- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

The violence launched by Yasser Arafat at the end of September marked the end of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Its collapse, however, began at least half a decade ago. Oslo was mortally wounded the day the Palestinian leader issued his first inciteful message to an Arabic-speaking crowd; it staggered along during successive years with each additional Palestinian violation; and took its last gasps with the terrorism committed by Islamic fundamentalists given the "green light" by Mr. Arafat.

All told, from the beginning of the peace process to just before the current confrontations, 237 Israeli civilians were killed and 2,824 were wounded by their Palestinian counterparts (as for soldiers, 97 were killed and 1,376 wounded). That is to say, the first heady years of "peace" in Israel produced more casualties than during the previous 15 years of open conflict put together. Finally, at Camp David this July, by rejecting magnanimous Israeli terms and returning to Gaza without even having produced a counteroffer, Mr. Arafat placed Oslo in its coffin.

But the question left hanging in the air during these tense and tragic days is that of what, if any, responsibility the Israeli "peace camp" bears for this nightmarish turn of events? To have originally believed in Oslo's original and ambitious promise of peace might have been reasonable. To have given the PLO an opportunity to prove it had really turned over a new leaf could have been politically understandable although perhaps still morally unacceptable. But to have clung to the peace process with messianic fervor and irrational zeal is nearly incomprehensible. Indeed, Oslo's architects professors Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak, along with politicians Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin with the open support of nearly the entire camp of Israeli left-wing politicians made a strategic decision to ignore the massive amount of evidence that something had gone terribly wrong with their Grand Experiment.

Why? As former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dore Gold pointed out a few years ago, canceling the "Oslo project" during its early stages would have been for the Israeli left tantamount to burying its most central item of faith that peaceful coexistence with a PLO-led Palestinian entity was a reasonable and achievable goal.

Were the signs really that difficult to see? Slaves of their own assumptions, the Israeli left chose to ignore if not condone PLO misconduct in the secure belief that mutual confidence would emerge with time; it did not. With the inexplicable infatuation many intellectuals and human rights advocates have for brutal dictatorships and irredentist movements, well-intentioned peace camp politicians projected their own post-nationalist ideals onto the Palestinians, seeing virtuous pacifists in those who were obviously holy warriors in hibernation.

Coming to terms with these truths, the honest observer is left with a tragic irony: that the leaders of Israel's left Oslo's most loyal supporters indeed bear at least partial responsibility for the agreement's crumbling. Let there be no doubt: The assassins of the peace process are none other than Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian rock-throwers. The Israeli left should not be judged for wholeheartedly longing for the arrival of peace to this war-weary land, a hope held in the heart of every Israeli. But by negligently and intentionally choosing to ignore systematic and dangerous Palestinian violations, the left in essence created the framework for Oslo's collapse.

Strategically, then, it was not the so-called "enemies of peace" who condemned Oslo to death, but its best friends. If, instead of rewarding Mr. Arafat every time he breached the accords, Israeli leaders had demanded that their peace partner honor his obligations and stick resolutely to the path of credible reconciliation, then perhaps a fall could have been avoided. Even if this policy had precipitated an earlier collapse of the process, at least Mr. Arafat and his henchmen today would not have the weapons, land, and infrastructure they are now turning against their "peace partner."

And the mood of the Israeli right? Anyone who was repulsed by the sight of Israeli leaders embracing Mr. Arafat, who refused to accept the abject immorality of Western democracies and the Nobel Peace Prize committee in catapulting the most brutal kind of criminal to international fame and legitimacy as a "hero of peace," despite an honest longing for peace for which the right is often denied credit, must accept all these facts with a heavy heart. Even during times of turmoil over the past seven years, most of those who stayed firmly outside Israel's more dovish mainstream still couldn't help wishing, deep down, that in some inexplicable, irrational even magical way, the process would somehow ultimately deliver the peace it promised. For these, consolation is perhaps best expressed in the words of Israeli writer Amnon Lor: "An epoch of lies and fraud has ended."

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