What happened to the peace process?

June 09, 1994|By Mona Charen

WHEN Yasser Arafat clasped hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn last September, the handshake was treated as a turning point, like the fall of the Berlin Wall. Peace was finally breaking out in the Middle East, said a thousand commentators.

They were wrong. We are not witnessing a change of heart by the Arabs -- a willingness to share the land of Palestine with Jews -- but rather a change of heart on the part of Israelis.

First, some terminology. This is not a "peace process"; this is a unilateral withdrawal by Israel. Instead of "land for peace" -- the formula that worked well with Egypt -- Israel has wearily chosen land for hope of peace.

Mr. Arafat committed himself, in the so-called Declaration of Principles negotiated in Norway, to recognize Israel, to remove from the Covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization the language calling for the destruction of Israel, to abjure violence and to work to thwart terrorism from other Palestinians. As Douglas Feith, a former Defense Department official in the Reagan administration points out in Commentary magazine, none of these commitments has been honored.

The PLO did not amend its Covenant. (The Israeli government urged the United States not to hold this against the PLO!) The PLO was not only unable to halt violence from other Palestinian factions like Hamas, it made common cause with them again and again. Violence against Israelis was perpetrated even by Fatah, the group within the PLO directly under Mr. Arafat's control.

This is the second time that Mr. Arafat has renounced terrorism and supposedly recognized Israel's right to exist. The first time was in 1988, when, to the delight of the Bush State Department, Mr. Arafat said some magic words that opened a "dialogue" with the United States.

A mere 18 months later, when some heavily armed Palestinians were intercepted gunning for sunbathers on the beaches of Tel Aviv, Mr. Arafat refused to denounce them, and the "dialogue" came to an end.

Since 1974, the PLO has embraced a "phased plan" for winning back Palestine -- meaning that Israel can be dismembered piecemeal, not necessarily with one stroke, and through diplomacy, not necessarily through armed struggle. In the months since Peace and talk of peace are not the same thing

the Declaration of Principles was signed, Mr. Arafat has made statements to Arab audiences that belie the language of coexistence he uses with Westerners but that are consistent with the "phased plan." In a speech broadcast on Jordanian television, Mr. Arafat said, "Palestine is only a stone's throw away . . . Its flag will fly over the walls of Jerusalem, the churches of Jerusalem and the mosques of Jerusalem. They see the day indeed as a far-off event, but we see it quite near, and we indeed are truthful."

Those who think the Arabs have had a change of heart about accepting a Jewish state on what they consider their land should look at the way Miss Lebanon was treated after posing in a photograph with Miss Israel at the Miss World competition in South Africa. She was exiled for four months and interrogated by the police for "collaborating with the enemy."

In Arab propaganda, it is common to find references to events a millennium old -- the Crusades. It took 200 years to get rid of the Christians, say the Arabs, and we will rid ourselves of the Jews, no matter how long it takes.

Why does the Israeli government go forward in the face of all this? Former Rep. Vin Weber thinks the international community, but especially the United States, "pushed, cajoled and threatened" the Israelis into it. It began with the Bush administration, which used strong-arm tactics to push the Israelis to make concessions. The Clinton administration is not similarly motivated but is "dominated by the kind of leftist, dovish types who believe that negotiations can solve all problems."

Peace and talk of peace are not the same thing. Aggressors always cloak their ambitions in nice language. Absent a true conversion on the part of her enemies, Israel's only security lies -- in a strong economy (unobtainable under socialism), a strong national will (currently sapped by years of heart-wrenching sacrifice and international pressure) and defensible borders (soon to be sacrificed). It is hard to see how the future for Israel is anything but bleak.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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