'Peace Psychosis' in the Mideast: Many Realists Worry That for Jews Gathered in Israel, History May Have Saved Its Worst for Last

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Bill Clinton may have saved his very worst for last. With remarkable--even for him--self-absorption, as he tap-dances toward the exit he is pursuing as his crowning legacy something that only the cynical or delusional could call a "final" Middle East "peace agreement." In three weeks Clinton will be gone, leaving intensified Middle East chaos for others to cope with.

Israel's Ehud Barak has resigned as prime minister, triggering Feb. 6 elections that polls indicate he will lose in a landslide. For him, the long term is five weeks. Yet by then he hopes to have achieved a "permanent" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is now in its sixth decade. Yasir Arafat founded the Palestine National Liberation Movement, committed to Israel's destruction, when Eisenhower was president and Ben-Gurion was Israel's prime minister. Through 14 Israeli prime ministries and nine U.S. presidencies, Arafat has remained so committed.

It has come to this: Clinton has asked Barak--who has a negligible constituency, and who has never asked Israeli voters for a mandate for anything remotely resembling the dangerous menu of territorial and other concessions he already has offered Arafat--to dismantle Israel's capital by ceding to Arafat sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Clinton also has asked Barak to surrender to Arafat sovereignty over the holiest place in Israel's capital, the Temple Mount, location of the Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70.

Arafat is affronted by the offer because it is conditioned on his forsaking the "right of return." That is the claimed right of up to 4 million people, who left Israel during its violent birth pangs in 1948, to return to their homes. Imagine identifying the possessors of this right, and the possible permutations of it.

Today about a million Palestinians remain in what are propagandistically called "refugee camps." In 1945 there were many millions of refugees and other displaced persons in Europe, many in camps. By 1950 this problem was essentially solved. Why, 52 years after the failure of the Arab war to kill the state of Israel in its infancy, are there still camps populated by the children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren of people displaced in 1948? Because Arafat and other Arab leaders use these festering sores to foment irredentist extremism.

Acknowledging a "right of return" would be, for Israel, demographic suicide. That right is integral to Arafat's aim, the destruction of the Jewish state. Insistence on the right is tantamount to root-and-branch rejection of the supposed goal of the post-Oslo peace process--"two states for two peoples." That process has been a fiasco because it has assumed that Arafat simply wants to govern a Middle Eastern Belgium--a small bourgeois nation located on whatever territories he, with American help, can extort from Israel. This assumption requires those who hold it to constantly deny that Arafat means what he constantly tells Arabic-speaking audiences--that "with our blood and our martyrs we will redeem Palestine. …