I recently had the opportunity to interview Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel`s foreign minister during the Barak administration. Ben Ami was the chief Israeli negotiator at the Camp David peace summit, where Yasir Arafat turned down an offer of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem, and responded with a terrorist war.
For the most part, I was impressed by Ben Ami`s change in attitude after three years of continued violence. But when I asked, half rhetorically, about Arafat`s intentions — whether he thought Arafat is trying to destroy Israel, or ultimately wants peace — I was kind of shocked by the response: "Well, you can never know what is the next stage in [Arafat`s] mind. ..."
Ben Ami went on to explain that he thinks Arafat`s strategy of terrorism is to internationalize the conflict so the Palestinians can be offered a more generous deal brokered by the international community instead of by America, which Arafat views as biased toward Israel.
C`mon. You never know what`s on Arafat`s mind?! Try watching a PLO soccer tournament in which each Palestinian team is named after a suicide bomber. Browse an Arafat-published textbook that teaches about the "Zionist entity in our midst which must be destroyed." Tune into PLO-controlled television to see a moving map of Israel, dripping with blood, change into a beautiful, green "Palestine." Arafat even wears a keffiyeh on his head that is shaped exactly like Israel.
Could Arafat`s intentions — a state to replace Israel, not to live alongside it — be any more obvious?
And if he simply wants to internationalize the conflict, why has Arafat not made any such declaration in exchange for a cease-fire? And what kind of "generous deal" could Arafat possibly hope to extract using the international community that couldn`t have been negotiated with an
incredibly willing Prime Minister Barak and an American president desperate to leave office with an Israeli-Palestinian settlement as his legacy?
If Arafat wanted a state, he would have had one by now. I could appreciate the confusion regarding PLO strategy during the Oslo period, but it`s been three years since Camp David sputtered into the bloodiest terror onslaught the Jewish state has ever faced, and Israel`s peace camp still shows few signs that it understands why.
In fact, just last month former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, now a private citizen, flew to Geneva where he negotiated an "accord" with former Palestinian minister Yasir Abed Rabbo that basically rehashes Oslo and Camp David — Israeli concessions in exchange for Palestinian promises. Beilin`s efforts were met with the scorn it deserves, both by the Sharon government and by the Israeli public. Some Knesset members went so far as to accuse Beilin and his ilk of committing treason.
Oslo was a beautiful dream and Israel tried everything it could to make it work, but it`s high time to accept the reality of the situation: There is no Palestinian peace partner, and should one ever emerge, things need to be handled much differently, in delicate stages that begin with the absolute crushing of Arafat`s extensive terror apparatus.
And yet the Israeli Left still persists. The peace camp, which brought Arafat back from Tunis and believed so fervently that the PLO would abandon its stated goal of destroying Israel in exchange for a state, has yet to own up to its mistakes, or admit that any fundamental change in direction is necessary.
It actually seems that the strategy of the left is not to reassess at all, but to wait until Ariel Sharon somehow screws up so badly, the voters will have no choice but to turn back to the opposition. Ben Ami basically told me as much: "I think the future of the Labor Party lies in the future of the Sharon government. ... Whenever the [ruling] government sees its powers eroded, this favors the opposition."
In a way, there is something admirable about this attitude. It is reflective of a camp that truly believes in what it stands for and does not just blow with the electoral winds. But Israeli citizens must be given more credit. They will never again delude themselves into believing in final status negotiations until an actual democratically-elected Palestinian governing body really, truly proves over a long period of time that it has abandoned terrorism and is ready for peace.
The Left should have heard this loud and clear in the past two Israeli elections — Ariel Sharon won by landslides and Labor lost almost half its Knesset seats.
With Rabin`s Oslo Accords and Barak`s Camp David attempt now unfortunately in shambles, and with Palestinian intentions as clear as ever, one would think the Israeli Left would finally admit the error of its ways and adopt accordingly. But it hasn`t. And until this happens, the Israeli public will not allow it to become relevant again.
Aaron Klein, former editor of the Yeshiva University undergraduate newspaper, previously conducted interviews with Yasir Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the Taliban. His account of his experience interviewing members of Osama bin Laden's organization, "My Weekend With the Enemy," appeared in The Jewish Press in 1999.