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Commentary

Goal Now Is Just an Enforced Separation

October 17, 2000|YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI | Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israeli correspondent for the New Republic and a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report

JERUSALEM — A majority of Israelis no longer believe that it's possible to make peace with Yasser Arafat. The unprovoked assault against Israeli soldiers and civilians and holy places--including the savage lynching of two unarmed soldiers inside a Palestinian police station in Ramallah and the desecration of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus--has convinced even many in the Israeli peace camp that the notion of a transformed Arafat was a tragic delusion.

The end of Israeli hopes for peace with the Palestinian leader, along with the realization that we cannot indefinitely control a hostile Palestinian population, has paradoxical implications for Israeli policy. The Israeli public is probably still willing to concede most of the West Bank to Palestinian self-rule. But the motive is no longer the hope of securing peace in exchange for land, but to enforce separation between Palestinians and Jews.

With separation rather than peace as the goal, it hardly makes sense to allow Arafat any control of Jerusalem. Ceding sovereignty over large parts of Jerusalem, including two of the four quarters in the Old City--as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered at Camp David in August--would only force Israel into an untenable intimacy with Arafat's dictatorship. Given the total breakdown of trust, how are the two sides to manage the minute details of governing a city together?

However fragile, the peace of Jerusalem depends on keeping out Arafat's armed forces. Otherwise, the shootouts between Palestinian militiamen and Israeli soldiers that have occurred in Gaza and Nablus and Ramallah would become a routine part of life in Jerusalem. Though Palestinian spokespeople like Faisal Husseini claim that their goal is a benign "sharing" of Jerusalem, it is now clear that at the first sign of disagreement, the barricades would be built and the guns drawn.

Indeed, it was Barak's refusal at Camp David to totally capitulate to Palestinian demands--and not the farcical excuse of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount--that was the real trigger for Arafat's current violent tantrum. Though Barak offered the most far-reaching Israeli concessions in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he made the mistake of insisting on reciprocity--like demanding that Arafat declare an end to the conflict and agree to share sovereignty over the Temple Mount. Arafat rejected Barak's peace plan because it required a measure of compromise on his part: To Arafat, the Palestinians are blameless victims without any responsibility for creating the conflict or for resolving it.

And so he has embarked on precisely the tactic he's been promising his people since he signed the Oslo accords in 1993: holy war for Jerusalem.

The desecration of Joseph's Tomb--which according to Israeli press reports is being transformed from a synagogue into a mosque by the Palestinian Authority--has ended Arafat's pretense as protector of the holy places. By contrast, Israel has refrained from imposing Jewish control over the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, precisely because it is also holy to Islam. One can only imagine what would have happened had history taken a different turn, and a Palestinian army had conquered the Temple Mount and found a synagogue at the site.

Even if Barak--who finally appears to have despaired of peace with Arafat--were to revive his offer of sharing Jerusalem, he would almost certainly fail to deliver the Israeli public. And so the peace process, at least in its current form, is over.

If Arafat persists in his holy war for Jerusalem, he will face an Israel that is arguably more united than at any time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. An emerging Israeli consensus may be about to resolve our three-decades-long debate over territories and peace: The left correctly perceived that the occupation was untenable, while the right understood that a peace process with Arafat was absurd.

Israel must now navigate between those two difficult truths. In practice, that means withdrawal from most of the territories to ensure separation between Palestinians and Jews, while maintaining Israeli rule over united Jerusalem--precisely what Barak promised the Israeli public during last year's election campaign.

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