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Israel Should Never Again Negotiate Peace With Terrorists

The havoc that followed the famous 1993 handshake bears a bitter lesson.

September 12, 2003|Yossi Klein Halevi | Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and an associate fellow at the Shalem Center, a think tank in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM — None of us who at first supported the White House handshake on Sept. 13, 1993, which initiated the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo process, would have imagined then that it would end in the worst wave of terrorism in Israel's history.

This week's terrorist attacks, grimly marking the 10th anniversary of the Oslo process, only reaffirm the bitter lesson Israelis have learned about the consequences of empowering terrorists as peace partners.

Every prediction made by the Israeli right about the Oslo process has been vindicated. The more territory Israel ceded, the more terrorism it received in return.

One result of the Palestinian betrayal of peace has been the near-fatal demoralization of the Israeli left. Courageous Israelis who devoted their political careers to promoting peace with the PLO have seen their life work exposed as illusion.

At the same time, few Israelis would argue with the necessity of ending the occupation. It's astonishing to recall that, until the Oslo process, only Israel's far left supported a Palestinian state. When Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992, his Labor Party platform opposed a Palestinian state and the redivision of Jerusalem. Today, even Ariel Sharon accepts the inevitability of an independent Palestine.

The combined consequences of those two insights -- the untenability of the occupation and of Oslo's gamble on terrorist peacemakers -- have created an Israeli public that is at once pragmatic and hard-line, acknowledging Palestinian aspirations but wary of Palestinian intentions.

Every poll taken in recent months confirms that most Israelis are willing to withdraw for peace but want Sharon to oversee negotiations. Only the hawks, Israelis believe, can safely fulfill the vision of the doves. Still, after three years of terrorist war, few Israelis believe anymore in the possibility of a comprehensive solution. At best, Israelis envision a series of interim solutions that will gradually ease the intensity of the conflict, rather than resolve it.

The Israeli consensus is that this conflict isn't about Palestinian occupation but Israel's existence. However problematic, the West Bank settlements aren't the main problem. The reason there is no peace isn't because Jews live in the West Bank city of Hebron but because they live in Tel Aviv.

We have come to this conclusion reluctantly. We desperately wanted to believe that a "new" Middle East was prepared to accept a non-Arab state in its midst and stop confusing the Jewish return home with yet another colonialist invasion. But the Palestinian leadership convinced us that the Oslo process was never about land for peace but, at best, land for a tenuous cease-fire.

The spread of pathological Jew-hatred in the Arab world, where Holocaust denial has become mainstream and where schoolchildren are taught that Jews are usurpers with no historical roots or rights in the Holy Land, only reinforces the unlikelihood of achieving peace anytime soon.

Oslo envisioned a Palestinian state emerging after a gradual process of reconciliation. Instead, the opposite has happened. The Palestinian leadership made a strategic decision to create a Palestine not through negotiations but blood.

The Palestinian goal of the last three years has been to demoralize the Israeli people through terrorism and force a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territories, without a negotiated settlement that would require the Palestinians to waive their demand for refugee return.

So far, the Palestinian strategy has failed dismally. The result of Palestinian aggression has been the hardening of Israeli resolve and the near-total destruction of the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.

The current war isn't a "cycle of violence" but an Israeli attempt to convince the Palestinians that terrorism will lead to ruin.

The first Palestinian leader to acknowledge the failure of the terrorist strategy was the just-resigned Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. Tragically, Abbas was unable to impose his authority and confront Hamas and other terrorist groups, largely because Yasser Arafat wouldn't let him.

Renewing the peace process requires a decision by the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures that have thrived under its watch. But the likelihood of Abbas' successor, Ahmed Korei, an Arafat yes man, taking serious steps against terrorism is almost inconceivable. If Oslo has taught Israelis anything over the last 10 years, it is to be wary of false optimism and prepare for the worst.

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