Daily News Online Edition -- July 27, 2000

Arafat Kept His Word, Not the Israelis

By Sidney Zion

Don't blame Yasser Arafat. He has never veered from his pledge that there can be no peace without East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. They didn't believe him. Not the Israelis, not the Clinton administration. In Camp David they made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He told them to drink from the Dead Sea.

He is accused of arrogance. The arrogance belongs to Israel and America for their refusal to take him at his word. Fundamentally, it's a West versus East conflict that amounts to patronization. The Arabs are children, all they need is the diplomatic help of the Western democracies to understand what their real goals are.

This was the basis of the Oslo agreements. Yeah, Arafat says he wants Jerusalem, but in the end he'll take what's good for his people. Half a loaf is better than nothing, right?

It turns out that the only guy who had it right was Prof. Henry Higgins: "The Hebrews learn it backwards, which is absolutely frightening." First you arm the enemy, next you give him your land - and then you talk Jerusalem. Which you say is nonnegotiable, even as you put it on the table.

The trouble is that Arafat and the Arab world also say Jerusalem is nonnegotiable.

Why leave it for last, when it's first for everybody concerned? The answer is that the Israeli government lied to its people, while Arafat told the truth.

I am not theorizing here. The other day, Israel's minister of justice, Yossi Beilin, said Ehud Barak in effect deceived the Jews when he ran for prime minister.

The Labor Party was willing to divide Jerusalem, Beilin said, "but we didn't speak about this in the election campaign, because we knew that the public would not like it." This astonishing confession simply says Barak won his office by fraud.

Today the Israelis, who, like the Jews in the Borscht Belt, always have a joke to go with their tsuris, say: "The difference between Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak is that Bibi lied to the Arabs and the Jews, while Ehud lies only to the Jews."

It caught up to Barak at Camp David. Everything he promised in his campaign for prime minister, he violated. He would never divide Jerusalem. He would never give up the Jordan Valley. He would never permit Palestinian refugees to return. At Camp David, he offered 95%of the West Bank to Arafat; he agreed to the return of at least 100,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel, and he was willing to grant the new Palestinian state everything but the word "sovereignty" over East Jerusalem.

When Arafat said "no" unless East Jerusalem was delivered to him without qualification, Barak and Clinton were shocked. But all Arafat was saying was all he and the Arab world had said before. Anwar Sadat would not make the deal with Menachem Begin until Begin gave him every inch of the Sinai. And Syria's Hafez Assad turned down the Golan Heights.

The Arabs mean what they say. Only the Israelis and the Americans refuse to believe them. Who's sorry now?

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