The consensus view of the intifada among Israelis, Diaspora Jews and American conservatives -- that it's caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel -- is nothing but a lousy excuse. An excuse to say Israel is wholly blameless in this affair, and there's nothing Israel can do except plod on, dying and killing. It's an excuse to block out any doubt, and to go on with this bleak worldview that does, at least, offer the comfort of certainty.
So let's introduce a little doubt. If all this terror is caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel, how do we explain Egypt? Egypt's armed forces haven't fired a single shot at Israel in over 25 years. Does Egypt hate Israel any less than the Palestinians do? Are its newspapers and bookstores and general public discourse any less loaded with anti-Semitism? Does it have any less abhorrence for the idea of a Zionist state across its border?
Egypt is the biggest, strongest country in the Arab world, an incomparably greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could be. Its society is rampant with Islamic and Arab nationalist militancy, and hatred of all things Jewish. Yet even though the Egyptian "street" erupts in war cries, the Egyptian leadership resists.
If Arab hatred and rejection of Israel is the reason for Palestinian violence, why has Egypt been so thoroughly nonviolent toward Israel for so long?
The same question could be asked about Jordan. Jordan hasn't touched Israel in 35 years. As a matter of fact, most Jordanians are themselves of Palestinian origin; do they hate or reject Israel any less than do their brethren in the West Bank or Gaza? So why hasn't Jordan joined the intifada?
Remarkably, we can even raise this issue regarding Syria. Except for when Israel went galumphing through Lebanon in the early 1980s, Syria hasn't mixed with Israel since the last of the Yom Kippur War.
Which leaves, among Arab nations on Israel's borders, Lebanon. Here we have to place an asterisk. Hezbollah is without question fighting Israel. But another unquestionable fact is that since the Israeli army pulled out of southern Lebanon over two years ago, Hezbollah has fought Israel with only a small fraction of its previous intensity.
Israel shares borders with five different hateful Arab nations. It has formal peace with two of them: Egypt and Jordan. It has de facto nonbelligerency with a third, Syria. With a fourth, Lebanon, it has a limited border clash. Only with the fifth and smallest neighboring Arab nation, the Palestinians, does Israel find itself in an agonizing war with no end in sight.
What's special about the Palestinians? Not their hatred of Israel, not their rejection, not their fearlessness and certainly not their strength. What's special is that they are the one Arab nation whose rightful country -- the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- has been usurped by Israel.
Every other neighboring Arab nation can tend to its own affairs without any Israelis around, but the Palestinians have 220,000 Israeli settlers, and many thousands of Israeli soldiers, staring them in the face, lording it over them.
This is the way it's been since 1967. Even in the "good old days" of the Oslo accord, when the "peace camp" was running Israel, the West Bank settlers kept taking more and more Palestinian land. Palestinians still had to pass through Israeli army and border police checkpoints on their way through the West Bank, and the more candid Israeli soldiers, not to mention human rights organizations, can tell about the frequent brutalities and humiliations that went on there.
It's true the Palestinians turned down a good-faith Israeli offer of land-for-peace at Camp David to launch the intifada, which puts most of the blame for the current bloodshed on them. But not all the blame. For three and a half years, between the bus bombings of 1996 to the outbreak of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority effectively put down Hamas and provided the Israelis with pretty good security. But in return for delivering three and a half years of a decent approximation of peace, the Palestinians didn't get much more land -- only 13 percent more of the West Bank in that fairly quiet period. Meanwhile Israeli settlements and bypass roads kept eating away at what Palestinians and the rest of the world thought was supposed to become their state. So while the Palestinians are guilty of starting the intifada, Israelis can't say they were innocent of any prior provocation.
It's also true the Palestinians killed the chance for peace with their demand for the right of return, and for exclusive Islamic rule over the Temple Mount. They're going to have to drop these demands if the fighting is ever to end. But why is it unimaginable that the Palestinians might change? Egypt provoked the Six Day War, and later joined Syria to attack Israeli forces on Yom Kippur 1973, killing 2,600 of our soldiers. Who would have thought that four years later Egypt's leader Anwar Sadat would be cheered wildly on the streets of Jerusalem, and that one-quarter century of peace would ensue? A cold peace, even freezing -- the important thing is that no one gets hurt.
The Egyptians would love to be rid of Israel. So would the Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. But they don't dare try it, because they're afraid of Israel's superior power. As long as Israel leaves them alone, the Arabs, with the minor exception of Hezbollah, don't do anything more than mutter. And if Israel leaves the Palestinians alone -- if it gets the settlers and soldiers out of the West Bank and Gaza -- there's no inherent reason why the Palestinians shouldn't eventually come around and join the other neighboring Arabs to hate and reject Israel, but to leave them in peace.