October 26, 2000
A Time to Mull
So it turns out that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria really hate the guts out of us Jews.
For seven years, Israel had been engaging in confidence-building steps. Israel even gave Yasser Arafat weapons to build a police force and agreed to patrol in "joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols" to maintain the civility of the polity in Judea and Samaria. For peace, Israel pulled back from Jewish holy sites and ceded land she rightly could have claimed for eternity.
Arafat never quite softened his rhetoric, still speaking of gun battles for Jerusalem, still praising violent Hamas bombers at their public funerals. Arafat's television stations and newspapers continued spewing anti-Jewish vitriol. His first lady told the media that Jews were poisoning Arab wells. His summer camps kept training children in his land to kill Jews, and new textbooks kept teaching them the same lessons of anti-Jewish hate in more formal classroom settings.
We wanted so much to believe that Arafat would become more temperate once saddled with the responsibilities of government and of civil administration. We hoped, somehow, that he would stop the terror once he would be stuck with budget-balancing, HMO policies, questions of affirmative action, school vouchers and capital gains taxes - whatever it is that keeps politicians busy and off the streets, out of harm's way.
So we chose to focus wistfully on the future, seeking to build confidence with concessions for peace. Yet we were troubled that Arafat never did seem to honor his part of so many key promises he had signed in Oslo. We slowly accepted the novel premise that Israel unilaterally could build confidence after generations of mistrust and animus - without insisting on reciprocity. The very word - reciprocity - was condemned as an Israeli provocation.
Arafat was supposed to turn over to the Israelis the terrorists within his borders who murdered Jews. Instead, he consistently moved them furtively out of the spotlight by hustling them before quickie tribunals, ultimately tossing them into jails pending their release or "escape." He never did turn over a terrorist to Israel.
There was something about the Palestine parliament abrogating from the Palestine Charter objectionable paragraphs calling for the destruction of Israel and the expungement of Zionism. Something like that, or at least something about Arafat forming a blue-ribbon committee that would report back with recommendations for revising the Charter. But we never followed up on that one either. We stopped being picky about Oslo numerical limits, while that "police force" grew into the size of an army. We stopped monitoring the types of weapons they were importing. We disregarded reports of their military maneuvers.
In time, everyone got into the mood of peace. Benetton published a magazine about Arabs and Israelis in love, kissing cousins. The Europeans started treating Arafat like a statesman. Even the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded a medal to Arafat, along with his partners in peace, Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. It was a careful, cautious confidence-building affair. Seven years of hopes. Seven years of promises. Seven years of building trust. And now we see that, at bottom, it was seven years of smoke and mirrors. The confidence was more a game and a racket. Yasser Arafat - confidence man.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created in 1964 to liberate Palestine. Jordan held Judea and Samaria, and Egypt held the Gaza Strip in 1964. Yet no effort was made by the PLO to liberate either region for a free Palestine. Holy al-Quds, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa were in Arab hands, but the PLO made no effort to set up a Palestinian official presence in the city. Rather, the PLO fought through those years to liberate Palestine by trying to drive the Jews out of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Only now do we begin to "get it": Those nice people want Jews out of there. All Jews - out of all of there.
During the three weeks since Ariel Sharon took a walk at a Jewish holy site over which Israel actually is sovereign - at least meantime - those partners in peace have kidnapped three Israeli peacekeepers in the north even though Ehud Barak, Israel's "Mr. Security," had quit Lebanon. They have stabbed Israeli soldiers to death, defenestrated at least one like so much trash, pummeled and mauled and dragged by car and burned Jewish corpses, beaten and stabbed the daylights out of any Jewish motorist unfortunate enough to take a wrong turn on a road in Jewish land, and have burned down sacred Jewish sites like Joseph's Tomb in Shechem and the ancient synagogue of Jericho. They have alternately released and secured dozens of convicted Hamas bombers as moved by the spirit of the moment, have ambushed and shot at Jewish funeral processions and at Jewish hikers, have prevented humanitarian medical evacuations, have turned their police stations into lynch zones, and have filled the atmosphere of their towns with the reverberating chants of "Itbakh al Yahud!" - "Death to the Jews!"
As American, European Union, and Security Council eyes move from a deconstructed cease-fire summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh and beyond an Arab summit in Cairo, the Jewish mind's eye remains fixated on Ramallah. The image of those two crimson hands, gleefully displaying with fanatic ecstasy that thick Jewish blood to a frenzied crowd warming up to shred the corpse and then to drag it by car to the town square for a public trash incineration, shall not be forgotten in Israel for seven years and then for seven years. How much Barak was prepared to give them! How much they have lost!