January 19, 2001
Your recent editorial on the Middle East was shortsighted, ignorant of history and international law, glib and simplistic ("Peace" Is Not in Arafat's Vocabulary, Jan. 9).
What has been presented to the American public by the Clinton presidency and by the mainstream media is that the issue of conflict in Israel and Palestine is the result of two equally valid competing claims. This is not the case. What is at stake is far greater - the validity of international intervention in future disturbances and our nation's particular claim as moral figurehead in such intervention.
The Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous United Nations declarations make it very clear that what the Palestinian negotiating team is asking for is not only a valid claim, it is what is necessary to achieve justice: full control of pre-1967 West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem; and the Right of Return - or compensation - of all Palestinian Refugees.
Peace cannot be achieved in the Middle East unless international human
rights law is upheld. Anything less will be a temporary halt to hostilities,
at best. To disregard international human rights law now not only has dire
consequences for the Palestinian people, but also sets a dangerous moral
precedent for other nations.
"Peace" Is Not in Arafat's Vocabulary
Atlanta Journal and Constitution Staff
January 9, 2001
It's no accident that Yasser Arafat shows up everywhere wearing his pseudo-military uniform instead of a civilian business suit, even when he's signing what are hopefully called "peace agreements." The Palestinian reaction to President Clinton's last-ditch efforts at crafting a resolution of the ancient conflict shows, with depressing finality, that Arafat represents a people uninterested in peace, and determined to press on with their war for the destruction of Israel.
As recently as six months ago, we wondered whether either side in this troubled region really wanted to find a way to an end. On Jerusalem, in particular, we wrote, "every indication is that they are not trying to negotiate peace, they're trying to negotiate victory."
Since then, everything has changed - at least on one side of the conflict. Believing that he saw the possibility of at least a nonviolent future, if not a true peace, Prime Minister Ehud Barak went further than any Israeli leader had ever gone in offering concessions, further perhaps than most of his citizens would have proposed.
Responding to Clinton's urgings, he even accepted compromises on the status of Jerusalem, and on control over the holy sites at its heart. He agreed to cede sovereignty over Gaza and almost all of the West Bank for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It was a daring act, one that has probably ended his political career and may even have put his very life in danger, but he was willing to take the risk for the elusive prize of peace.
And the Palestinian response? Essentially, complete rejection of any notion that they, too, should have to compromise on any part of their agenda - and a slap in the face to Clinton, whose search for a legacy had brought the issue to this critical point.
Arab religious leaders have declared that only total sovereignty over Jerusalem's holy sites is acceptable. The rulers of the various Arab nations have declared that there must be a total right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees - not to the new Palestinian state, but to Israel itself, which is little more than a means of destroying the Jewish state with people rather than with bullets and bombs. Meanwhile Palestinian militias, police and political officials continue their terror campaign against West Bank settlers and in Israel's cities.
And Arafat's role in all this? He goes to Washington, assures Clinton that he accepts the president's ideas, then refuses to take a single action toward putting them into practice. In contrast to Barak's bravery, he flits about the region, taking care not to take one step ahead of the most intransigent of his followers and supporters, and letting others say "no" for him.
In the end, it's unlikely that anything will come of Clinton's efforts, except perhaps to leave a more hopeless situation for his successor to cope with. Perhaps it was wrong of him to push so hard when there was so little time, but whatever his errors in judgment, history will record where the reason for failure ultimately lay.
One thing we have learned: It takes a lot more than a military uniform to make a soldier for peace.