Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of February, 12 2001
No Peace, No Money
Ariel Sharon has not yet taken office, but the sweeping vote of the Israeli people has already done its work: George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ehud Barak have all stated that the Clinton parameters (and by extension, the Taba meetings) are not a binding basis for negotiation in any future talks. If the prospects for peace are to be revived, however, distancing from the Clinton parameters is not enough: The reasons for the failure of the Clinton-Barak approach need to be internalized, so that a new approach to peace can be built on its ruins.
Contrary to its indefatigable boosters, the Clinton-Barak approach did not fail because political clocks ran out in the US and Israel. It failed because, as even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has concluded, it is "increasingly clear that [Yasser] Arafat and his colleagues cannot unequivocally accept Israel." In the Palestinian mind and on the Palestinian lips, the "return" to Israel proper has not been removed from the agenda. While Israelis debate almost daily which Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza must be evacuated, Palestinian leaders have not begun to prepare their people to give up Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, and Lod. The key - the emblem of the return to homes within Israel - remains among the most powerful and ubiquitous symbols of Palestinian nationalism, and was never downplayed, let alone repudiated, during the seven years since the Oslo process began.
On October 13, the day after two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority-appointed cleric Dr. Ahmed Abu-Halabia said in a sermon broadcast live on official Palestinian television, "Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them... they established Israel here, in the beating heart of the Arab world, in Palestine. They created it... to be the sword of the West and the crusaders, hanging over the Moslems in this land." Such statements cannot be dismissed as isolated extremism because, far from being condemned, they are amplified and never contradicted by the PA. The cardinal error of Oslo, as it was implemented, and of the Clinton-Barak peace strategy was to ignore the total lack of Palestinian preparation for living in peace with Israel.
For the peace process to be rebuilt, the failure to enforce the anti-incitement provisions of Oslo must be corrected. This means there is no point to talking about borders, Jerusalem, and refugees until the most fundamental basis for Palestinian statehood is established: a Palestinian acceptance of Israel's right to exist.
A corollary to the need to come to terms with Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state is the need to learn to negotiate without violence, as did Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein. The principle of negotiations without violence is another provision of Oslo whose non-enforcement doomed the final efforts of Clinton and Barak.
It is not enough, then, to set aside the Clinton parameters; the Clinton-Barak tolerance for the combination of terrorism and negotiations must be utterly rejected by Bush and Sharon. Clinton and Barak believed that acceptance of Israel and the principle of peaceful negotiations were products, not prerequisites, of a stable peace agreement - they were wrong.
The Oslo process was predicated on the principles of mutual recognition and of non-violent negotiation; Oslo's failure was not the omission of these principles but the failure to enforce them. If the Mideast peace process is to open a new page, both principles must be revived.
The first necessity is for the Palestinian attack against Israel to end, not escalate as Marwan Barghouti and other Tanzim leaders are now threatening and seemingly doing, as evidenced by last night's fatal shooting on the Jerusalem-Gush Etzion tunnel road. The simplest way to end this attack is not to finance it.
The PA is in dire financial straights because Israel is withholding the tax revenues it collects for the PA, the closure is crippling the economy, and the Arab states are not sending the aid they pledged. The Arab states are reportedly withholding their assistance because they are concerned about corruption within the PA.
In their first conversation, Yasser Arafat reportedly asked Ariel Sharon to ease the PA's financial situation - the equivalent of stretching out one hand for money, while the other holds a machine gun. Sharon correctly told Arafat that the matter is entirely in his hands. He may not be able to shut down terrorism instantly, but he certainly has the ability to shut down his own incitement, to give orders to Fatah and the Tanzim, and to publicly call for an end to the attacks on Israelis.
Unfortunately and somewhat incredibly, the US State Department has publicly urged Israel to ease the PA's economic situation, regardless of the terrorist attacks Israel is enduring daily. The US should instead be telling Arafat that he can forget about economic relief until he does everything he can to stop the shooting. Such a statement would be the surest sign that the fuzzy thinking that destroyed the prospects for peace is changing, not just in Jerusalem, but in Washington.