Despite the war still raging and the continuing suicide bombings, young men’s fancies are once again turning to "peace" this spring. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in the region to secure a cease-fire, as a first step towards achieving a "political settlement"; the Saudi "peace plan" is on all lips; and the radio this morning brought news of an American-European initiative to impose a settlement on the reluctant parties.
President Bush, it would seem, has succumbed to the same rationalist folly that marked his predecessor’s failed efforts in the region. "Rationalists" believe that all men want basically the same things, above all a higher standard of living.
Rationalists place inordinate faith in written agreements. Because they view the compromises reflected in those agreements as those that all rational game-players would reach on their own, they tend to show little interest in the intentions of the parties and problems of enforcement. Shimon Peres provided the ultimate expression of the rationalist faith when he declared his lack of concern with Palestinian incitement--only with what is written in agreements.
September 11 should have put to rest forever the illusion that all people want basically the same things. The resumption of the quest for a magical solution to the 100-year Arab war on Jewish settlement in the Middle East, however, shows that it did not.
Efforts to resuscitate the "peace process" further reflect a refusal to learn the lessons of Camp David and of the war launched by Yasir Arafat, after he walked away from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in virtually the entire territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The most crucial lesson of Camp David was that the Palestinians have not accepted Israel’s right to exist. Arafat himself acknowledged as much when he told President Clinton that he would be assassinated if he tried to sell Barak’s Camp David proposals to his people.
In the eight years preceding Camp David, Arafat failed to educate his people that no resolution of the conflict was possible without compromise and the renunciation of cherished ambitions. The Palestinian Authority media continually justified the Oslo Accords as the first stage towards recapturing all of Palestine. No map or textbook produced by the Palestinian Authority ever showed Israel, within any borders.
The Oslo Accords envisioned a staged process that would make it easier in the end for both sides to make the requisite compromises. Over seven years, the Palestinian Authority assumed complete control of the daily life of 98% of the Palestinian population. Israel armed a Palestinian security apparatus that was supposed to prevent terrorism against Israel. Moreover, the vast majority of Israelis accepted the idea of territory for peace. The Likud position today is indistinguishable from that of Peace Now in 1993.
Nothing reciprocal took place on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian positions at Camp David remained exactly what they had been in 1993. In return for each concrete Israeli territorial withdrawal, Israel received the same promises previously given. Even President Bush has now publicly stated that Yasir Arafat is a liar, whose word is worthless.
Instead of educating his people for peace, Arafat used the Palestinian Authority media to whip them into a frenzy of hatred. (Nurturing his people’s "grievances" rather than addressing their problems was President Bush’s understated description.) PA summer camps teach eight-year olds how to kill Jews. And the PA television broadcasts Chairman Arafat kissing the heads of charming little girls dressed in white, chanting songs of redeeming Jerusalem with daggers dripping in Jewish blood.
Today all polls show that 70% to 90% of the Palestinian population support suicide bombings. Parents of the suicide bombers invariably celebrate their children’s martyrdom. The entire Palestinian educational apparatus has been devoted to creating a cult of death and killing.
That seething cauldron of hatred, which today boils hotter than ever, cannot be cooled by forcing Arafat to mumble some formula about recognizing Israel’s right to exist and promising to let bygones be bygones. Changing the attitudes of an entire population will take years, if it is possible at all. Yet until that is done any "peace treaty" would do nothing more than set the starting point for the next stage of war.
The second lesson from Camp David is closely related to the first. Dennis Ross, the American negotiator most closely associated with the Oslo process, concluded in his valedictory summation that Arafat is a revolutionary leader, who has defined himself entirely through the armed struggle for all of Palestine. He is therefore incapable of making peace.
To reach a final settlement with Israel would be an explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Arafat is incapable of doing that. Whoever cedes one inch of "Palestine" to infidels is a traitor to Islam, the imams constantly proclaim in sermons on Palestinian TV and radio. Those strictures are binding on Arafat as well.
A third lesson of the Oslo process is that no good can come from winking at non-compliance. The unwillingness of the United States or Israel to call Arafat to task as his 10,000 "peacekeepers" grew into a well-armed and trained army of 40,000, or to make an issue of the continuous Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel convinced him that there would never be a price to pay for ignoring every commitment.
Last month, he was given "one more chance" prior to General Zinni’s arrival, with the predictable results: 47 more dead Jews and hundreds of lives shattered forever in the space of a few days. To simply start again, as if nothing happened, would be to reinforce the lesson that crime pays.
Let’s, at least, reverse the usual pattern of Arafat’s promises for concrete Israeli concessions. This time let Arafat take concrete steps – extradite the murderers of Rehavam Zeevi, destroy bomb laboratories, hand over illegal weapons – and then Israel will talk.
The discussion will not be about a final solution, but rather about how to begin the long process leading to what the Oslo Process was supposed to bring about – a mutual acceptance of one another’s right to exist. Without that no peace plan is credible.