after arafat, hope

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    After Arafat, Hope

    Published: November 10, 2004

    WASHINGTON — The only lifelong terrorist to win a Nobel Peace Prize lies comatose in Paris, with his well-heeled wife - for years unwilling to share his privations in Ramallah - screaming at Palestinian leaders on Al Jazeera television that "they're trying to bury [him] alive!" More likely, they may be trying to learn in what secret accounts he buried millions of dollars.

    Israelis should remember Arafat's one "good deed": four years ago, a soon-to-be ousted Israeli prime minister and a Nobel-hungry U.S. president made the Palestinian Authority an incredibly generous and dangerous offer: dividing Jerusalem, handing over almost all of the West Bank, and even partially establishing a "right of return" for some Palestinians who fled an Arab invasion of the new Jewish state a half-century ago.

    Arafat's "good deed" was to reject this sweeping offer and to launch another wave of suicidal homicide. In a macabre diplomatic sense, his refusal to take "yes" for an answer was a lucky thing for Israel's image: if those huge concessions had later been presented to Israelis in a promised referendum, Jewish voters would surely have turned down the Clinton-brokered deal. Proof of that was in the avalanche that then ousted the desperate Ehud Barak and elected the determined Ariel Sharon.

    In that case, world opprobrium would have been aimed at Israelis for their concern about defensible borders rather than at Arafat for revealing his goal of driving out the Jews.

    That blame did not fall on Israel. Thanks to worldwide disgust at Arafat's all-or-nothing demand and his refusal to stop the killing of innocents on school buses, Sharon was able to freeze him out of civilized diplomacy. Plain prudence required the isolation of the Palestinian dedicated to the war process until new leadership emerged to show that the Arabs were ready to create a peaceful neighboring state.

    President Bush, especially after terrorism reached us on 9/11, saw the wisdom in Sharon's approach. Arafat, squelching all Palestinian leaders who wanted to disarm Hamas and other jihadists, abruptly ceased to be the most frequent foreign visitor to the White House. Bush did not object, as France and the U.N. bureaucracy did, to the security fence designed to save Israeli lives.

    Sharon, with no Palestinian empowered to end the violence, then made his historic disengagement move, stunning fellow Jews who saw him as the defender of the Gaza settlers. He insisted the Palestinians take "yes" for an answer and began the painful business of withdrawal (a word he avoids).

    Despite the uproar from his religious right, Sharon - with the Israeli majority and his American ally firmly behind him - faced down his Likud Party and members of his cabinet and marched implacably ahead.

    Now here comes Tony Blair to Washington. In Iraq, the gutsy Brit stands shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., at considerable political cost at home; Bush owes him plenty. Blair needs a big favor to get the Bush-haters in Britain off his back, so welcomed Bush's re-election with "the need to revitalize the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today."

    Translated into undiplomatic English, that means: Let's you, me, Vladimir Putin and Kofi Annan get together and tell Sharon to re-offer the old Barak-Clinton deal to whichever Palestinian will listen. Then the Muslim violence will stop all over the world. Step 1: appoint a big-name special envoy to deliver the ultimatum.

    Just imagine: this suggests that if there had been no stiff-necked Israel, we would never have had the bombing of Pan Am 103 by Qaddafi, no massacre of 10,000 Sunnis at Hama by Hafez al-Assad, no poison-gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja by Saddam, no continued unpleasantness in Chechnya, or that incident in Lower Manhattan. Just lean on Israel and we'll solve "the most pressing political challenge in the world today."

    C'mon, Tony; we don't thank one big ally by selling out a smaller one. There's an honorable way.

    Let Arafat pass from the scene. Let the Palestinians show they are ready to be a nation and not a bunch of warring factions. Let them register voters, including women, as the Afghans did, hold their first competitive election, and eschew violence.

    Then let us invite the elected Palestinian and Israeli leaders to Camp David to work out their final settlement.

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