Israeli Actions Always Blamed for Threatening Peace Process

Written by David Frum on Saturday March 15, 1997

Decision to build apartments may be irritating -- but a threat to peace?

It's a curious thing, this Middle East peace process. We hear over and over again that it is in danger -- but never from Palestine Liberation Organization actions that violate the terms of the agreement signed on the White House lawn in 1993. No, it is always and exclusively Israeli actions that threaten the peace process, and (more strangely) Israeli actions that in no way contravene the 1993 treaty.

Just last week, King Hussein of Jordan sent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a blistering letter warning that the Middle East again stood on the brink of catastrophe. The cause? The same Israeli outrage that has prompted Yasser Arafat to summon American, Russian, Arab and European diplomats to meet with him in Gaza to plan joint action against Israel; the same outrage that the UN is about to condemn; the same outrage that has our own External Affairs Department huffing and puffing -- a decision to build 6,500 apartments in suburban eastern Jerusalem to relieve that city's housing shortage.

It's possible to understand why the Palestinians find these apartments irritating, even provocative.  But a threat to peace? Why isn't the PLO's four-year refusal to fulfill its only duty under the 1993 agreement -- to amend its charter so that it no longer calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and the murder of its people -- a threat to peace? Why didn't Yasser Arafat's decision to incite his troops to open fire upon Israeli soldiers when the newly elected Netanyahu opened a tourist tunnel in central Jerusalem in October elicit a scathing letter from King Hussein? As for the 200 victims of terror bombings by Palestinian guerrillas in the weeks after the signing of the agreement, the record shows not a single word spoken at the United Nations on behalf of any of them.

Yes, the apartments are to be built on ground taken by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war. But the world seems to have forgotten why Israel possesses that ground: how the 1967 war was sparked by Egypt's deliberate decision to close the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping in violation of the 1957 agreement for which Lester Pearson won his Nobel Prize; how Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser threatened in May 1967 to exterminate Israel and ordered UN peacekeepers away from his border; how Israel begged Jordan to stay out of the war; how Jordan attacked anyway, forcing the tiny Israeli army to fight on three fronts. The world seems to have forgotten too why Israel is so reluctant to relinquish Jerusalem: how the Jordanians barred Jews from visiting the holy sites in the eastern portion of the city in the 19 years they ruled it (from 1948 until 1967); how centuries-old Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives were desecrated by the Jordanian army; how central a place Jerusalem occupies in the Jewish faith.

On the other hand, why do we expect the world to remember any of that, when it cannot remember events that took place only four years ago? The agreement between Israel and the PLO carefully postponed a decision on how much -- if any -- of Jerusalem was to be surrendered to the Palestinians until the very end of the peace process; after the Palestinians had amended their charter, after they had ceased committing crimes of terrorism, after they had demonstrated themselves to be willing to live with Israel as good neighbors. They have honored none of those promises.

Instead, the PLO is prejudging the outcome of the final negotiation, and is demanding to be recognized immediately as the master of all of eastern Jerusalem. That's the real issue in the Har Homa development, as it was with the opening of the tourist tunnel alongside the Temple Mount last fall. That PLO claim to East Jerusalem is unsupported by the 1993 agreement, and tainted by its own duplicitous and brutal behavior in the four years since the signing of the agreement.

Sad to say, however, the world's governments and the world's media in this matter, as in so many others, seem to be abiding by the oldest rule of Middle East politics: Israel is to be condemned when it is wrong, and is to be condemned even more emphatically, when it is right.