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Jewish World Review August 4, 2000 /3 Menachem-Av, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

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In the Land of Oz

The Jewish left, like the right, must face its own contradictions -- ONE OF THE DARKEST DAYS a person can face is when he sees the contradictions in his most sacred beliefs. Last week was such a moment for Israeli novelist Amos Oz.

Oz, one of the luminaries of the world of Hebrew literature, as well as an icon of left-wing Israeli politics, was stunned by the results of last month's Camp David summit.

To vent his angst, he turned, like most Jewish literary notables, not to a psychiatrist, but to the heavily Jewish readership of The New York Times. He used this forum on July 28 to pour out his unhappiness with the Palestinian Arabs and their leader, Yasser Arafat.

Like Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Oz genuinely believed that Israel was on the brink of peace at Camp David. Having for many years supported the concept of a Palestinian state, a wholesale withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and a shared Jerusalem (put forward in his book In the Land of Israel), Oz whined in print about all he had suffered for his sympathy for Palestinian Arabs and his efforts to convince Israel's leaders to adopt these beliefs.

But convincing Israelis was not enough. Unfortunately for Barak and Oz, the wily Arafat and the Palestinians will have none of it. Arafat ( with the support of the entire Arab world) won't agree. He doesn't want to "share" Jerusalem; he wants to own half of it outright. He wants the Arab "right of return" for all of the millions who claim to be refugees or the descendants of refugees so as to swamp the Jewish state with hostile persons who wish to destroy it.

Arafat wants it all, yet it isn't clear that if Israel acceded to his outlandish demands that this would actually end the conflict. Since the signing of the Oslo pact in 1993, even mentioning Arafat's 1974 "phased plan" for the destruction of Israel has been considered bad manners. But after Camp David II, can any sane person avoid thinking about it?

Even as dedicated a leftist as Amos Oz can't. He wrote in the Times: "And yet the Palestinians said no. Mr. Arafat doesn't insist on merely the right to a Palestinian state, a right I fully support. Now, he demands that the Palestinian exiles should return not only to Palestine, but also to Israel, thus upsetting the demographic balance and eventually turning Israel into the 26th Arab country. ... if [the Palestinians] also want to have Israel, they should know that they will find me ready to defend my country ... ."

Let us shed no tears for the lost illusions of a famous novelist. Barak paid a far heavier price in terms of his administration's credibility and ability to govern when he chose to buy into the Israeli left's delusion that Arafat will accept peace on even ridiculously generous terms. Winning the title of "Mr. Congeniality" at Camp David II may have endeared him to Clinton, but it hasn't helped him much at home.

Israel's people believed they were electing a man who would not compromise on Jerusalem when they gave the majority of their votes to Barak in May 1999.

Though most Israelis desperately want peace, there is no poll that has shown anything close to a majority in favor of the concessions offered by Barak.

The collapse of Barak's parliamentary majority on the eve of Camp David was due to the Knesset's unhappiness about his proposed terms of peace.

But that said, it is fair to note that Barak's opposition on the Israeli right has, in the not-so-distant past, been forced to face its own contradictions. The idea that Israel could have peace with the Arabs in exchange for nothing more than peace was an appealing notion, but not a realistic one. Nor were any workable plans for the continuation of sole Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria ever put forward in the last 33 years.

The disastrous reign of Barak's predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the climax of the crack-up of the Israeli right. Bibi's government crashed between the contradictions of his belief that peace was at once imperative and yet impossible. Barak rode to power on the wave of disgust for Netanyahu's contradictions and mendacity. And that is what led to Oz's dream peace proposal finally being put on the table at Camp David.

Barak's government may limp along for awhile, but Israel's people will eventually decide at the ballot box whether they can stomach his mistakes any better than they could Netanyahu's. The willingness of the Arab world to give Israel anything close to real peace in exchange for any amount of land will largely determine the fate of Barak's government, whether or not President Clinton succeeds in reviving the talks (with Barak's concessions safely in Arafat's pocket as he demands even more).

But Camp David has shown that the belief that the Oslo peace process will inevitably lead to peace has been proved to be just as much of a myth as some of the illusions of the Israeli right. As such, these beliefs might better be classified as religious, not as political. And, as with any other religion, no matter what happens to disprove these positions, their believers cling to them despite all contradictions. Despite their illusions, neither the left nor the right has a coherent plan to deal with the future.

In the meantime, Israel's leaders should be forewarned that attempts to win support for their policies among American Jewry have been dealt a fatal blow by this latest diplomatic disaster. After decades of pulling at our heartstrings by invoking Jerusalem's sacred unity, the spectacle of Arafat rejecting Barak's offer to share the city should put an end to Israeli efforts to manipulate U.S. Jews on this issue. Never again should Barak or any of his minions dare to recite the old mantra about the "eternal, undivided Jerusalem" to an American Jewish audience.

Barak and Oz are unhappy about how badly Arafat has treated them. But all he has done is illuminate the basic contradictions in their beliefs. They can cry all they want about it to their analysts, but there is no reason why the rest of us should be forced to listen.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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