- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

Ehud Barak walked away from Camp David with kind words from President Clinton. Yassar Arafat left after being offered new Israeli concessions that would have given him about 90 percent of the land he is demanding for the moment, plus frontiers that would endanger his major neighbors, Israel and Jordan, and one day make it possible to link the Iraq-Palestine axis physically.

Other concessions would destroy the security value of the remaining West Bank Israeli settlements and oh, yes begin dismantling a united Jerusalem, which Mr. Barak and every other Israeli leader had sworn would never ever be divided.

In an acidic demonstration of contempt for current Israeli diplomacy, Mr. Arafat turned down the latest cornucopia of the gifts Mr. Barak came carrying to pay for peace; it was not enough. So the meeting was over, leaving the President Clinton and Mr. Barak looking terribly hurt and startled. Mr. Barak carries the responsibility; Mr. Clinton is not his nanny. Mr. Barak and his team fell into a trap that any embassy second secretary would have avoided spreading out your final-settlement offerings before the opponent has given an idea of what he might pay for them.

That means Mr. Barak made his concessions for free, which turned them into gifts. Of course, he says the Arafat refusal to accept wording of the Jerusalem concessions makes the whole package null and void. But Mr. Arafat won't let these concessions slip away so easily. At the new talks the Palestinians and Israelis are already planning, Mr. Arafat will likely make all these concessions the floor, not the ceiling, of his demands. His top aides say so, I assume concealing their grins. This is something that nearly everyone watching, from outstanding moderate Israeli conservatives like Zalman Shoval (former Israeli ambassador in Washington) to American supporters of Mr. Barak and Israeli Labor, seem to have overlooked. However, so it should not seem a total loss to his country, the Israeli spokesman reveals that the tone of the talks was civilized. That's nice.

What neither he nor any other Israeli can reveal is whether Mr. Barak has so damaged himself as a caretaker of Israeli interests in negotiation that he will not be able to represent Israel more effectively at a new round, or at all.

There was no great mystery about Palestinian strategy at Camp David. That is the way Palestinians and other national movements operate building on one retreat by the enemy to create another. What is something of a mystery is that after more than a half-century of struggle with the Palestinians, so many Israelis, and so many of their foreign friends simply refuse to look at Israeli-Palestinian reality.

It is been this way for most of the many years of this struggle, the governments and religious and elite leadership of the Arab states would not even talk of peace with Israel. They preferred war, war with the intention of destroying Israel. The creation of Israel in 1948 could have peacefully created an independent Palestine, which never had existed. The Jews accepted the U.N. partition plan; the Arabs chose to reject it and chose unending war. From then on, the only way the Israeli nation and people could satisfy Arab rulers and religious chiefs was to die, quickly.

But military war against the Jews by the combined Arab forces failed. In 1967 an attack by combined Arab forces cost their nations the West Bank and the Jordan-occupied parts of Jerusalem, neither of which had been the property of the non-existent Palestine. Decades of world economic boycott also failed, not because the world suddenly loved Israelis but because they did not live as Arabs did, enchained by medieval monarchs and economies.

The Arabs used the weapon of mind-poison. Around the world they spread, and still do, the most concerted anti-Jewish campaign since the Nazis. And to all Muslims they spread the message about Palestinians with which King Hussein of Jordan had blessed Saddam's forces they are fighting for all Islam.

When all other forms of warfare failed to persuade Israel to go kill itself, Arab nations tested other techniques like the suspension of formal warfare for terrorism against Israel and its supporters. Then came the current phase accepting the concept of peace, kind of, and sometimes even agreeing to a perversion of it: peace in name, continued terrorism and mind poison in practice.

Many Israelis and foreigners believe that by now desire for peace will persuade Israelis and Palestinians to cultivate their own rose gardens in peace and harmony. I remember with some sympathy the furious Arab at an international conference shouting the Jews would just grow more roses in the same damned space.

I think real peace will not come until enough democratic governments replace the regimes of the Arab despots and mind poisoners. The U.S. should say so and act so. That will take a long time but not as long as trying to achieve a sound peace by giving away land, security and principle.



A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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