- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

A 12-year-old Palestinian boy will not have the chance to see if his people and the Israelis ever decide who should own the Temple Mount or the Gaza Strip. Neither will the ambulance driver who tried to rescue the child as the boy's father screamed at Palestinian and Israeli troops shooting at each other in Gaza City to hold their fire. Their deaths bring to at least 60 the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed since Friday, with more than 1,000 injured.

As Madeleine Albright heads into separate talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak today, they all must remember what question is being debated. It is not whose fault the recent violence is, a question that Mrs. Albright and the media have been all too eager to answer with accusations against Israel. The fundamental question is who is willing to work for peace. Mr. Arafat and his men have shown that they are not.

The Palestinians began killing and injuring Israelis two days before the controversial visit of Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, a site considered holy to both Jews and Palestinians. By the time Mr. Sharon visited the site on Thursday, Mr. Barak had already been pleading for days for Mr. Arafat to control extremists who had been making bomb attacks on Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip.

So when Mr. Sharon visited the site self-admittedly to make a statement about Israeli sovereignty there he was challenging Mr. Barak's and the international community's underlying belief about Mr. Arafat's desires for the peace process. If he were serious about peace, such a visit to a shared holy site would not bring on a violent Palestinian response on Israeli worshippers on Rosh Hashanah, nor would it induce violence from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip to Israel proper, where Palestinians were armed and waiting.

After all, during peace talks at Camp David, Mr. Barak had offered to let Palestinians have sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem in the Old City, and was also willing to concede full functional autonomy over the Temple Mount. This didn't move Mr. Arafat to compromise; it effected quite the opposite.

The United States will not be able to mediate a peace deal as long as it shames Mr. Arafat one day, and coddles him the next. Nor will the Israelis win as long as they assume that the Palestinians actually want to negotiate. Shared sovereignty will always leave one side with something to prove and Mr. Arafat needs conflict to further his aims for endless peace games, which will postpone any concessions on his part. Now the way forward for the Israeli people is not through more concessions, but through a unified effort to retain sovereignty over their holiest places.

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