There is no alternative to Arafat

Israelis cannot select Mother Teresa as the Palestinian leader. Sharon has to accept reality, argues

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, the Palestinian prime minister, handed in his resignation to Yasser Arafat on 7 September. In his final speech he blamed Arafat for stabbing him in the back, Israel and America for double-crossing him and the Arab media for making fun of him. However, there was not a single word about his failure to meet the most urgent undertaking of the "road map agreement": he had committed himself to disarming the fanatic Palestinian groups, the enemies of peace.

To the best of my knowledge, in his 100 days in power, Abu Mazen did not confiscate even a handgun. He can say in his defence that the Israeli prime minister failed to carry out his own prime commitment. Under the terms of the road map agreement, Ariel Sharon was to dismantle the unauthorised Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and to freeze all the other settlements. He did nothing of the sort. The only difference is that Sharon wouldn't dream of resigning.

Instead, Sharon claims he cannot do business with Arafat or with any Arafat proxies. This is an impossible position because it is not for the Israelis to decide who represents Palestine, just as it is not for the Palestinians to choose which Israeli will be their partner. Arafat may be a nasty man with a record of violence and double-crossing. However, we Israelis cannot select Mother Teresa to become leader of the Palestinians. We have to deal with Arafat, not because he is nice and sweet, not because he is our friend, but precisely because he is the leader of our enemies (if he had been Mother Teresa, there would have been no need to compromise). The question is not with whom you negotiate, but what is the agenda.

Each time Arafat demands that Palestinian refugees be allowed to settle in Israel proper, he implies he wants two Palestinian states, and non-states for the Jewish people. In 1948 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were kicked out of what is now Israel. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jews who had lived in Arab countries for thousands of years were kicked out of those countries and into Israel. The simple answer to this tragedy is: Palestine to the Palestinians and Israel to the Israelis. The refugee issue was the stumbling block at Camp David three years ago and in every peace effort since Camp David. Perhaps the best "first step" now is for Arafat to say loud and clear that the state of Israel is the home of the Jewish people; while Sharon simultaneously proclaims that Palestine must become the homeland for the Palestinian people.

This is the only common-sense point of departure for renewed negotiations. Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not believe in the two-state solution. According to Hamas, the Jews are a plague, not a nation. For these fanatical groups, all-out war against the Jews includes schools, buses, kindergartens and synagogues.

Israel must limit herself to fighting only against those who attack her. Only those who carry weapons or manufacture bombs are legitimate targets. Even at a time of all-out war, it is wrong and stupid to try to kill ideologists, inciters, clerics and politicians. Even if all of those inciters and jihadists go, they are not likely to be succeeded by Mother Teresa.

Copyright: Amos Oz 2003. The author is one of Israel's leading novelists and a founder of the Peace Now Movement

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