- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

''I am not sure we have a real peace partner," Israel's prime minister reportedly wrote in a note to President Clinton at the time of the recent failed Camp David conference. Last week's outburst of Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and in the West Bank and Gaza must have deepened Mr. Barak's doubts even further.

The pretext for the riots was a visit by a number of Israeli members of parliament from the Likud Party to the Temple Mount on the eve of the Jewish New Year. In fact, this was no more than a red herring, and as Israel's Minister of Police (and acting Foreign Minister) Shlomo Ben-Ami attested, the violence was actually part of a carefully orchestrated and pre-planned effort on the part of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to bolster the Palestinian position ahead of what some believe may be the last stage of the peace talks.

Mr. Arafat never did relinquish violence as an implement in his political strategy against the Jewish state but in this particular case, he had a number of additional reasons to resort to it. Rightly or wrongly, he considers Mr. Barak's present minority government to be weak and pliant and, therefore, one to give in to violence-induced pressure. He may also hope that the American administration, eager as it is for the sides to reach an agreement by November, would put additional pressure on the Israeli government to induce it to make even more extensive concessions than the ones which Mr. Barak had already offered at Camp David.

At the same time, he intended to send an unmistakable message to both Israel and the United States: "Don't even think about our agreeing to any sort of Arab-Jewish coexistence on the Temple Mount if there is to be an agreement at all, it will have to be on my terms."

Very little, if any, in the outbreak of the violence was spontaneous and any connection with the Israeli parliamentary group's visit to the Temple Mount was tenuous at best. The stage was set a day before the visit when members of Mr. Arafat's own security organs exploded a bomb in the Gaza Strip, killing an Israeli medical orderly riding in a civilian bus. Other explosive devices were planted near a Kibbutz, Nahal-Oz, but fortunately failed to go off. The next day, a young Israeli policeman, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia, was murdered by a Palestinian policeman who was on a joint patrol with him. Members of the "Fatah" military wing were carefully deployed in the vicinity of places where Israeli and Palestinian roads cross, while the official Palestinian radio almost ran amok fomenting violence. For better television effect, women and children were placed in front of the rioters costing the life of at least one Palestinian child in the crossfire.

Very quickly, the hurling of stones and Molotov cocktails degenerated into machine-gun fire at Israel soldiers and policemen which raises another interesting question: From where did the Palestinians get their automatic weapons? The answer is obvious: While the previous Netanyahu government had insisted in the Wye River accords that the Palestinians hand over (to the Americans) the illegal weapons in their possession the present Israeli government and the U.S. administration were much more lenient in demanding Palestinian compliance with this commitment.

Shimon Peres, no right-wing super hawk, recently observed that when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem he didn't see any mosques on the Temple Mount only the Jewish temple. However, notwithstanding what Jews and Christians believe are the Jewish people's inalienable historic, moral and legal rights to the site which to the Jewish people is the very focus of national and religious existence, all Israeli governments right, left or center since Israel regained control of the Temple Mount when Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, have made it explicitly clear that Israel not only fully respected the rights of the Moslems in what the latter refer to as the "Haram Al-Sharif" but that they would not interfere in any way with the two Moslem mosques on top of the mount. This also applies to other holy sites, Moslem and Christian, around Jerusalem. As a result, for the first time in its ancient history, complete and unfettered freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem was guaranteed.

This, however, is not the attitude of the Palestinians. When the above mentioned group of Israelis entered the area though never even going near the two mosques they were met by a crowd of Palestinians, yelling at the top of their voices that the Jews were "desecrating" and "soiling" the Moslem holy site. This raises another interesting and troubling question: Why is it absolutely normal and legitimate for adherents of any religion on earth to freely enter Christian or Jewish places of worship while the visit of a non-Moslem to a mosque should be considered sacrilege?

Mr. Barak, ignoring the political and cultural realities in the undemocratic political environment surrounding Israel, seems to believe that getting Mr. Arafat to put his signature on a document which will formally declare the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to have "ended" justifies sacrificing many of Israel's and the Jewish people's most vital and important interests and historical positions. Perhaps last week's violent events and Mr. Arafat's contempt for his undertakings, will remind him of how little stock one can put in the assurances of our supposed "peace-partners."

Zalman Shoval is the former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

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