- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

Sometimes the targets of a war are the last to recognize it. But this week, after another terrorist attack and more in the offing, even Israel's Cabinet recognized that the Palestinian Authority has no authority, at least over its terrorists. And if it did, it wouldn't exercise it. The Israelis now have proceeded to make this war formal, declaring that they see no point in negotiating with Yasser Arafat any longer. It only gives him cover.

As one Israeli commented after one of Chairman Arafat's endless and empty promises to crack down on the killers: "The Palestinian Authority fight terrorism? The Palestinian Authority is the terrorism."

A rough count indicates that half of those who have been shooting up shopping malls and bombing discos were members of Chairman Arafat's peace-loving Authority, and the other half could expect to get nothing but aid and comfort from it. How many "martyrs" has The Chairman blessed by now? One loses count.

And the Israelis have lost patience. That includes all those doves, now molted into hawks, who used to wax enthusiastic about a peace process that has produced nothing but war.

Some opened their eyes early. Shlomo Avineri, a former director of the Israeli foreign ministry, was one of the most active advocates of the agreement that was signed at Oslo in 1993 and of the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and the West Bank that went with it. But even a year ago he was facing the unpalatable truth. It was the lynching of two Israeli soldiers at the Ramallah police station that did it for Shlomo Avineri. To quote a piece he did for The Jerusalem Post at the time:

"Last summer at Camp David, Arafat rejected the most generous offer ever made to a Palestinian leader by an Israeli statesman (and) it suddenly dawned on us that we do not have a partner: only an enemy, who cannot even find a humane word when our people are lynched. … What came out on the street, among the Palestinian elite on CNN was sheer hatred, and a fundamental rejection of Israel. (So) now we know: There is no such thing as a Palestinian leadership with whom an agreement can be reached. We are at war."

Yasser Arafat himself made the same point, at least when speaking to his people in Arabic. The propaganda from the Palestinian Authority against Israel, Israelis and Jews in general has been incessant and ever more incendiary since its chairman rejected peace and the results ever more violent.

No, it's not yet a war on the scale of the Six Day War in 1967 or the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but more like Israel's undeclared war of independence in 1948, which was fought between truces and armistice negotiations. Or maybe the closest parallel to this war is the Arab riots, aka the Arab Revolt, of 1936. The object of this new war, this Intifada, is to make life in Israel unbearable a steady round of suicide bombings, roadside ambushes and occasional lynchings.

And the Israelis are supposed to get used to it, pretend to believe Yasser Arafat's promises, and do nothing but take it until they are slowly ground down, a demoralized people ripe for the final toppling.

Israel isn't having any more of it. If it has to fight a war, at least it will not pretend there is peace. The Israelis already have begun to close their borders and may soon redraw them on their own. What we're seeing is the beginning of a tragic process as Israel separates itself from the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank, fighting even as it seals them off.

Eventually the Israelis may be able to reach informal deals with local police chiefs, militia leaders and warlords on the other side of the line `ala Afghanistan. But till then, it's clear, Israel is going to start rolling up Yasser Arafat's military power his compounds, airports and armories. Maybe that will get his attention, maybe it won't. By now, it may not matter what he does. Did it ever?

It has become clear these past two years that Yasser Arafat was never serious about peace, only about finding a more effective kind of war to wage in its name.

The greatest loser in this unending tragedy, this war between two peoples who are more alike than they may know, will be the civilians not just in Israel but in whatever is now left of the peaceful Palestine that so many of us suckers thought was possible after Oslo. But the leaders of that state-in-the-making had different ideas. Seldom has a people been more ill-served by its leaders, who once again have led them down a blind alley.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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