- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

The greatest fear of Palestinians and the international community is that Ariel Sharon, elected prime minister of Israel by a landslide on Tuesday, won't play by Oslo rules.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's strategy — a velvet hand inside a velvet glove — has been massively repudiated. Sharon's Likud Party could have run a pork chop against Barak and won.

At Camp David, Barak offered concessions which were previously unthinkable (92 percent of the West Bank, shared sovereignty of East Jerusalem, acknowledgement of a limited Palestinian right of return).

Yasser Arafat responded by unleashing the Arab street, using children with rocks to provoke bloodshed and ordering sniper attacks on Jerusalem.

Osama bin Laden's twin brother thought he could get away with it. Since Oslo, the ironically misnamed Middle East peace process has taken on the aspects of a formalized dance consisting of the following movements:

  • Palestinians riot. Israelis say they won't negotiate under duress, then submit.
  • Palestinians lynch two unarmed Israeli reservists. Israel bombs empty buildings, after a warning to evacuate.
  • Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as their capital. Israelis say Jerusalem is non-negotiable, then offer to negotiate away control of some neighborhoods.
  • Israelis insist Palestinians keep past commitments (disarming Hamas, ending anti-Semitic incitement, limiting the size and arms of their security forces) before new concessions are made. Then Jerusalem proceeds to ignore its own conditions and concede more.
  • The Palestinians kidnap and murder a rabbi, destroy Jewish shrines, blow up a school bus, lay siege to settlements and lure a 15-year-old boy to the West Bank for ritual slaughter. The Israelis declare that this is intolerable, walk away from the bargaining table, sulk for a few days, then resume negotiations.

Arafat's disdain for past Israeli governments was similar to Hitler's contempt for the West after Munich (another land-for-peace fiasco). But now, he confronts a man who won't play by Oslo rules, including the overriding axiom: Whatever past Israeli governments have put on the bargaining table can never be withdrawn.

The retired general, hero of almost every war his nation fought, wounded in battle, decorated, politically exiled for the courage of his convictions, is a rare breed among Israeli politicians — what he says, he means.

Sharon has said he wants a peace based on Israel's security interests and national honor, that other than minor concessions he won't give up any more of the West Bank, that the settlements are vital to Israel's defense and that Jerusalem will remain the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people.

The old warrior has several daunting assignments — putting together a governing coalition in a badly fragmented Knesset, persuading the Arabs that he ain't just a whistling “Hatikva,” and convincing the Bush administration not to follow the course of its predecessor in trying to force the process by pressuring Israel to roll over on cue.

The last is crucial. Forget world opinion. If Washington gives Sharon breathing room and lets him follow his instincts based on a lifetime of strategic thinking, all will be well.

And the key to Washington is building a groundswell of grass-roots support outside hopelessly divided, old-line Jewish organizations. A major mistake of Benjamin Netanyahu, the last Likud prime minister, was not cultivating a U.S. constituency for his approach to negotiations.

Even before the general assumes command, Sharon's people should work to develop such a base among Zionists, Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians prepared to lobby Congress and the administration on behalf of a recognition of Middle East reality.

In creating such a coalition, a good place to start would be a rally in Madison Square Garden, sponsored by groups like Americans for a Safe Israel and the Zionist Organization of America, but drawing on the support of Christian friends of Israel like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Celebrating in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening, some Sharon supporters carried signs that read, “Oslo is dead.” From their placards to God's ear. Only with Olso safely buried will Israel live.

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