- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

Nobody's been paying much attention to foreign policy. "Chad" is no longer an African nation, but part of an American ballot. But foreign policy will as always be one of the new president's most painful headaches.

While Democrats and Republicans conduct a war of words against each other, Israelis and Palestinians continue to use real ammunition on each other. The so-called "peace process" as set in motion with the Oslo accords has never looked so grim.

So President Clinton, now a very lame duck, but still the only duck we have, has once more summoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Washington. This time he talked to them at separate times on separate days (Arafat on Thursday, Barak on Sunday) with even lower expectations than he had for the Camp David summit.

A cartoon in the Jerusalem Post expresses the growing Israeli sentiment: "We were supposed to deal with Arafat because he could control them," says one Israeli to another. "Now we're supposed to deal with Arafat because he can't control them."

Camp David failed for many reasons, but George Shultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, identifies one crucial reason. Arafat wasn't ready and the meeting forced him to the table at a time when the Palestinians wouldn't let him accept even the most generous terms. Many Israelis argue that Mr. Barak, goaded by an over-eager President Clinton, offered too much, too hard and too fast.

Muslim extremists, according to Mr. Arafat, would have considered the generous terms offered at Camp David a betrayal, that his acceptance would have led to his assassination. "I could have gone to heaven to have coffee with Yitzhak Rabin," he told television interviewer Mike Wallace.

If Mr. Arafat wasn't ready to deal with Mr. Barak at Camp David, he showed he was even less capable of dealing with him at the most recent meeting with the president. Both the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the most radical faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Hamas, the terrorist organization, had urged him to cancel his trip.

At a funeral for a Palestinian militia leader killed by Israelis on Thursday, mourners chanted "Down with the olive branch! Long live the gun!" The U.N. Security Council declined Mr. Arafat's request for 2,000 international troops to intervene in the territories, something neither Israel nor the United States could accept, and which is regarded as more of a propaganda ploy by the Palestinians than a useful tactic for reducing violence.

Of course, the prime minister is weaker now, too. Natan Sharansky, the Russian immigrant leader in Israel, opposes the Barak concessions and says renewed peace talks now are foolhardy. Mr. Sharansky's raises a point often lost, but which goes to the heart of the problem for the Israelis: Whereas democratic leaders are dependent on the will of the people, authoritarian leaders must control both minds and bodies of their subjects to maintain control. Survival depends on keeping the fire fed.

For years Mr. Arafat has kept the fire stocked on Palestinian television and radio. Children read textbooks illustrated with maps that show a blank space for Israel. Instead of "Sesame Street," appealing to the joys of being a child, Palestinian preschoolers learn to appreciate the bliss of being a suicide-bomber for Allah. Palestinian children are taught to be martyrs with their parents as willing accomplices. That's why so many mothers and fathers haven't pulled their pre-teenage stone-throwers out of the streets.

"If my son was 10 and throwing stones at armed soldiers," says one Israeli mother, "you can bet your life I would be out there dragging him off the street and locking him in his room. He'd be grounded forever."

Mr. Arafat knows that the death of every Palestinian child evokes sympathy. He has used his propaganda machine to maintain power, demonizing the enemy and rallying his followers. Propaganda machines, however, aren't so easy to turn off.

The Clinton administration, humbled by failure at Camp David, says the most recent meetings were meant to be more exploratory than programmatic, to see whether the two men had enough "commonality" to return to the peace table. They didn't find much. If they do return, it's not likely to be soon or with much hope of moving peace forward. That's Bill Clinton's Middle East "legacy" to the new president, whoever and wherever he may be.

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