- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

Israelis and Palestinians don't agree on much lately, but on one point they have reached an identical conclusion: The peace process has been a failure. So Palestinians have taken to the streets in demonstrations and violence against the Israelis, and Israelis have responded with brute military force. Neither is much interested in trying to work out their differences at the bargaining table. For now, they'd rather fight fire with fire.

Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat had to be dragged to an Egyptian resort by Bill Clinton just to talk about a mere truce in the hostilities. Barak feels he can make no more concessions to the Palestinians. Arafat feels he can make no more concessions to the Israelis. So each will have to explore other alternatives.

But what alternatives are there? Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer urges Israel to abandon the “open hand” in favor of the “iron fist.” But Israel tried the iron fist before, during the Palestinian uprising of 1987 to 1993. The intifada went on until the signing of the Oslo peace accords, which gave Palestinians hope that they might finally get all or most of what they were fighting for.

Abandon the peace process, and Israel will be right back where it was before Oslo — endlessly drained by a war against a people who adamantly reject its rule. And this time, the unrest has to be suppressed not only among Palestinians in the occupied territories, but among Arabs living in Israel itself.

Arafat's options are no more inviting. He could spurn negotiations and unilaterally declare a Palestinian state in the areas now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, while fomenting violent resistance by Palestinians still under Israeli control. But what would that achieve?

Israel could bleed the new state economically by simply sealing off its borders to Palestinian workers — further impoverishing a desperate people. For Arafat, an end to the peace process would also mean abandoning all hope of progress toward Palestinian control of East Jerusalem.

Endless violence may be costly and demoralizing for Israelis, but it's even worse for Arabs. In any confrontation between Palestinians and the Israeli army, it's Palestinians who will make up the majority of the dead and wounded. In the current round of violence, almost all of the more than 100 people killed have been Arabs.

In the past, the Palestinians could hope for deliverance from Arab armies in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. But today, no Arab country has the military might to challenge Israel. The money and moral support the Palestinians may get from Arab capitals won't dismantle a single Israeli settlement or recover an inch of land.

Hard-liners in Israel and the United States say negotiations are the problem, not the solution. Give the Palestinians anything, the argument goes, and they will demand everything. But the compromises held out by Israel in the peace process have yet to translate into either a full-fledged Palestinian state or improvements in the daily life of Palestinians.

The Israelis see the Oslo peace process as seven years of giving something, while the Palestinians see it as seven years of getting nothing — and both, in a sense, are right. So it's no surprise that many people on either side are seething with frustration, disenchantment and outright hatred. And it's no surprise that both the Israelis and the Palestinians feel they have been pushed into using force.

But force ultimately can't resolve the dilemma. Israel's vaunted military can destroy any Arab army that attacks, but destroying the Palestinians is not an option. Come what may, many Palestinians will be living under direct or indirect Israeli control.

Palestinians may be able to make life miserable for many Israelis, but the dream of liberating the land through “armed struggle” is a fantasy, because Israel is not about to surrender to violence. The Palestinians will have to live with Israel under the best of circumstances.

The only way out is to find a mutually tolerable formula to let two peoples divide the land while determining their own destiny. But compromise will be difficult and even excruciating for each side. Neither can get all it wants, and as the peace process advances, that bitter fact becomes harder and harder to deny. One response is to imagine that peace can be found not through compromise, but through intransigence and violence.

Both parties should know better. The fighting between Palestinians and Israelis could go on for weeks, or months, or years, or even decades without solving anything. In the end, the options will be the same. But maybe after a lot more blood has been shed and a lot more lives have been wrecked, the two sides will be ready to make the compromises they spurn today.

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