DISDAIN FOR REALITY

By Evelyn Gordon

Several leading Palestinians last week urged an international commission not to confine its inquiry into events in the territories to recommendations for ending the violence. It is important, they said, that the Mitchell Committee also establish blame.

An observer could reasonably conclude from this that the Palestinians are confident an unbiased inquiry would deem Israel the guilty party. And he would probably find support for this conclusion in the fact that Israeli officials have repeatedly asked the committee not to get into the issue of responsibility, but rather to stick to proposals for ending the violence. The obvious implication is that Israel believes it has something to hide.

Yet the truth is exactly the opposite: An honest inquiry into the causes of the current violence could only be to Israel's benefit, and the Palestinians' detriment.

Following are just a few of the facts that an honest appraisal would have to take into account:

* Not only did the Palestinians begin the fighting, but they did so in response to the most generous Israeli diplomatic proposal on record. Ehud Barak's offer of a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza - including large parts of east Jerusalem - did not meet 100 percent of the Palestinians' demands, but it did meet over 90 percent of them. Yet not only were the Palestinians unwilling to accept anything less than 100 percent, they were even unwilling to try to negotiate peacefully over those final few percentage points. Instead, they launched the worst violence Israel has experienced in years - breaking every agreement they have ever signed with Israel in the process.

* Contrary to the popular perception the Palestinians have so successfully cultivated, this was not a spontaneous uprising by ordinary Palestinian citizens. Rather, as Palestinian Telecommunications Minister Imad Falouji publicly admitted recently, the intifada was carefully planned by the Palestinian Authority leadership after the Camp David summit in July, for the explicit purpose of trying to achieve additional diplomatic gains through violence. Israel has submitted a tape of Falouji's statement - which he later tried to deny - to the Mitchell Committee.

* Again contrary to popular perception, the 67 Israelis killed in the intifada to date are not the victims of Palestinian mavericks over whom the PA has no control. Fully 40 percent of these Israeli victims were killed by members of the official Palestinian security services - men who take their paychecks, and their orders, directly from the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, the security service that holds the record for the number of attacks carried out against Israelis is Yasser Arafat's very own presidential guard, Force 17.

* The official Palestinian pretext for the intifada was that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in late September "desecrated" the mosques there, thus inflaming good Moslems. The international community has largely been sympathetic to this explanation.

The truth, however, is that the only desecration of religious sites - of which there has unfortunately been a great deal during this intifada - has been carried out by the Palestinians. Sharon never came near the mosques during his visit to Judaism's holiest site.

But the Palestinians did burn Joseph's Tomb to the ground in October - a mere day after Israel withdrew from the area in exchange for a solemn promise that the PA would protect the site. And the Palestinian Wakf has been systematically destroying antiquities on the Temple Mount for the last six months, while Israel has refrained from intervening for fear of offending Moslem sensibilities.

Given this record, the uninformed observer might wonder why it is Israel rather than the Palestinians that fears the assignment of blame. Unfortunately, both Israel's fears and the Palestinians' confidence are rooted in experience: Most international forums have proven to be more interested in condemning Israel than in the objective facts.

The draft report submitted by a UN Human Rights Commission team last week is a classic example. This draft, according to an AP report, claims that while hundreds of Palestinians were killed by the IDF without justification, the Israeli casualties "mostly resulted from direct confrontations between the two sides in areas around Israeli settlements."

It requires a truly magnificent disdain for reality to describe the bombing of a schoolbus full of children, numerous drive-by shootings of civilians, and car bombs in the heart of Israel's cities as "direct confrontations between the two sides."

When this is the level of objectivity displayed by leading international organizations, Israel's apprehensions about the Mitchell Committee are quite understandable. Yet precisely because of this prevailing bias, it is Israel that stands in greatest need of an honest inquiry into the roots of the violence.

It is therefore to be hoped that the Mitchell Committee will have the courage and decency to provide one.



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