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The downfall of Israel?

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By George Will
Published Oct. 10, 2000
WASHINGTON--Although weary from 52 years of nationhood without peace, realistic Israelis understand the causation behind this correlation: Today Israel has the most accommodating diplomacy in its history, and is in the most perilous position in its history.

Israel's position is worse than in 1973, when it was attacked by concerted Arab armies, worse than when Egypt mobilized in 1967, worse than in 1948, when Arabs rejected the U.N. partition of Palestine that Israel accepted, and sent armies to kill Israel. Israel's position is worse today because then the threats were military, manageable by an Israel confident of the legitimacy of its positions. Now just 17 months of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's diplomacy have demoralized Israel by delegitimizing all its previous principles, and destroying the absolute prerequisite for successful negotiations--the insistence that something is nonnegotiable. Even a Barak ultimatum is, inevitably, penultimate.

Barak may be the most calamitous leader any democracy has had. He risks forfeiting his nation's existence. Bad leadership during the 1930s caused France to suffer swift defeat and four years of humiliation, but not annihilation.

Barak has made territorial concessions no previous government contemplated, including the sparsely populated and strategically vital Jordan valley. He has thrown away longstanding U.S. support for an undivided Jerusalem. Under Barak, Israel's rights in its own capital are negotiable. And what has Barak's policy bought? Only Arafat's promise to reject violence, which is akin to Hitler's promise, after Munich, to make no more territorial claims in Europe.

Barak's attempt to satiate Arafat with a feast of Israeli retreats has even produced the idea of giving the United Nations, that nest of anti-Israeli regimes, control of the Temple Mount. The consequence of all this may be fulfillment of the undisguised aim of Israel's "partner in peace," the Palestine Authority, whose maps, textbooks, television broadcasts, and public places, treat Israel as nonexistent.

Israel's multiplying problems include the Western media. For example, a Los Angeles Times story on a Palestinian officer engaged in the fighting carried this headline: "A militia commander in Nablus, though obedient to Arafat, sees armed struggle as crucial." The word "though" conveys the media's permanent presumption that Arafat eschews violence and desires peace. Yet he constantly promises a jihad against Jerusalem.

At Camp David, Arafat reportedly told President Clinton that he, Arafat, speaks for a billion Muslims. This inaccurate claim accurately casts the issue: This is not a dispute between Israelis and Palestinians about land, it is a clash of civilizations and is not solvable by splitting differences.

The mentality of those Israelis who believe all differences are splitable was displayed on Sunday when former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for the peace currently convulsing Israel, spoke to ABC's "This Week." He said the peace process cannot be dead. Why? "Nobody can kill the peace process because we need it like air." So Arafat can punctuate the "peace process" as often as he likes with as much war as he likes, and Israelis who think as Peres does will always return, gasping gratefully for air.

Besides, Peres explained, Arafat no longer runs "a terroristic organization." Rather, he "is responsible for an administration which is 120,000 people strong. ... It is one thing to be a head of a revolution, and it is another thing to be a head of a state in being." But what if it is a revolutionary state devoted to devouring Israel?

Peres is puzzled. If Arafat had behaved like a bourgeoisie politician, Palestinians "could have escaped the poverty" they still suffer, and could have built "a modern life." But Peres is hopeful: "If somebody would tell you in 1944 that within one year you can have a different Europe, that you can have peace, I think everyone would be laughing. But look what happened. ..."

Yes, look. What happened one year after the worst year in Jewish history was the defeat of those vowing to eradicate the Jews.

As the 52-year (so far) war for the destruction of Israel continued last week, a cleric leading prayers in al-Aqsa mosque enjoined the faithful to "eradicate the Jews from Palestine." When Israeli soldiers pulled a wounded policeman away from St. Stephens Gate in Jerusalem, Palestinians, taught from Holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic textbooks, publications and broadcasts that the Palestinian Authority falsely promised to eliminate, chanted "Slaughter the Jews." Thousands of Jordanians marched in Amman chanting "Death to the Jews." When Hitler threatened "the destruction of European Jewry," sophisticates, searching, as sophisticates do, for nuances, wondered, What do you suppose he meant?

You may write to George Will c/o Washington Post Writers Group at 1150 15th Street N.W., Washington, D.C., 20071.


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