By Saul Singer, June 4, 2003
In 1975, Ahmed Jbarra placed a refrigerator filled with explosives in
Jerusalem’s busiest square.
The explosion killed 14 Israelis and wounded 60. This week he was released
from an Israeli prison, and received a hero’s welcome in Ramallah, including a
personal audience with Yasser Arafat.
Shlomo Bezem, whose brother was killed by Jbarra’s bomb, told this
newspaper, “His release isn’t worth it, even if it brings peace.” Yet this
mass-murderer is not being let free as part of a final peace agreement, but as
part of a package of “confidence- building measures.”
We are probably the only people in the world that anyone would dare even ask
to build the confidence of the people who have been showering us with
terrorism for over two years. The idea that we have to build Palestinian
confidence is essentially an admission that lack of such confidence is a reason
for terrorism. It’s a bit like handing over a few bills to a gangster who is
breaking your knees, while promising to pay everything he claims you owe him.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided there is no point in trying to rewrite the
rules of the game, as stacked against us as they are. You say the Palestinians
need convincing of our good intentions, figures Sharon, I’ll convince everyone
I’m sincere, thereby tossing the ball back into their court.
This strategy seems to be working so far, but there is a major catch. Regardless
of the skewed logic applied to this conflict, it is Israel’s confidence that must be
built, not just so we will take risks, but for peace to be possible at all.
Which brings us to the Aqaba summit. The main purpose of the summit was to
provide the backdrop for the paired declarations required by Phase I of the road
map: Israel pledges support for a “independent, viable, sovereign Palestinian
state”; the Palestinians pledge to end terrorism, incitement, and “all acts of
violence against Israelis anywhere” and reaffirm Israel’s “unequivocal” right to
exist in peace and security.
This is what happened in Aqaba. The problem, as Israel pointed out about the
road map before its release, is that this initial declaratory phase was too easy
on the Palestinians. It let them continue the dodge of recognizing Israel, while
pressing the demand to “return” to Israel and overwhelm it, thereby negating
The Palestinians respond to this concern by saying that the matter of refugees
is a final-status issue. The United States agrees, according to remarks by
Secretary of State Colin Powell after the Sharm summit this week.
But this wisdom received from the Oslo era must be reexamined.
The truth is that the refugee matter is an amalgam. On one hand, there are
legitimate topics for negotiation in final-status talks, such as compensation and
resettlement. On the other hand, there is the claim of a “right” of Palestinians
to move to Israel itself, which is a negation of Israel sovereignty, legitimacy,
and right to exist.
The Palestinian leadership has argued that in order for them to confront, one
way or another, groups that do not want to give up terrorism, they have Israel’s
commitment to a Palestinian state up front. Fair enough. They got it. In fact
they had it back at the 2000 Camp David summit when Ehud Barak offered
them a state on a silver platter, without the war they chose to bring upon both
But if the Palestinians need to know the end point before they move forward,
Israel needs to know even more so. If the Palestinians cannot drop the idea that
they have a right, not only to evict all Jews from Palestine, but to move to
Israel, there is nothing to talk about it, and no point in Israel making any concessions.
The need to build Israeli confidence goes further. There is no country or people
who wants to destroy the Palestinians or deny them a state. Israel, by contrast,
is surrounded by peoples who believe that Israel’s existence blocks any just
solution to the Palestinian problem.
The just-released poll of Pew Global Attitudes Project
found that 80 percent or more of Palestinians, Jordanians, and Moroccans
believe there is “no way” for Israeli and Palestinian rights to coexist. Smaller
but significant majorities believe the same in Indonesia, Pakistan, Lebanon, and
The same poll, taken after the war in Iraq, asked people in a range of Western
and Muslim countries which of eight leaders they trusted most to “do the right
thing.” People in non-Muslim countries rated Vladimir Putin, Gerhard Schroeder,
Jacques Chirac, and Tony Blair more highly than they did George Bush. But this
finding pales beside the results in Muslim countries.
In four countries surveyed Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan, and Indonesia (after
Bali!) Osama bin Laden came in second or third. And in one place bin Laden
came in first: the Palestinian Authority.
This poll sharpens the absurdity that Palestinian confidence must be earned and
Israeli confidence can be assumed. We are being asked to hand over a state to
a people that still believes Israel’s existence is incompatible with its own rights,
that lionizes the world’s most prominent terrorist, and that has been
systematically indoctrinating its children to give their own lives to murder Israeli
It should not be surprising, then, that we find it a tad disturbing that even the
reformist Palestinian prime minister cannot bring himself to utter the words
Chances are, unfortunately, that Mahmoud Abbas is missing either the
strength or the will to fulfill his pledges to end terrorism and disarm Hamas and
Islamic Jihad. But even if he did, we cannot afford to create even a provisional
state before the asterisk is removed from Palestinian recognition of Israel.
That recognition will only begin to look “unequivocal,” as the road map states,
when the demand of Palestinians to settle in Israel is abandoned.