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Jewish World Review May 31, 2001 / 9 Sivan, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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The settlement myth -- THE Palestinians, you may have noticed, have changed their tune. When the current orgy of violence against Israelis began last fall, the explanation out of Gaza City -- faithfully echoed by most of the Western media -- was that it was all Ariel Sharon's fault. His visit to the Temple Mount on September 28, it was said, outraged and infuriated Palestinians. That, apparently, was why they took to hurling rocks, firing guns, demolishing Jewish shrines, lynching Israeli drivers, and bombing children taking the bus to school.

There were always a few problems with this explanation, such as the fact that the violence began before Sharon's visit. But it is especially untenable now: Even Palestinians admit it isn't true.

"Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong," Imad al-Faluji, the Palestinian minister of communications, declared in March. "This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations."

So the party line has been updated. The real cause of the violence, Palestinians now claim, is the growth of Israeli communities in Gaza and the West Bank.

"A cessation of settlement activities is part of a cessation of violence," says Faisal Husseini, a prominent Palestinian official. Jibril Rajoub, one of Arafat's top militiamen, seconds the motion. "Everybody should know," he announced, "that those settlements are the cancer and the reason at all times for tension."

This excuse, too, has found a ready reception in the media -- especially since the international fact-finding committee headed by George Mitchell recommended, as a "confidence-building measure," that Israel declare a moratorium on expanding the settlements. When Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed the press on the Mitchell Committee report, he was repeatedly asked what Washington would do to compel Israel to freeze its settlements. No reporter seemed to wonder what Washington would do to compel Arafat to stop his murderous offensive.

It hasn't taken long for the Palestinian line -- Jewish settlements justify Arab violence -- to become conventional wisdom. "Stop those settlements," commands The Economist in its leading article this week; it asserts that Jewish neighborhoods in the territories "negate all chance of Palestinian-Israeli peaceful coexistence." The Chicago Tribune editorializes: "There is little incentive for the Palestinians to return to the table without an Israeli freeze on settlements."


Eight months ago, Israel offered not only to freeze its settlements but to dismantle most of them and pull out of 98 percent of the territories altogether. Ehud Barak laid on the negotiating table nearly everything the Palestinians had demanded: all of Gaza and the West Bank, a sovereign state, power-sharing in Jerusalem, control of the Temple Mount. Arafat responded by kicking the table over and starting a war.

In other words, Palestinian violence did not explode because Israel refused to give up the settlements. It exploded because Israel agreed to do so.

The Arab rocks, bullets, Molotov cocktails, and suicide bombs of the past eight months are no different from the Arab rocks, bullets, Molotov cocktails, and suicide bombs of the past eight years -- the years of the Oslo "peace" process. The more Israel has agreed to give, the more enraged and uncompromising the Palestinian reaction has been. A paradox? Only to those who have never mastered the fundamental lesson of Appeasement 101: Give a dictator the sacrifice he demands and you inflame his appetite for more.

To insist that Israel "stop those settlements" in exchange for an end to Arab violence is to insist that Oslo be upended. The Israeli-Palestinian accords have never barred Israel from building or expanding settlements in the territories; the ultimate fate of those communities has always been one of the "permanent status" issues to be decided at the end of the process.

By contrast, the starting point of the peace process -- the foundation on which it was built -- was that Palestinian violence had ended. "The PLO commits itself ... to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides," reads the document that Arafat signed on September 9, 1993, "and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.... The PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence."

That was the promise that earned Arafat his invitation to the White House, his handshake from Rabin, his Nobel peace prize. That was the promise in exchange for which Israel gave Arafat land and power, money and weapons, diplomatic recognition and the status of a peace partner. The Palestinians did not retain the right to resort to rocks and bullets and bombs whenever they find it useful. They did not promise to end the violence only if Israel agreed to their every demand. They promised to end the violence for good.

If that promise was a lie, the entire peace process is a lie. Is it? Look at the Middle East and draw your own conclusion. pleased.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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