Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Israel Under Attack:
Needs Alternative Palestinian Leadership for Peace

by Avi Weiss

Even as the grave of Ofer Rachum - the Israeli teenager kidnapped and murdered the other day - is fresh, Israeli officials are pushing ahead with negotiations for an agreement with Yasser Arafat. No doubt, Mr. Barak seeks peace with all his heart. Still, even if the biblical Moses himself was in Barak's situation, one could only wonder whether deep down in the subconscious, there is a political consideration at work. At stake is the prime minister's "purity of motive." Was Barak's pending re-election on February 6 blurring the clarity of his vision of peace?

I am one of those who for a long time believed that Israel should not compromise one inch in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). With the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, I entered into a period of deep grief and began to hope that Rabin's Oslo formula could possibly work. Peace, however, requires a trustworthy partner. Everything that Arafat has done in recent months indicates that he is not that partner. He lacks the goodwill to cut the deal. Indeed, areas Israel withdrew from have turned into PLO war zones with Palestinians shooting at Israelis with guns provided by Israel to help secure the peace.

Today, Palestinian gunmen shoot into Gilo in Southern Jerusalem. Were Israel to withdraw further from Jerusalem, those guns will be directed at the heart of Jerusalem, at Jews praying at the Western Wall. It's hard to assess the intention of Israel's Arab neighbors. But in Israel there is talk of an all-out war with Syria invading from the North, Iraq coming from the East through Jordan (100,000 Iraqis are working in Jordan today), and Egypt armed to the teeth from the South.

Israel has successfully defended its borders in the past. This time, however, after making so many concessions, it would also face insurrection from within-from sixty thousand well armed Palestinians, and Israeli Arabs whose loyalty to Israel is now in question. Palestinians and Arabs could wreak havoc on Israel's attempt to call up its reserves who are critical to Israel's defense. Simultaneous fighting on the borders and from within may be a challenge that Israel may be unable to meet. Peace, real peace, requires that both sides educate their people, especially their children that compromise is necessary. Tragically, Palestinian children are taught from their infancy to hate Jews.

Palestinian text books and lesson plans are full of anti-Jewish propaganda. Not only has Arafat "childrenized" the conflict, he has also "Islamized" it, turning it into a religious feud. One day perhaps, the Palestinians may be able to cut a political deal with Israel, but as long as the conflict is couched in religious terms, no deal is possible. In the realm of the Islamic extreme, the world is either Islamic (dar al Islam) or violent (dar al hard) - there is no in-between.

That's why Israel's rush to sign is folly. The other side is simply not ready. Moreover, it would send a message that violence pays. Barak was prepared to give more than any prior Prime Minister at Camp David this past August. If he gives more now, he will be sending a message - violence pays. Killing, terrorism is the gateway for more concessions. In the Middle East, negotiations differ from those in the West. Here, when one side gives, the other is motivated to give as well. There, the more Israel gives, the more it is seen by the other side as weak - the more Arafat wants.

There was a time when the political left in Israel labeled the political right as Messianists, whose dream of liberating all of Judea and Samaria was unrealistic. Be pragmatic they said, a deal must be made. Today it is the reverse. The left are the idealists - the Messianic dreamers of peace. The right is saying, be pragmatic, the other side is just not ready.

We're much worse off today in Israel than when Oslo was signed in 1993. It's time to put on the brakes, to dig in and for Israel to secure itself until real alternative leadership that emerges from the Palestinians - a leadership that really wants peace.

Avi Weiss is National President of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA and Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York. Tel: 718-796-4730, 718-884-0930.

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