Small World

Jewish World Review May 4, 2001 / 11 Iyar, 5761

New life for the peace process? Up to Yasser

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- THE Mideast peace process has more lives than nine cats. After six months of increasing Palestinian armed violence, it seemed safe to assume that serious peace talks between Arabs and Jews were deader than a doornail in downtown Gaza - at least for awhile.

Now comes a last-ditch effort by Egypt and Jordan to breathe life into the process. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met over the weekend with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah to discuss the plan. Then Peres flew to the U.S. to confer with President Bush and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The Egyptian-Jordanian plan envisions a four-week ceasefire followed by a resumption of formal peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, the plan puts the bulk of effort onto Israel's shoulders. It says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government should immediately lift its blockade of the Palestinian territories, withdraw Israeli tanks and troops from around Palestinian towns and start transferring the tax revenues Jerusalem has been withholding from the Palestinians. It also prescribes an immediate freeze on new Israeli settlements.

What it fails to do is make it clear that none of this can happen until the Palestinians stop tossing stones, firing guns, setting off terrorist bombs and lobbing mortar shells at Israeli villages and civilians. That means Yasser Arafat has to crush extremist elements and cancel his calls for a continued intifadeh.

As Sharon told King Abdullah in a phone call over the weekend, "The situation on the ground is intolerable, and except for words, Arafat isn't doing anything serious."

Israel is ready to relieve some of the economic pressure on the West Bank and Gaza, where unemployment among Palestinians is at 37%. But even Peres, the eternal optimist, says clearly, "Israel won't negotiate under fire."

The problem is that Arafat wants to be everything to everybody — to tap dance on the peace table and still boogie in the terrorists' den. Take last week's Iranian- sponsored terrorist conference, which issued a call for Israel's destruction. The Palestinian leader canceled at the last minute. But according to reports, in his place he sent one of his senior people, the so-called minister for Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini.

Arafat shouldn't have sent anyone — and he should be disavowing terrorism and condemning fanatic "martyrs," such as the West Bank suicide bomber who killed himself over the weekend in a fortunately unsuccessful attempt to blow up a busload of Israeli teenagers.

Above all, Arafat must stop Hamas and other Palestinian extremists. He might take a lesson from Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion. During the 1948 War of Independence, the right-wing Irgun group tried to bring in a boatload of badly needed arms but would not surrender full control of it to the fledgling Israeli government. Ben-Gurion, fearing an army within an army, ordered government forces to fire on the boat and sink it.

I am in no way comparing the brave men and women of the Irgun to the madmen of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. But that's an example of how true statesmanship sometimes demands tough and unpopular decisions.

Either Arafat makes them and serves his people well, or he continues to play the two-faced terror game, sets his people back another 50 years and ends up on history's garbage heap.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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