The Independent, Opinion: Don’t blame Israel. All we ever wanted was peace

By David Horovitz April 27, 2002

Today, in a world turned upside-down, Israel stands accused by the international diplomatic and journalistic community of war crimes; the European Parliament votes for trade sanctions against it; and purported humanitarians call for Yitzhak Rabin’s fellow peace trailblazer – not Yasser Arafat, but the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres – to be stripped of his Nobel prize.

But the real cause of the collapse of the Oslo process, and the root cause of Israel’s unprecedented military incursions into areas of the West Bank it had long since relinquished to Mr Arafat’s control, is terrorism – the terrorism that Mr Arafat initially chose not to confront and, more recently, encouraged, initiated and financed.

Contrary to the pervasive myth now routinely peddled by too many ill-informed Middle East commentators, Ehud Barak offered Mr Arafat everything short of Israeli national suicide in his failed attempt to secure that accord at the July 2000 Camp David summit and subsequent rounds of negotiations. It is an astounding testament to Israelis’ desire for peace that even now, after the month of March saw 126 of its people killed in acts of terrorism stoked by Mr Arafat, a majority are telling pollsters that they support the Saudi peace initiative – which envisages “normal ties” between Arab states and Israel after a complete Israeli withdrawal from territory it captured in the 1967 war. Israel is desperate to end the occupation. It just needs a Palestinian partner, unlike Mr Arafat, who doesn’t seek to end Israel.

Slick Palestinian spokesmen assert daily, from the platforms granted to them by the deferential news channels, that Ariel Sharon’s aggression is the cause of the current Middle East malaise – trusting interviewers and viewers alike to overlook the fact that the intifada was hatched under Mr Barak’s watch. They blame Mr Sharon for the curfews and the blockades and the incursions – trusting interviewers and viewers to forget that there were no such crippling long-term curfews or blockades or incursions before the intifada was ignited and Israel searched for ways to intercept the bombers.

Had Mr Arafat, armed by Israel with what must be the highest proportion of security personnel of any regime in the world, chosen to frustrate terrorism rather than fund it, Israel would have had no need and certainly no desire to re-enter areas, such as the Jenin refugee camp, which it happily relinquished in late 1995.

Yet in a world turned upside-down, again, it now finds itself charged with the “massacre” of terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Mr Arafat’s own Fatah faction who had despatched 23 suicide bombers from the camp.

Terrorists who had publicly bragged that they would fight to the last bullet, and who publicly delighted in ambushing 13 Israeli reservists – fathers and husbands called to the battle against the extremists that the cowardly Mr Arafat refused to fight, heads of families who will never return.

Thousands of civilians in the Jenin camp have, appallingly, lost their homes – because Israel was left with no choice but to confront the bombers where they thought they were immune, where Mr Arafat had allowed them to flourish. In a world turned upside-down, Israel is now pressured by the international community to “act with restraint” when the bombers blow up its civilians in restaurants and buses and wedding halls – and branded the aggressor when, betrayed by Mr Arafat, it attempts to thwart the bombers itself.

The extent of Israeli disillusionment with Mr Arafat is such that even Mr Peres, his fellow Nobel Peace laureate, can no longer find words for his defence. At an address on Sunday night in Washington, Mr Peres sighed with utter despair as he recounted that the US Secretary of State Colin Powell had merely asked Mr Arafat to pick up a microphone and denounce terrorism, and make a phone call to the heads of the 30,000 or more men he still has under arms to tell them to start clamping down on the bombers. But Mr Arafat was not prepared even to do this.

He has reverted utterly to type. Financing the Karine A shipment of Iranian arms, captured by Israel in January. Signing off on payments to murderers like Raed Karmi, the self-acknowledged killer of two Israelis whose crime was to sit down and eat at a Tulkarm restaurant. Using his tightly controlled media to broadcast on TV the Friday sermons of radical preachers urging the killing of Jews “everywhere”. Exhorting his own people to “martyrdom”. Again, not because Israel is intransigently rejecting compromise. He knows how untrue that is, even if the naïve journalists and governments do not. But because he is rejecting compromise, any compromise that leaves Israel standing.

For all the skewed reporting, and the misdirected international criticism, Israel will survive. The tragedy is that the distortions and misperceptions are encouraging Mr Arafat, sustaining him in power, conferring intolerable legitimacy on the suicide bombers, sentencing more innocents to death. The sooner fair-minded people recognise the true picture, and morality returns to the handling of the Middle East, the sooner the long, hard haul back to the negotiating table can begin again in earnest.

The writer is the editor of ‘The Jerusalem Report’ news magazine