- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Yasser Arafat is dreaming again. This fantasy is one in which Jerusalem becomes an official Palestinian capital. This time, he's making that deadline September. Oded Ran, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said no September deadline would force them to determine the future of Jerusalem. The sticking point: Israel wants Jerusalem to remain a shared capital under its sovereignty while Palestine wants the city divided. Meanwhile, Syria and Lebanon are throwing fits because Israel is finally doing what they have always wanted it to do: pulling out of southern Lebanon by July.

What's the beleaguered nation to do? The problem is, Israel can't let go of some distorted thinking of its own. In negotiations with all of its neighboring Arab nations, Israel must realize it alone cannot bring change.

Take the pull-out from Lebanon, for example. Last week, Israel told the United Nations it would pull its troops out of southern Lebanon where they have been protecting Israel's northern territories for 22 years with or without a peace accord with Syria and Lebanon. This, of course, puts the spotlight on Syria to make the next concession. And it would seem to give Israel some negotiating power in determining how great a concession Syria would make in return for the pull-out. It would also seem to give them the moral high ground from which to justly return fire, should the Arab nations attack Israeli troops on their home territory. No longer could the Lebanese or Syrians complain that the defensive strategy of Israelis was an offensive maneuver on their land. But this argument presumes Syria cares about such moral high ground when launching an attack. It also falsely assumes Syria and Lebanon are interested in moving the peace process forward from their side as well.

The response from those countries since the pull-out declaration last week seems to illustrate quite the opposite. Syria is upset because it wanted the pull-out to be attached to a pull-out from the Golan as well. The Palestinians are upset because they want a pull-out from the West Bank. The Lebanese guerrillas, who have used the Israeli occupation as an excuse to fire on Israelis for several decades, don't seem ready for their war games to end either. The guerrillas and their Iranian supporters are planning terror attacks on Israel and their overseas diplomatic mission, according to Monday's Israeli radio reports.

So where has Israel's concessions to its enemies gotten it? It has left it open to increased attacks in its northern territories; it has not won negotiating power with the Palestinians or the Syrians; it has injected the Israeli people, especially those living in the territories to be evacuated, with a sense of defenselessness and anxiety.

IIsrael is right to take the wait-and-see approach. As it heads into talks with the Palestinians in the Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat on Sunday, it must remember that what it has now sovereignty in Jerusalem and the ability to hold onto much of disputed West Bank also provides it with a position of strength. Before Israel makes any more concessions for what it is not certain it will receive from its Arab "peace" partners, it must ensure it is able to protect the treasure it already holds firmly in its hand.

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