Arafat at root of ongoing problem

Sun-Sentinel

A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is clearly the end-game favored by the majority of Israelis, by the United States and much of the world.

Which solution does Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority favor? At Camp David in 2000, despite the considerable compromises offered by Israel, Arafat chose not to negotiate, not to make a counter-offer, but to just walk out and later to launch a war of terrorism.

It is the Palestinian leader who, in violation of his signed commitments to Israel and to the United States, has failed to act against anti-Israel terror. It is Arafat who has failed to lead his people to a just and peaceful solution and instead to the situation they find themselves in today. He has failed, first and foremost, to nurture a culture of peace among the Palestinian people, chiefly to eliminate the hatred of Israelis and Jews that permeates the Palestinian media and schools. Even Palestinian leaders close to Arafat, like Mahmoud Abbas, have recently publicly questioned the strategy of violence pursued during the past two years of the intifada.

Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen have engaged in daily, murderous attacks against Israeli civilians from one end of the country to the other. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority has elevated the barbaric "martyrdom" of suicide bombing to a civic ideal, rewarding the killers' families with Iraqi cash payments of $25,000 per bomber.

More than half of the Palestinians killed were actively involved in fighting (this does not include "stone-throwers"), but on the Israeli side, almost 80 percent of those killed are civilian non-combatants. While Palestinian fatalities have been overwhelmingly male, females account for almost 40 percent of the Israeli non-combatants killed.

In the face of this threat to its safety and very existence, Israel has often taken necessary self-defensive steps to protect its citizens.

Since 1947, when Israel's founders accepted the two-state solution approved by the U.N. to partition British-controlled territory into one Jewish and one Arab state, successive Israeli governments have extended a hand in peace to its neighbors, proposing land-for-peace and security compromises. While very few have grasped their hand for peace, when Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein took Israel's hand, bilateral negotiations led to durable peace agreements.

Israeli governments have offered negotiations on every issue in dispute with the Palestinians. The Israeli public consistently has supported a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, knowing that painful compromises would be required.

I am sure most Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank desire peace, but, as President Bush pointed out on June 24 when presenting his road map to Palestinian statehood, Arafat is the obstacle.

United Nations Resolution 242 stresses "the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security." It calls for "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," a war launched by Egypt, Syria and Jordan to destroy Israel. And after the war, the Arab League adopted the "no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation" policy in response to Israel's efforts to negotiate peace.

Israel is a democracy and for the second time during the current war, will go to elections. This means allowing divergent and sometimes unpalatable views from extremist elements, such as the transfer of populations. Contrast that with the charters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad that call for the elimination of Israel.

Israelis are yearning for peace. They are longing for the chance to live a normal life, to go grocery shopping, to sip lattes in a cafe, to enjoy a slice of pizza and to take a bus without having to think twice. Unfortunately for them, Israelis live in a particularly rough neighborhood. To survive, they have to be courageous both in going about their everyday activities, and in pushing ahead for peace. They deserve both our understanding and our support.

Leonard E. Greenberg is national vice president of the American Jewish Committee.

Copyright 2012 AJC