Say you're having an argument with your neighbor. He thinks your fence extends a couple feet onto his property. You agree in principle to talk about moving the fence. But you insist that before you both sit down to hash things out, he's got to stop kneeing you in the groin. Oh, he doesn't have to stop permanently. He just needs to stop kneeing you in the groin for seven days. You just want to know that he's serious enough about this fence thing that he's willing to suspend the groin-kneeing for a week.
Now, doesn't that sound reasonable?
That, in effect, was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's so-called "hard line position." Until, that is, last weekend, when Palestinian terrorists kneed him so hard, killing at least 25 Israeli civilians in three separate suicide bomber attacks, that he essentially said, "Enough."
Sharon had promised the United States and the "international community" that he would commence negotiations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority -- if Arafat's government could stop terrorist attacks and other violence launched from Palestinian territory for seven days.
Imagine the public reaction if President Bush told the Taliban, "If you can just keep al-Qaida from attacking us for one week, we'll have a nice talk about whatever it is that's bothering you."
Of course, Sharon wasn't simply looking for a 168-hour breather. He was looking to make a point: Arafat has been either unwilling or unable to keep his endless string of promises to crack down on terrorist groups, specifically Hamas (the proud perpetrators of this weekend's attacks) and Islamic Jihad.
Arafat's spokespeople repeatedly claim that they cannot stop the attacks, even for seven days -- which they "condemn" for the benefit of the Western journalists but cheer when speaking to domestic audiences -- until Israel withdraws from the sliver of land it hasn't given the Palestinians "yet" and rejoins the "peace process." But once Israel does these things, Arafat can and will stop the violence forever. In other words, we can't stop kneeing you in the groin for even a week, but if you do what we demand, we'll stop forever. That isn't a peace process -- it's extortion, blackmail and murder.
The 1993 Oslo peace accords identified Arafat, ludicrously, as a "partner in a peace." The whole idea was that if Arafat could have an embryonic state of his own, including a militia, eventually the Palestinians would mature into a stable, self-sufficient state Israel could live next to in peace, if not friendship.
In exchange for these concessions, Israel would have someone specific to hold accountable. That's where the "partner" in the Partner in Peace came in. Arafat would agree to stem the violence, and in exchange he would get his Palestinian state. So Israel gave Arafat control of 98 percent of the Palestinian population and authority over Gaza, the West Bank and other strategically critical areas.
The supposedly belligerent Israelis even gave Yasser Arafat thousands of guns to arm 40,000 Palestinian "policemen" in an effort to help its newfound partner maintain order and keep the peace.
Indeed, the Oslo accords, the memos of understanding, the diplomatic communiqués and the Rose Garden handshakes all required one simple thing from Yasser Arafat: reject violence, negotiate peacefully.
Unfortunately, Arafat has never -- ever -- committed to peace. In Palestinian radio and TV broadcasts, speeches and newspapers, he and his henchmen continue to call for the destruction of Israel. Palestinian schools teach the most vile anti-Semitism. All media is controlled by Arafat himself (an editor was jailed when he didn't put the chairman on the front page), so Arafat is hardly blameless for the regular celebrations of martyred suicide bombers that regularly appear on TV broadcasts.
Indeed, Arafat's former "minister for Jerusalem," Faisal al-Husseini (often referred to as a "moderate" Palestinian), explained it quite bluntly earlier this year. Any Palestinian state must be seen as a beachhead for a continued war on Israel.
"We may win or lose," he declared, "but our eyes will continue to aspire to the strategic goal, namely Palestine from the river to the sea." That's the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, with no room for Israel at all.
Just over a year ago, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat virtually every single thing the PLO ever asked for, including territorial concessions that stunned Israeli hawks when offered and flabbergasted Israeli doves when Arafat rejected them.
So now, in the wake of even more killings Arafat not only could have stopped, but promised to stop, Sharon has said, "Enough." The Israelis are systematically destroying the symbols of Arafat's authority: his beloved helicopters, his airport, his police stations. The message: what Israel grants a partner in peace, it can take from an enemy in war.