decided to abolish Oslo and get his state his way--through blood. Why, days before Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, the pretext for this war, Arafat met with the tanzim, the armed militia, and told them to "be ready."

President Clinton finds all this puzzling. After all, he has invested much in Arafat. Arafat, the man who in 1973 authorized the cold-blooded execution of the American ambassador in Khartoum, has been invited by the president to the White House more times than any other leader in the world.

Clinton's reward? First, Arafat humiliated him at Camp David. Then he started a war which has brought out anti-American mobs in a dozen capitals, undoubtedly inspired the suicide attack on an American destroyer at port in Yemen, and threatens to bury American interests in a wider Middle East war.

The president's aides are not just surprised but confused. "In Paris last week, Mr. Arafat was opaque and then angry, storming out of a meeting and forcing Dr. Albright to run after him," writes the New York Times.

Opaque? Only to those laboring under the illusion that Arafat has the slightest commitment to the nonviolence he pledged in the 1993 Oslo accords. And the image of the secretary of state of the world's superpower running "awkwardly in heels" after the leader of a squalid police state to plead for peace would be comical were it not so appalling.

What does it take? At what point does one realize that Israel's concessions and withdrawals, far from satisfying its enemies, have, as in every appeasement, emboldened them?

For some dreamers, Arafat's starting a war when peace was offered him broke the spell. "If they can call their children to fight, there is no peace process," reasoned one disillusioned Israeli peace activist. "Maybe we're really at war and it's only us stupid jerks on the left who don't know it."

Lenin called them "useful idiots."

© 2000 The Washington Post

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