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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2002
Let's hope President Bush can put the lid back on the violence raging between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and let's hope he can get the warring parties back to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, let's hope for a miracle, because short of one, I doubt that there is going to be real peace any time soon in that land of old hatreds and multiplying resentments.
In his forceful "enough-is-enough" speech on Thursday, Bush announced, if a little late, that he is dispatching Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Mideast to try to stop the madness. The president said all the right things, and said them about as bluntly and clearly as any president has or could. He issued an unprecedented list of demands of all parties.
His message to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: End your military offensive against West Bank cities and start withdrawing. Expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories must stop. Show "a respect for and a concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people" and distinguish between "the terrorists and ordinary Palestinians seeking to provide for their own families."
To Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat: You have consistently failed to keep your word to crack down on terrorists, and you have only yourself to blame for the situation you are in. Even worse, Arafat has "missed his opportunities and thereby betrayed the hopes of the people he is supposed to lead." If the Palestinian leader really opposes terrorism, he should condemn it unequivocally and begin cracking down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Suicide bombers are not martyrs. "They're murderers."
Bush also told Arab states to cease their financial and rhetorical support for Palestinian violence and issued this blunt warning to Iran and Syria: "Stay out" of this conflict.
The president's strong words and engagement are little more than crisis management, driven as much by his concern that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was undermining his war on terrorism than by any notion that he can get the peace process back on track.
The problem is, how do you make peace when neither the Israeli nor Palestinian leader wants peace? Yasser Arafat is a terrorist, and Ariel Sharon is a warrior (his critics would say terrorist). Giving peace a chance is neither man's highest priority at the moment. Arafat seems less interested in building a viable Palestinian state than in destroying Israel, or at least punishing it for its crimes against the Palestinian people. And Sharon seems less interested in peace than in winning a military victory that wipes out the terrorist cells behind the suicide bombings. He doesn't seem to understand that Israel will never be secure without peace.
Of course, it's easier to talk about peace between Israel and the Arabs than it is to describe exactly what it would look like if it ever comes about. Would a "political settlement" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be peace? Perhaps, if by peace you mean the absence of war. But what about the hatreds that have metastasized for more than half a century, since the state of Israel was established? Is it possible to negotiate a treaty that eliminates the anti-Semitism festering in the hearts and minds of Palestinians and Arabs? And as long as there is virulent anti-Semitism in the region, can Israel ever rest in peace?
For the sake of argument, let's assume that Sharon and Arafat signed a peace treaty agreeing to each other's demands. The Israelis would pull back to their pre-1967 borders and begin dismantling their settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. In turn, Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the Arab states in the region would recognize Israel's right to exist and end their political and financial support for Hamas and the other terrorist groups striking fear in the everyday lives of Israeli civilians.
If all of this came to pass, we would finally have peace in the Middle East, right? Everyone would sing "ain't gonna study war no more" and beat their swords into plowshares. The lion would lie down next to the lamb, and the child next to the wolf.
If this were all that had to happen, you have to wonder why peace hasn't been achieved by now? Part of the answer may be that the Israelis can never bring themselves to base their security on the word of an enemy with a long record of reneging on its promises. And on the other side, part of the answer may be that the newest generations of Palestinians have been inculcated with so much hatred for Jews that for them the overriding goal is not just a Palestinian state but the extermination of Israel.
I know not all Palestinians are radicals who want to drive the Israelis into the sea, and that many would be willing to live in peaceful coexistence with them. I also know that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances against the Israelis. I also know, however, that the hatred of Jews is not limited to Arabs living in the Mideast. France has more Muslims and Jews than any other country in Western Europe -- 5-million Muslims, most of North African extraction, and about 600,000 Jews.
In the past year, as the Israeli-Palestianian conflict has escalated, so has the number of anti-Semitic incidents in France. In recent days, a synagogue was burned to the ground in Marseilles, and three more were attacked in a Paris suburb and in the cities of Lyons and Strasbourg. A shotgun assault was reported on a kosher butcher shop in Toulouse, and Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized. These ugly incidents may reflect the politics of the Mideast, but they also are a reminder that anti-Semitism is part of the equation.
So someone tell me again -- exactly what will peace look like in the Mideast as long as there is deeply rooted anti-Semitism among Arabs?