"IF WE do not stride strongly forward to achieve peace," said Jordan's King Hussein in an interview with an Arabic newspaper this week, "everything imaginable can happen -- including a revival of 1991 when Netanyahu wore his gas mask on television."
Now there's a remark worth parsing.
King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, yet he still plays the war card.
In 1991, the United States led the West in rolling back Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In a bid to rally other Arab states, Saddam Hussein vowed that if Iraq were attacked, Israel -- which was not a party to the conflict -- would be destroyed with chemical weapons. "By God," he had sworn, "we will burn up half of Israel with our fire." The Israeli government distributed gas masks to protect its residents; Benjamin Netanyahu, the then-deputy foreign minister, was interviewed on CNN wearing his.
Saddam's threats were not idle. Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles on Tel Aviv and Haifa. Among the Israelis killed were two children who suffocated in their gas masks.
It was a barbaric international crime. And through it all, the king of Jordan openly supported Iraq. Repaying with disloyalty America's longstanding generosity to his regime, King Hussein threw his lot in with Saddam, and helped Iraq evade the sanctions imposed by the United Nations. In part, the king was playing to the Palestinians, who adored Saddam for threatening Israel. Indeed, as the Scud missiles rained down on Jewish homes, Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere danced on their rooftops in celebration.
Many things have happened in the Middle East since 1991, not least of which is the peace treaty Jordan signed with Israel last year. But some things never change. King Hussein -- who is regarded, despite his Gulf War treachery, as a "moderate" and friend of the United States -- still flashes the war card. He still issues, in Arabic, unveiled warnings that Israel may again face missile attacks. Either Netanyahu pursues the "peace process" as the Arabs think it should be pursued, or, suggests the king, he might yet have need of a gas mask.
Do what we want, or we will kill you. This is how "moderate" Arab leaders speak to Jews.
What the Arabs want now is Jerusalem. Next week, they will want Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria razed. The week after, they will demand a "right of return" for millions of Palestinian "refugees." If Israel agrees, there will be peace. If not, there will be trouble. And in any case, there will be further demands -- and further threats. Such is Arab moderation.
At least King Hussein keeps his threats in the abstract. Not Yasser Arafat. The 1994 Nobel laureate for peace has been rattling sabers, inciting violence, and extolling suicide bombers since well before Netanyahu's election. There was no reason to be surprised when Palestinian troops opened fire on Jewish targets in Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus two weeks ago. The PLO's gauleiters had made it unmistakably clear that they were prepared to resume killing Jews whenever it suited them to do so.
"We will fight for the cause of Allah," cried Arafat before Israel opened that second tunnel entrance, "and kill and be killed!"
Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's planning minister, had declared on television last March that "if and when Israel will say, 'That's it, we won't talk about Jerusalem, we won't return refugees, we won't dismantle settlements, and we won't retreat from borders,' then all acts of violence will return. Except that this time we'll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom." Peacemaking, PLO-style.
At the Al Aksa mosque in June, Arafat's hand-picked mufti exhorted Palestinian worshippers to "rise up with all their might against the occupation to achieve what we want. It is forbidden for us to sit quietly."
There is no peace process. There is only a charade whereby the Arabs agree to accept whatever the Israelis will relinquish, and then fight them for the rest. Israel, sick of living in a garrison state, cheek-by-jowl with thugs and dictators, yearns for peace. Arafat and the Palestinians yearn for victory. They will take what they can get through negotiations. Then they will riot and shoot and bomb and kill to get more.
The concessions Israel has made for peace are unprecedented in human history. It relinquished the whole of Gaza and every major Arab town in the West Bank except (so far) for Hebron. It conferred upon the PLO legitimacy, power, money, and weapons. It turned a blind eye time and again to Palestinian violations of the Oslo Accords. It went along with the fiction that the Palestinian Authority was trying to crack down on terrorism.
The time has come for Israel to face reality: There will be no peace, not in the foreseeable future, and not with the PLO. No matter how much Israel yields, the Palestinians will demand more and the Arab world will back them up. For the Arabs, peace is not a goal. It is merely -- as they openly acknowledge when speaking in Arabic -- a tactic.
"The struggle will continue," Arafat says, "until all of Palestine is liberated." As difficult as it is for civilized men and women to accept, he means it.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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