Palestinians Squander their Freedom

by Marcus Gee
Thursday, October 26, 2000

The rock throwers and Jew haters in the Palestinian streets are feeling good these days. A few weeks of rioting and mayhem have done wonders for their self-esteem. They believe they have the Israelis on the run and the world on their side. The fools. These past weeks have been a disaster for the Palestinian cause. For the satisfaction of venting their spleen, they have thrown away their best chance at freedom in 50 years.

Consider. Only three months ago, Prime Minister Ehud Barak went to Camp David and offered the most sweeping concessions ever tabled by an Israeli leader. The Palestinians would have gained almost everything they have wanted: a fully independent state; possession of as much as 95 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; control over key Muslim sites; and even a foothold in Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital.

Instead of embracing those concessions, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat walked off in a huff, acting as if he had somehow been betrayed. When rioting broke out among Palestinians a few weeks later, he did nothing, watching with apparent satisfaction as they butchered two Israeli soldiers, stoned others and screamed their hate against the Jewish people, uselessly sacrificing more than 130 of their own lives in the process.

As a result, the deal that was so close at Camp David has gone up in smoke. Israeli public opinion has turned against concessions and, indeed, against the peace process itself. This week, Mr. Barak suspended the Oslo peace negotiations begun seven years ago. He had little choice; his political life is on the line. To avoid defeat when parliament returns next week, he is seeking an alliance with that hardest of hard-liners, Likud leader Ariel Sharon. Mr. Sharon will not even consider joining an alliance unless Mr. Barak agrees to throw out the Camp David concessions. In fact, Mr. Sharon is feeling so confident he may reject an alliance and go up against Mr. Barak in an election.

Polls show he would win. However things turn out -- a Barak-Sharon alliance; a Sharon government -- the Palestinians will have lost the most flexible negotiating partner they have ever had. Mr. Barak's government was the most dovish in Israeli history. In its place, the Palestinians will get a government that is far less likely to grant them what they so dearly want: a state of their own.

Never mind, say the rock throwers. We don't need the peace table. We will confront the Israelis in the street. We will push them to the wall and take our state by force. And, when we do, the Arab world will be behind us. This is fantasy. Israel is by far the strongest military power in the Middle East. No Palestinian revolt, however long or fierce, will force Israelis to accept what they do not want. To the contrary, a besieged Israel will only become more intransigent. Every stone thrown, every day of rioting, delays the birth of a Palestinian state.

Pressure from the Arab world will be equally useless to the Palestinians. No Arab country is willing to fight Israel over the Palestinian issue. In fact, most Arab leaders secretly fear the Palestinian movement, which they view as the source of Islamic radicalism that would threaten their own regimes. Witness last week's Arab summit, where Arab nations, in effect, pledged to fight Israel to the last Palestinian.

Rock throwing and Arab sympathy will not get the Palestinians their state. Whether they like it or not, that is a gift only Israel can give, and Israel will give it only if it feels secure. If the Palestinians really want their independence, they must show they are reliable partners and peaceful neighbours. Instead, with their fit of pointless rage, they have shown exactly the opposite. They had a historic chance. Now they have thrown it away. The fools.

©The Globe and Mail

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