[Ed Note: As the violence in Israel continues to escalate, it is hard to put things in perspective. The plans that are now being proposed by Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah are almost identical to the offer put on the table by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel, and yet no one has cared to remember this. The following article from the Jerusalem Post1 is an excellent summary of the current situation in the Middle East.]
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An internationally recognized war is being fought against terrorism everywhere on earth, except in one place. Here, one rationale after another is found for "evenhandedness" while Israelis are murdered in a deliberately terrorist, unprovoked and totally unnecessary war. Once upon a time, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a good basis for a peace deal; it has been pushed down the memory hole. Now Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah needs merely to mutter a few nonbinding words to an American columnist and he becomes the prince of peace.
Here's how the BBC, which considers itself to be the world's most accurate news source, explains the offer: If Israel returns to the 1967 borders, the BBC says, all Arab states will offer it full diplomatic relations, the recognition of Israel's right to exist, and secure borders. But that's not all: The plan would also give Israel sovereignty over the Western Wall, a land swap between Israel and a Palestinian state, and the dropping of the demand for a Palestinian right of return. In short, we are inaccurately told that the entire Arab world, including Arafat, is now ready to accept the Barak plan (though the fact that Israel proposed something along these lines almost two years ago is not mentioned in this report or in other coverage).
Why, then, doesn't Israel grab this wonderful "opportunity"? The BBC gives three reasons: Because it rejects "giving up all the Golan Heights; a Palestinian political and administrative presence in Jerusalem, and dismantling of all Israeli settlements in Golan, West Bank and Gaza." It also suggests this is because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is such an extremist.
In other words, all Israel's hesitations come from its greed to retain territory that doesn't belong to it. There's no mention of such concerns as a well-grounded disbelief in the actual generosity of the Saudi proposal; the suspicion that it is a public relations gesture to make Israel look like the bad guy and get Arafat out of his current corner; and, the fact that the proposal has no provision for a cease-fire. Once the upcoming Arab League meeting ends - after an Arafat speech accusing Israel of genocide and probably without endorsing the proposal in any but the most limited way - Arafat's forces will still be staging terrorist attacks while the whole world congratulates him on his new moderation. (Imagine Prince Abdullah offering to have the Arab League get the Palestinians to impose an immediate cease-fire: Sharon would be pushing Arafat onto the plane to attend the summit.) But even that isn't all.
The main Israeli concern after 18 months of terrorism and hatred against it is: After Israel makes concessions, will Arafat or the Arabs actually implement the Saudi plan and live in peace? Arafat himself tells us he cannot control the violence, so if he won't or can't take responsibility now, why should we believe that would change? The BBC is not worried about this, or about the possibility that some regimes might oppose the Saudi plan. "Iraq, Iran and Syria might be expected to be the main dissenters," it says, "but it is possible that these states might see the plan as a serious opportunity for a comprehensive and just regional agreement."
So now we know: Saddam Hussein is the moderate who wants a comprehensive agreement if he could only find it; Iran, contrary to daily statements by its leaders, seeks a just compromise and not Israel's extinction. According to this view, Sharon is the extremist, and Barak with his peace plan never existed at all. Reality has been recast with Abdullah playing the part of Barak and Sharon playing the part of Arafat. Given such distortions, it's hardly surprising that a moderate Palestinian reader recently wrote me a polite letter explaining the real problem: that Israelis are totally uninterested in Palestinian rights and aspirations.
This view is unfortunately typical of Palestinians, Arabs in general, and many people in the West - when the clear truth is that 80% of Israelis have been ready for a Palestinian state and a large majority would have accepted the Camp David or Clinton plans of 2000. Palestinian rights and complaints are presented and discussed every day in Israel's media, as well as in classrooms and conversations. You won't find an equivalent in the Arab media. Israel's real problems remain:
- Seeing the "return" of refugees as a formula for massive violence and for Israel's destruction, though there is no Israeli objection to resettling refugees in a Palestinian state. It is Arafat and the Palestinian leadership who reject that solution.
- The feeling that Israeli concessions will not bring peace but will be used to launch a new stage of attacks aimed at eliminating Israel entirely. It is Arafat and the PA that refuse to close the door firmly on such a future.
- Doubt that Israeli concessions and a withdrawal would bring an end to violence, as terror attacks would continue across the Israel-Palestine border. Arafat and the PA have used the precedent of the south Lebanon withdrawal as proof that Israel is weak and should be attacked more intensely.
- Doubt that Israeli concessions and a Palestinian state would bring peace with the Arab world, which would then use that state to continue the battle. It is Arab leaders and media that express the most uninhibited hatred and defamation of Israel.
- Concern that a Palestinian refusal to agree to an end of the conflict even in return for a state has proven the danger of points 2, 3, and 4.
- Awareness that Arafat's strategy is to keep the violence going and get a never-ending series of unilateral concessions without changing his own policy and goals. It is his behavior over the past 18 months that has raised such concerns.
- Disputes over relatively small areas of land along the border and in east Jerusalem, which could probably be easily resolved. Arafat showed intransigence at Camp David and in the Clinton plan, with no perceptible change since.
- Belief that Syria still defines its claim to the Golan Heights as including Israeli territory and rights to the water in the Sea of Galilee.
- Mistrust of Western/international urgings for concessions and promises of guarantees, based on their refusal to back Israel while it has been facing such a brutal terrorist assault. Palestinians and other Arabs constantly claim that Israel's concessions demonstrate its weakness, and that killing more Israelis is thus justified, until victory.
So why, in the face of this evidence, are so many in the West convinced that unilateral Israeli concessions will persuade the Arabs that Israel is sincere? Maybe, after eight years of Israeli effort and almost two years of Arab terrorism and incitement, Israelis first need convincing that the Arab side is sincere.