We democrats so want to believe that our enemies are really just like ourselves; that sacrifice and bloodshed will not be necessary; and that peace and prosperity are the universal goals of mankind.
We want to believe these things so badly that we often ignore unwelcome evidence. That is why England did not awake from its appeasement slumber until German tanks were mowing down the Polish cavalry, and Jimmy Carter did not truly understand the nature of communism until Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan (and perhaps not even then).
Israelis seem to be awakening now from a prolonged self-delusion that began in Oslo and ended in Camp David. Whether the same lesson has been learned in Washington remains to be seen.
Ehud Barak, by his reckless concessions, has done his nation an indirect service by demonstrating the hollowness of the Palestinians' peace talk. For when Barak offered Arafat essentially all of the West Bank and Gaza, plus East Jerusalem and even Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Yasser Arafat turned it all down and sent his children into the streets with stones. He sent his "policemen" after them to fire live ammunition at Israelis. (He was hoping to prod Israel into a violent overreaction that would bring world condemnation down on her head.) At that moment, at least for those with eyes to see, it became clear that the entire premise of the "peace process" begun at Oslo might be wrong.
That premise was that the Palestinian question lies at the heart of the troubles in the Middle East. Concern for the rights of the Palestinians, Americans and Israelis convinced themselves, was what kept anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism alive in the Arab world. The Palestinians, once granted a state of their own, would settle happily next to Israel, abandon their claims to all of the territory of "Palestine" and beat their swords into plowshares.
Throughout the past decade, Israel has relinquished more and more land, to the point that Arafat's Palestinian Authority now has jurisdiction over 95 percent of the population in the territories. Yet Arafat has failed to fulfill any of the promises he has repeatedly made to eschew violence, cooperate in arresting terrorists and recognize the State of Israel. Israel bent over backward to understand the perspective of the Palestinians, even teaching their children a warped version of history in which Israel was the aggressor and the Arab population her victim.
At the same time, the Palestinians were circulating hoary anti-Semitic forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, promising
jihad or religious war until the Middle East was cleansed of Jews and teaching Palestinian children that there never was a Jewish history in "Palestine"; that even the Jews' attachment to the Western Wall of the ancient Temple is a fake.
If the peace process was a snare and delusion, why did the clear-eyed Yitzhak Rabin embrace it? Rabin, those who knew him best explain, was motivated by a concern about Israel's relationship with America. Having watched relations decay under Yitzhak Shamir, he worried that without America's strong support, Israel would be unable to survive. Former President Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker placed enormous pressure on Israel to give land in exchange for promises, and when the Clinton administration took over, nothing changed. In fact, the same State Department official, Dennis Ross, was kept on board.
With Sharon's election, many observers are expecting a hostile Arab reaction because Sharon was held "indirectly" responsible for the murders at Sabra and Shatilla (the Lebanese camps in which many Palestinians were massacred by Lebanese). Once again, the gap between the two societies could scarcely be greater. What Arab tribunal has ever censured an Arab for killing (far less failing to prevent the murder) of Jews? None. In fact, to this day, those who kill Israeli civilians are celebrated as heroes. Arafat himself rose to prominence by killing defenseless women and children.
Sharon's crushing victory is ironic because he's never been very popular in Israel. Too rough, too hard for most Israelis' tastes. Yet they have finally seen the truth of their predicament -- the Palestinians do not want peace. It remains to be seen whether Israel's friend and sometime tormentor, the United States, sees it too.