- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Never has a conflict been less conducive to peace.In fact, the tragic situation in Israel is perfectly suited for the continuation of war and tension. Neither leader, Arab or Israeli, has bona fide credentials for peace, or even the will to make the infinite compromises necessary for ending the conflict an atmosphere absent since the departure of Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The current Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, is a former general, a blunt warlike figure who believes his nation's overwhelming military might will frighten the Palestinians into stopping the terrorism and then make peace on Israel's terms. Of course he is wrong. He has blurted out that he hoped Yasser Arafat had been killed 20 years ago in the Lebanon war, hardly a statement to induce trust.

Mr. Sharon has now created a ludicrous scene by placing tanks around Mr. Arafat's headquarters, imprisoning and humiliating the man who is supposed to become his partner in peace. Mr. Sharon is surely the right person to protect Israel's security and the worst possible choice to make peace.

The two men make a classic odd couple. Just as Mr. Sharon is too strong, Yasser Arafat is too weak. Israel and America want him to quell the violence and suicide bombing before peace can be constructed. That is like asking a 4-year-old to fight a mature man. The two terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, aided by Iran, secretly control the Palestinian environment. Apparently, they have no trouble recruiting a continuous stream of suicide bombers, which was evident recently when an educated, modern woman gave up her life to kill Israelis on a crowded Jerusalem shopping street.

Mr. Arafat is obviously a prisoner not only of Mr. Sharon but of the terrorists, who still harbor the fantasy of pushing Israel into the sea. Mr. Arafat is fearful that should he make peace without meeting the terrorists' impossible demands, they will quickly dispatch him to the same Paradise occupied by their suicide bombers.

Meanwhile both sides ignore the Mitchell report, which laid out a formula for peace. The Palestinians continue to make life miserable for Israelis by mercilessly killing innocent civilians, including teen-agers at discos or those seeking a pizza in a central square. Mothers are demanding that their children keep close to home and live a more circumscribed life in the face of terrorism of the worst sort.

The Israelis also continue to defy the Mitchell report, which demanded that Israel curtail their colonial desires by stopping the expansion, then eventually withdrawing the Jewish settlements within what is supposed to become the Palestinian nation, the area of the West Bank and Gaza. Not only President Bush, but Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, a more balanced man than Mr. Sharon, has just told the United Nations that there is a "broad agreement" that an independent Palestine state is the "best bet" for peace.

He is right. But the reality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza deny that promise. Almost 200 settlements, with 176,000 Israelis, occupy every corner of the West Bank, generally surrounded by the Israeli Army, an obvious antagonist not only to daily Arab life, but to Palestinian statehood as well. Some settlements are very small: Beit ha'Arava is a miniature colony of 42 Israelis while Ma'ale Adummin is an Israeli city of 26,478 souls in the heart of the Benjamin area of Palestine's West Bank. In Gaza, Israelis must drive through most of the Arab territory to reach isolated settlements. In one large Israeli settlement near Jerusalem, construction is presently under way to enlarge the population.

Despite the current deserved pessimism, it is not a hopeless situation. But it requires planning and compromise by both sides, plus pressure from the international community, America included.

I believe the only answer to the conundrum of peace is a sixfold program.

(1) The two peoples must be separated, at least for now. That will require the construction of a 12-foot-high wall stretching across the entire boundary, protecting Israel from terrorists residing in the new Palestine state. It will also protect Palestinians from regular incursions of the Israeli Army. Several checkpoints in the wall will allow for the flow of trusted citizens from either side.

(2) Maintaining the peace will require the insertion of an international force of 25,000 soldiers from many nations.

(3) To insure Israeli's own borders, the map will have to be redrawn to incorporate into Israel only those settlements that are near the present border. In return, Israel will grant Palestine an equal amount of territory.

(4) To ensure Palestine's true sovereignty, the remainder of the Israeli settlements inside the West Bank and Gaza must be closed and the settlers and the Israeli Army withdrawn.

(5) A portion of East Jerusalem will serve as the capital of the new Palestine nation.

(6) The new Palestine nation must curb all terrorism by arresting any terrorist group that continues its operations after the peace. If necessary Palestine can call on the international force for help, With a new national army and new pride, suicide bombing emanating from Palestine will soon become extinct.

Neither side will like the new arrangement, and Israel will resist losing its colonies in the West Bank. But there is no other solution between two peoples so inextricably interwoven, with more hatred than they can handle.

Can Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat accomplish this? It is hoped for. If not, new leaders must arise to stop the futile and bloody fracas.

Martin Gross is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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