- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

With the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan approaching the endgame, Israel has now become the main front in the war on terrorism. While there are some, especially in Europe, who try to create an artificial distinction between al Qaeda and Yasser Arafat's brand of terrorism, the United States has made it clear that its purpose is to end all terrorism, regardless of the target or claimed motivation.
Actually, Mr. Arafat's record as one of the world's most dangerous and vicious terrorists goes back much longer than that of Osama bin Laden. According to Robert Baer's recent book, "See No Evil," Mr. Arafat's "Fatah network was more than likely responsible for the Beirut (American) Embassy bombing" in which 63 people, including 17 Americans were killed. When Mr. Arafat 17 months ago started his strategic terror offensive against Israel, he had three separate, though inter-related objectives in mind: to pressure Israel by way of internationalizing the conflict and reducing America's role as an intermediary; to force Israel to go beyond even the extremely generous proposals made by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and ex-President Bill Clinton at Camp David; and thirdly, to break the morale of the Israeli people.
Though it soon became clear that Mr. Arafat's strategy, by and large, was failing, this didn't mean that Mr. Arafat would automatically conclude that for the good of his people, let alone peace, he had to change course. On the contrary, ignoring U.S. and other international efforts to stop the violence and to accept a cease-fire, Mr. Arafat raised the level of violence, especially by sending young men and women to blow themselves up in the midst of Israeli population centers. If further proof was needed for Mr. Arafat's terrorist intentions, there was the Karine A, the Palestinian arms ship carrying Iranian-made and procured weapons (paid for, by the way, by Saudi Arabian interests). His hope was that stepping up terror would at least enable him to improve his bargaining position.
It was at this moment that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah came to Mr. Arafat's rescue. Actually there was no great mystery about the "initiative" itself, and even less so about its timing (first referred to by Tom Friedman in the New York Times). After September 11 when stunned Americans became increasingly aware of the deep Saudi involvement on all levels in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and later of the somewhat less than enthusiastic Saudi support for the American action in Afghanistan the Saudi royal family's need to mend fences became clear and urgent. They picked the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a suitable vehicle to try to regain their former position as America's trusted ally. Not that the Saudis had ever shown a great deal of concern for the peace process or even for the Palestinians. But from their point of view, coming up with their proposal now was a win-win proposition. If the violence should stop, even temporarily, they could take the credit. If not, the blame would be put on Israel. The "initiative" itself can best be compared to a Salvador Dali painting a few beautiful, albeit distorted vistas, but scant touch with reality.
Any responsible Israeli government which doesn't want to invite future aggression will reject the present wording of the Saudi proposal. The proposal that the Arab states would grant Israel "security guarantees" is, to say the least, laughable. Even more troubling, perhaps, are the glaring omissions: Contrary to the American and Israeli position, there is no demand to stop the terror and bloodshed and even the promise of normalization with Israel has now been dropped. Nor is there a commitment that there would be no more talk of the so-called "right of return," which is part of the Arab design to destroy Israel from within by flooding it with hundreds of thousands of "refugees."
Maybe it is a mistake that Israel doesn't remind the world from time to time, including her best friends, of her inalienable historical, moral and legal right to the whole of the Jewish people's ancient homeland. To refer to Israel's place in the land which was the cradle of the Jewish people and the fount of the Judeo-Christian heritage, as "occupation" is, at a minimum, uninformed. The same goes for the supposed "illegality" of Jewish settlements. As famed human rights activist, Elena Bonner, widow of Nobel peace prize winner Andrei Sakharov put it, forbidding Jews to live anywhere in their country, would be like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
That said, for the sake of real peace, most Israelis would agree to make far-reaching compromises and concessions. So far, unfortunately, there is no sign that the other side is willing to do the same. Mr. Arafat as Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was to find out saw in "Oslo" a temporary expedient to advance his ultimate aims, without giving up the option of terror and violence. (Some years ago, I wrote in these pages that the famous handshake with Mr. Arafat on the White House lawn after the Oslo agreement would come back to haunt President Clinton and it did.) But turning to the present, the United States should be lauded for not having bought the Saudi "initiative" wholesale, but rather more realistically, viewing it as some sort of a "vision" for the future.
Israel, too, will never fail to explore any avenue which might lead to peace, but she won't make the mistake of ignoring the old maxim which described the difference between a clever person and a wise one as that between one who knows how to get out of an unpleasant situation, and one who wouldn't have gotten himself into that situation in the first place. Israel would rather be wise.

Zalman Shoval, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was twice Israeli ambassador to the United States.


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