The reporting of events in the Middle East is like a stuck needle on a phonograph it just repeats and repeats and repeats. The song the American press is stuck on is the “intifada.” All scenes of violence between Israelis and Palestinians are seen through this prism: brutal, well-armed Israeli police and military abuse of poor, stone throwing Palestinian youths.
Yasser Arafat was depending upon that reflexive response when he started the violence that now threatens to engulf the whole region.
In addition to the intifada, the world press is also always ready to denounce Ariel Sharon for his pugnacity. It’s true Mr. Sharon is provocative (he didn’t stroll around the Temple Mount for exercise), but if this was provocation it was of the gentlest kind. If it is provocative for an Israeli leader to walk around the Temple Mount, then what in the world may an Israeli do in his own country?
Besides, the violence began before Mr. Sharon stepped foot on the Temple Mount. And Mr. Sharon did not shoot or stone anyone. He did not so much as insult a Palestinian. His presence merely underscored a reality that Palestinians reject: That Jews have a right to their ancient holy sites in Jerusalem.
Yet that walk supposedly incited Arab youths to pelt worshipers at the Western Wall with stones. Elsewhere Molotov cocktails flew at civilians, and a Jewish religious site was burned and destroyed while Palestinian “police” looked on. Well, say the critics, it is Mr. Sharon himself who is so unacceptable. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, argued that he has blood on his hands.
Perhaps so. An Israeli tribunal investigated events at the Sabra and Shatilla camps during the Lebanese war and found that, while the killings were the work of the Christian militia, not the Israelis, Mr. Sharon bore some responsibility for not trying to stop it. When has any Arab tribunal so found regarding one of its own? Mrs. Ashrawi, meanwhile, has no problem serving a man, Mr. Arafat, who bears direct responsibility for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
It isn’t just the American press that is stuck in a rut. The Security Council, so practiced at denouncing Israel, swung into a familiar mode last week by condemning Israel for “excessive force” in responding to Palestinian violence. That the United States abstained was an act of cowardice and bad faith.
What was the cause of this renewed Palestinian violence? As columnist Charles Krauthammer has noted, 99 percent of Palestinians now live under Palestinian rule. Ehud Barak has offered them virtually the entire West Bank, and has even offered to the dismay of many Israelis and in contravention of a decades-old certitude of Israeli policy to divide Jerusalem.
That is what Mr. Barak did at Camp David. He offered to give East Jerusalem to the Palestinians provided only that the holy places (which everyone agrees have been justly administered by Israel since 1967) be supervised by the U.N. Security Council.
This was pretty much everything Mr. Arafat had ever demanded in negotiations with the Israelis and the Americans. Yet he walked out on Camp David, saying no Muslim would ever accept anything less than all of Jerusalem.
Weak-minded reporting on the failed summit never conveyed the intransigence of the Arab side. Few recognized what Mr. Arafat was throwing away, and even fewer asked the logical next question: If diplomatic recognition by Israel and the rest of the world for a state containing nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza plus half of Jerusalem to call his capital is not enough for Mr. Arafat, then what has the “peace process” really been all about?
Now the situation is spiraling downward fast. The Palestinians, marinated in hatred for Israel and led to believe they will soon have all of Palestine, are easily aroused to violence. They note with pleasure that Muslim extremists in Lebanon were able to wear Israel down and succeed in the end and think they can do the same. And so dies one of the great self-delusions indulged by the United States and Israel: that the Palestinians truly want peace. They want Israel and always have.