WASHINGTON -- Israel's critics, who are legion and live in safe neighborhoods, say Israel is being provocative. Actually, Israel's being is provocative.
On one day Palestinian violence is said to have been provoked by the opening of a tunnel. On another day the provocation is said to be the beginning of construction of apartments.
But the real reasons for the violence are: Violence has always been part of the warp and woof of Yasser Arafat's politics (remember, he once wore a pistol to the U.N. podium), and there is no penalty for it. Indeed, in the eyes of the "international community," Palestinian violence is self-legitimating: It is proof of Israeli provocation.
No Israeli government could allow Mr. Arafat to veto apartments on unoccupied land in East Jerusalem owned by the Israeli state. To allow that would be to make a de facto territorial concession, conceding that Jerusalem is redivided, with Mr. Arafat sovereign in part of it.
Mr. Arafat released terrorists. Israeli intelligence says he authorized attacks and that the head of Palestinian Preventative Security organized the Hebron riots. Last Friday, at a rally of 10,000 in Nablus, a speaker announced the "good news" of the terrorist's suicide attack in Tel Aviv. An Arafat aide said, "The terror of bulldozers led to the terror of explosives."
What kind of peace can be made with people who talk like that?
Mr. Arafat's recurring resort to violence refutes the premise of the Oslo accords, which was that land was being traded for peace. Something tangible -- territory -- has indeed been traded for something intangible -- promises, a liar's promises. Everything about Mr. Arafat's repertoire -- the violence, the rhetoric to Arabic-speaking audiences about "combat" and "jihad" and capturing all of Jerusalem, the refusal to fulfill the obligation to remove from the Palestinian Charter references to the illegitimacy and destruction of Israel -- is consistent with the strategy adopted in 1974. That is the "phased" strategy of founding a Palestinian state from which will be launched the final attack on a diminished Israel.
American diplomats who soothingly refer to Mr. Arafat as Israel's "partner in the peace process" visit his Ramallah office with its wall map of Palestine with Israel's borders erased. Such maps are used in Palestinian commercial advertising and as jewelry. On the main Bethlehem-Hebron road there is a monument to the Palestinian "martyrs of the Intifada" in the shape of a map of Palestine, including all the land of Israel. The diplomats probably wonder about the "real" meaning of such maps, just as diplomats wondered what Nazis "really" meant when they spoke of the "destruction" of European Jewry.
Israel lives in a bad neighborhood. One reason it is bad is that the Palestinian people have had a long run of execrable leaders, leaders who supported Hitler in World War II, the Soviet Union during the Cold War and Saddam Hussein in the gulf war. Perhaps things will get better. Perhaps when a full-fledged Palestinian state exists on the West Bank, that 22nd Arab state will be the first Arab democracy. But would those who ask Israel to bet its life on that be willing to bet theirs?
Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, asked if Israel could safely consent to be again, as before 1967, 10 miles wide at the waist, blandly said that Israel would still be, in effect, 40 miles deep strategically because "all the land we give back must be demilitarized." But although this Palestinian state does not yet fully exist, it already is militarized with at least 30,000 soldier-policemen. Will the fully emerged state accept restrictions on its sovereignty that no other nation accepts?
And who would enforce such restrictions? The "international community" that dithered during genocide in Bosnia and is inexhaustibly "understanding" about Palestinian violence? Should Israel rely on a U.S. commitment? As Golda Meir said to President Nixon when he suggested something similar, "By the time you get here, we won't be here."
It is said that people hope vaguely but dread precisely. Modern history has provided Israelis a dread that is the premise of their statecraft: No calamity is impossible. So while the "international community" will continue to criticize Israel for the provocations inherent in its existence, Israel's riposte will be Golda Meir's words: Jews are used to collective eulogies, but Israel will not die so that the world will speak well of it.
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 3/27/97