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Jewish World Review August 6, 2001 / 17 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

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Changing the Subject

Israel's critics re-write history to justify Arafat and Oslo -- THIS past week, as the rocks of Arab rioters rained down on the heads of Jewish worshippers observing Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall, the conflict in the Middle East appeared to have come full-circle. Just as the latest round of Palestinian attacks on Israel began with the lie that then Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon desecrated the mosques on the Temple Mount, so, too, did major media outlets claim that the violence was the fault of the Jews.

Once again, Jews were victimized, but the press concentrated on the efforts of Israeli police to prevent the Arabs from further desecrating the sacred site.

But Israel's problems in the sphere of information are greater than just the latest instance of unbalanced reporting. Israel's critics in this country have a bigger goal: changing the public perception that the Palestinians and their leader are responsible for dashing hopes of peace last year. To accomplish this, they must do more than send out a few misleading headlines - they must change history.

A bald-faced effort to do just that appeared recently in The New York Times. The paper launched a campaign on both its news and opinion pages to convince Americans that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat didn't reject peace last year at Camp David, and that it was a "myth" that he, and not Israel's supposed intransigence, was to blame for the year of violence that followed Arafat's fateful decision.

Flying in the face of the historical record, America's leading newspaper trumpeted on its July 26 front page the headline: "Many Now Agree That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame."

Much like the revisionist books that seek to place the blame for the failure of the invading Arab powers to make peace with Israel in 1948 on the Jewish victims of the Arab assault, this new piece of writing is merely politics masquerading as history.

The danger this article and others like it that are published in The Times and elsewhere is not just that Israel isn't getting fair treatment. It's that a concerted effort is being made by some of the makers of opinion and of policy in this country to undermine Israel's negotiating position and its standing in the world.

Echoed by such diverse persons as former President Jimmy Carter, former Clinton administration staffers, the European community and the old guard of Arabists within the State Department, this offensive against Israel is just beginning.

The point of Deborah Sontag's tendentious and lengthy article that appeared on the 26th - which the Times' editors did not even have the decency to label as analysis, let alone as opinion - was clear: to spin Arafat's rejection of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's unprecedented proposals for peace into a story in which there were no villains. The objective of this journalistic assault appears to be to reverse the clear pro-Israel tilt that has characterized American policy since the Camp David summit.

The Times account holds that the fact that Arafat had refused to take advantage of Barak's willingness to cede much of Israel's capital, Jerusalem, and hand the Palestinians nearly all of the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria was meaningless. Nor, according to the newspaper's diplomatic sources in the United States and Europe, was the fact that the region had collapsed into violence in the aftermath of the negotiations on Arafat's orders particularly interesting.

According to Sontag, Barak's proposals did not represent an offer of the "moon," but were merely an inadequate first move toward satisfying legitimate Arab ambitions. Likewise, former influential Clinton staffer Robert Malley wrote in both the Times and The New York Review of Books that Barak had only made a step in the direction of justice. Both writers act as if the most irrational Palestinian demands are reasonable, while the most minimal of Israel's requirements are extremist and must be discarded.

Barak was prepared to compromise Israel's security concerns in the ter ritories and to give up settlements, as well as much of Jerusalem, including control of the Temple Mount. He offered more than any Israeli leader had ever dreamed of giving away, violating the national consensus on Jerusalem and the territories. But Arafat was unwilling to do anything other than to pocket these concessions before asking for more, such as the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, a move that would be synonymous with Israel's destruction.

Following this, Arafat decided to launch a campaign of violence, including standard terrorism, as well as low-intensity warfare, including the shelling of Israeli cities, towns and villages by Palestinian "police" and allied terrorists. In the face of these facts, only the most biased of onlookers can avoid the truth that Arafat is uninterested in peace. The unceasing toll of attacks on Israelis since then shows that the goal of eradicating Israel remains the animating force of Palestinian nationalism and its leadership.

Of course, even the most straightforward of historical episodes is replete with complex characters and storylines. There is no doubt that Barak's handling of the negotiations was as maladroit as his concessions were rash. And the ambition of President Clinton for a Nobel Peace Prize led him into foolish decisions, as well as questionable diplomatic tactics.

But none of this changes the fact that Israel opted for peace, while the Palestinians chose bloodshed. The only way to justify the conclusions of the revisionists is to see Israel's self-defense, in addition to its historic,

legal and moral rights to Jerusalem, as either illegitimate or no more valid than the Palestinian narrative that denies the existence of Jewish history. Yet for those whose only goal is to promote unilateral Israeli concessions - as opposed to genuine peace - Palestinian rejectionism and terror are inconvenient facts that must be ignored or rationalized.

Having grown so used to a rhetoric of peace that promotes reconciliation at the expense of truth, too many friends of Israel here are ready to internalize unfair criticism of the state and accept the idea that one side is no more to blame for the bloodshed than another.

What is left of the so-called "peace camp" in Israel and their allies abroad are so desperate to revive the failed Oslo process that they are willing to ignore the facts and concoct a new narrative in which their delusional faith in Arafat can be justified.

And Israel's critics want to change the subject from a discussion of Arafat's duplicity and bloody terrorism to one about how much pressure should be placed upon Israel.

And that should not be allowed to happen.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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