Reprinted from the New York Times of September 9, 1997

THE HALF-CENTURY WAR

By A.M. Rosenthal

The "peace process" between Arabs and Israelis has been going on not for the four years since Oslo but for the half-century since the founding of Israel. Almost all the while it has been the Israelis who have been offering peace and the Arabs who have been answering with acts of war.

But every time an Arab bomb goes off in an Israeli marketplace or bus the world reacts as if it were the first. How terrible; active "talks" must resume, Israel must make more concessions. All the Arab bombs that exploded through the decades, all the Arab armies that invaded Israel again and again, all the anti-Jew hate propaganda that has befouled the Mideast for decades, the years of Arab attempts to strangle Israel economically, all are mentioned barely or not at all, as if history had no meaning. It does.

To change history in the Mideast, America must first acknowledge the reality of the half-century Arab war against Israel and the overriding importance of demonstrating its end. Otherwise the visit of Secretary of State Albright will at best be another short pause before the Arabs resume their strategy of violence against the nation and people of Israel.

When the U.N. recognized the Israeli state, the Jews had accepted -- and the Arabs had rejected -- a partition plan that would have given Palestinians an independent nation. The Israelis had offered peace within their dangerously narrowed confines. But Arab armies attacked and Jordan annexed what the world calls the West Bank and Jewish history calls Judea and Samaria. The Jordanians took over the cherished center of Jerusalem, banned all Jews not killed or driven out.

Israelis still dreamt peace. They did not attempt to take the West Bank until 1967, when Arab nations were stupid enough to attack again, and lost it all to Israel, and more. But when one, just one, Arab leader was willing to make peace in 1977, Israel returned the huge Sinai to Egypt. For this Anwar el-Sadat received the bullets of Egyptian military assassins. Israel received Egypt's idea of peace -- nastiness and insult. Yet for most of the years since, Israelis, official and private, kept holding out peace offers -- this new boundary line or that, the sharing of water and electric power, a joint economic rose garden. From Arabs came more acts of war -- shelling, direct or by proxy from Lebanon, world economic boycott, ceaseless vilification at the U.N. Unable to defeat the army of Israel, Arabs struck with hundreds of acts of terrorism at the blood and bone of Israeli civilians.

In 1993 Yitzhak Rabin decided to reverse himself, return most of the West Bank and create the foundations of a Palestinian state for Yasir Arafat. Terrorism did not end, not then and not after Benjamin Netanyahu was elected. Mr. Netanyahu accepted what was written in Oslo, including the return of Hebron, which Labor did not dare carry out. But he would not accept Palestinian demands not agreed to at Oslo -- the end of Jewish building in Jerusalem, the return of all the West Bank and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Terrorism went on.

Meanwhile, Iranians and Iraqis slaughtered each other, Syria occupied Lebanon, Iraq started the gulf war, and Arab despots and fundamentalists murdered their brethren. None of these wars and atrocities had a thing to do with Israel. But the myth continued that if only Israelis would make enough concessions to Palestinians peace would come to the Mideast.

Perhaps the "peace talks" can be jacked up if the U.S. tries hard enough. But any new start-up would have to be conditional on security for Israel, this time proven in advance by Mr. Arafat's disarming terrorists, blocking their funds, arresting their leaders. I doubt he has any intention of doing that, certainly not to make it stick. The picture of him kissing the Hamas leader was meant to show that Mr. Arafat and the major terrorist group stood as one. It certainly convinced me.

My own belief is that no lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians will come about until enough Arab governments are based on something better than bigotry and despotism. Arab governments that cannot make peace with their people and their Arab neighbors are not likely to make peace with Israel, for a half-century their target to defile, their dream to destroy.


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