TO the writers of this column who stood on the White House lawn that September day in 1993 and watched an Israeli prime minister shake the bloodstained hand of Yasser Arafat, the atmosphere seemed funereal. Bound up with Labor's false promises of a new Mideast dawn were irresponsible predictions like "100 years free from terrorism." Over the White House the stench of a Munich-style appeasement hovered. Last week the contrast couldn't have been more marked. We witnessed a new Israeli leader standing as a proud Jew alongside the same President Clinton who participated in that shameful "no more terrorism in our time" debacle of three years ago. It was like celebrating a real Jewish wedding. Binyamin Netanyahu didn't preach any fashionable "New Zionism" liberal concept mocking the state's founding fathers. Arafat's name didn't cross his lips.
A dedicated Zionist and a national leader to whom security is paramount, Netanyahu spoke simple words of Jewish pride. They may have made trendy Jewish "liberals" sneer; but they warmed the hearts of most of those who heard him. Among these were Netanyahu's three uncles, who had flown to Washington for the occasion. One of them, his voice cracking with emotion, told us: "Our father, Nathan Milkovsky, was one of the great Zionists of his day. When the 1914-1918 war broke out, the Germans asked him to go to the US and persuade the president not to side against them. This is how he answered: 'I'll do it only if you promise, in writing, to create a Jewish state in Palestine if you win.'
"Nathan would have been proud to hear his grandson speak with such deep conviction about the Zionist ideals he learned as a child," the uncle said. "We're not surprised by his speech to the Americans. We know where Bibi's roots lie."
As Netanyahu spoke, we scanned the faces of men like US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, and champions of the Oslo accords like Dennis Ross. They looked grim. They just couldn't hide their disappointment. These were the men who led Bill Clinton astray, getting him to back Shimon Peres to the hilt. They knew that if Peres got elected he would follow State Department policy to ensure that eastern Jerusalem become part of Yasser Arafat's budding Palestinian state and Israel shrink to a tiny rump in order to appease the oil-rich Arab world.
NETANYAHU told it straight to US Jews brainwashed by a biased media (led by the New York Times, which labeled Netanyahu a right-wing fanatic only too ready to march over Palestinians wearing steel-tipped boots). He told them that Jews had the right to live wherever they chose including Judea and Samaria, the land of their biblical forebears. We spoke to a variety of American Jews and heard again and again about their confusion three years ago at seeing Rabin shake hands with a man who some say has killed more Jews than anyone else since Hitler.
At first these US Jews accepted the promised 100 years of Oslo-style peace on trust. They swallowed the bogus excuse that Jewish deaths by terror were the price of peace. Then they saw the Oslo "peace" accords lead to a record number of Israelis blown to bits on their buses and in their streets.
The harsh lesson that appeasement never pays must be hammered home. The price of that handshake with Arafat can be seen, in retrospect, as a bloody disaster. It killed 200 Israelis and wrecked the lives of hundreds of others. It embittered the entire land of Israel and led to the shameful act of a young Jew assassinating his prime minister.
American Jews also spoke to us about hearing Binyamin Netanyahu either in person or on TV. Here at last, they said, was a man who spoke "like a true Jewish leader." Netanyahu was someone they felt they could look up to, a prime minister who put the interests of not only Israelis but all Jews first. As one elderly gentleman said: "I feel I can walk proudly through the streets of New York again, knowing that here is a true leader of Zion who has arisen to give every Jew all over the world hope and strength for the future."
But this is just a beginning. Netanyahu's fine words and resolute promises must now be speedily translated into action. The Arab states surrounding Israel feel cheated of the victory they fully expected would follow Israel's elections. Under Labor rule, they were convinced, it would be only a matter of time before they could swoop down like vultures on a dead Jewish state. Today it is becoming clear to them that there will be no more overlooking of unfulfilled Arab commitments, no surrender of the Golan Heights, no "land for peace" only peace for peace.
There is no doubt that Arafat's 50,000-strong "army," the direct product of Labor rule, will swing into action, as will the demented suicide squads from their safe havens in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. The new government's courage will be fiercely tested. Binyamin Netanyahu put on a tremendous performance in the US, but his real challenge lies ahead. Has he the strength, the guts and the determination to initiate actions to fit his rousing words? (c) Jerusalem Post 1996
Uri Dan & Dennis Eisenberg are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.