Wednesday, November 10, 2004

On the orgy of Araft death-glee
The mainstream media is falling all over itself writing gleeful obituaries for Chairman Arafat. Many pundits can hardly contain their euphoria.

I happen not to think very much of Arafat's leadership, particularly over the past few years, to say the least. But whatever you may or may not think of him, if you have any interest in ever making peace with the people he leads, you cannot tapdance on his grave like you just won the lottery. It's a bit disgusting, and it will only further alienate the Palestinians. Remember that it was not Arafat who refused to negotiate for the past four years, it was Sharon. It is difficult to read an account of the Camp David debacle without concluding that Arafat was, in the end, at least somewhat responsible for the outcome, but by January 2001 he had more or less accepted Clinton's terms for peace, and negotiators had hammered out the outlines of a comprehensive agreement at Taba. Furthermore, a wide-ranging, if imperfect, agreement was negotiated in 2003 between Israeli opposition leaders and Palestinian negotiators. It was called the Geneva Accord, and it was completely ignored.

Negotiations have not happened for the very simple reason that Ariel Sharon does not want them to happen. Most observers know what it would take to get the Palestinians to sign an agreement, but the current leadership of Israel has no interest in that agreement because it would involve turning almost all of the West Bank over to the Palestinians, allowing a token number of refugees to return to Israel, and dividing Jerusalem. For a number of reasons, Sharon will not countenance such an agreement, and at the time being, neither will the Israeli public, which seems convinced that giving in to Palestinian demands would only increase the amount of terrorism directed against them. For Sharon, yielding 97 or 98 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control would involve a repudiation of his entire career and philosophy -- the man was, after all, the architect of the settlement expansion during the 1980s.

Palestinian terrorism is certainly a problem, and no one can blame Israelis for being afraid of getting blown to bits on their way to work. But the long-term problem of religious fanaticism in Palestinian society is not going to be solved by keeping several million stateless, resentful paupers ghettoized in the West Bank for another twenty years while Israel consolidates its control over the settlements and the resources of the land it conquered in 1967. Building a wall may stop the bleeding, but it will not heal the wound. Only a peace deal -- the outlines of which are maddeningly clear -- can take the first, crucial step toward reconciliation and hope.

If Arafat does indeed pass away, the world will soon see whether the Gaza pullout plan is the first step toward a genuine peace, or rather an elaborate ruse which will allow Sharon and the settlement bloc to cement Israel's control over the West Bank. I'm not optimistic.

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