Jewish World Review May 8, 2002 / 26 Iyar, 5762
As the historian Michael Oren describes in his first-rate new account of the conflict, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," Eban looked at each ambassador before him and said: "Look around this table and imagine a foreign power forcibly closing New York or Montreal, Boston or Marseille, Toulon or Copenhagen, Rio or Tokyo or Bombay Harbor. How would your government react? What would you do? How long would you wait?"
This remains Israel's essential cry, and it comes up again -- pressingly -- in the matter on the table this week, whether or not Israel must consider Yasser Arafat to be, in that quaint and archaic phrase, "a partner for peace."
Officially, at least, the United States still believes this; and so, before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington, various senior Bush administration officials were taking to the newspapers and the Sunday public affairs talk shows to pressure Sharon to, as Secretary of State Colin Powell delicately put it, "recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader," no matter "how disappointed we've been with him over time."
Yes, we have been a little disappointed, haven't we? You give a fellow a perfectly good peace process, not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize; award him much of the land he demands and a $90 million monthly budget; let him build an armed force on Israeli territory; and, finally (as America's former top negotiator, Dennis Ross, recently revealed in a remarkable Fox News interview), get both the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel to promise him all of Gaza and nearly all of the West Bank as an independent and joined Palestinian state, with a right of Palestinian return to that state, plus a multibillion-dollar reparations fund -- and what does he do? He goes to war against you. Yes, a disappointment to us all.
But Sharon and other Israelis have perhaps a closer relationship to this disappointment than does, say, Colin Powell. Our secretary of state can afford to pretend, as our media pretend, that it is still possible to believe the man in the keffiyeh remains our own little peace partner even though, noted the ever-mild Powell, "we all may disagree with what Mr. Arafat had done over time."
Indeed. We may, for instance, disagree with the murder of six people and the wounding of 30 others on Jan. 17 at an Israeli girl's bat mitzvah in the town of Hadera. That is one of the many acts of terrorism directly linked to Arafat's control in documents found by Israeli forces in Palestinian Authority offices. These documents were organized in a 103-page report released by the Israeli government this week to support Sharon's position that Israel cannot proceed with partner Arafat.
The New York Times buried its coverage of the report on A10 and sniffed that the evidence did "not appear to show definitively that the Palestinian leader ordered terror attacks." The Washington Post gave it front-page play but was even more dismissive, treating the Israeli evidence with open disdain. The first "objective" characterization of the material, third paragraph, does not address the documentary evidence at all but in a contrary slant notes that the report contains "a great many assertions and allegations for which no documentary proof is offered." In paragraph 12, after three paragraphs of Palestinian officials and lawyers dismissing the evidence as propaganda, The Post's reporter offers the first and only judgment supporting the Israeli side: "Nevertheless, some of the material in the report appears potentially damaging to the Palestinians, and could hurt their standing in international public opinion."
In media-world, this sort of thing is called balanced reporting. But Sharon and all Israelis live on a more real planet, and in that place, no one has the slightest doubt that the evidence proves that Arafat is architect and field marshal of the terrorist war against Israel.
Imagine that the government of the United States believed, on evidence, that a certain Islamic leader was responsible for directing a campaign of murder against Americans. To ask Abba Eban's question, what would we do?
Actually, the answer doesn't require much imagination, does it? We would mount an army against that leader and all his followers, and we would bomb them and shoot them and chase them and arrest them and ship them to Guantanamo Bay.
If we had the leader in question trapped in a room, we would not let him out and set him up again as a partner for peace.