Editor's Notes: Ten years later

Our 2nd intifada losses underline the terrible potential costs of new missteps – and potential benefits if the Palestinians truly want peace.

Precisely 10 years ago, soon after Yasser Arafat had doomed Ehud Barak’s peacemaking effort at Camp David, Ariel Sharon paid a politically and religiously loaded visit to the Temple Mount.
Sharon did not use the opportunity to lambaste Arafat. He did not issue anti- Islamic remarks. He did not enter the Muslim holy shrines. What he did, by his presence, was assert Israeli authority over, and Jewish connection to, the holiest area in Judaism.
In truth, Sharon’s visit was aimed primarily at his own electorate. It was calculated to signal to the Israeli public that while that appallingly dovish Ehud Barak might be ready to surrender parts of Jerusalem, the then-still-hawkish opposition leader would never countenance such capitulation.
But for Arafat, it constituted a golden opportunity. The Palestinian leadership had spent the weeks after Camp David desperately trying to convince the international community that the failure was a consequence of Israeli inflexibility rather than Arafat’s intransigence – without much success. President Bill Clinton, the summit’s host, knew exactly who was to blame – he would later identity Yasser Arafat as the culprit in his memoirs – and the Palestinians were on the defensive.
Then along came the pre-disengagement, still globally loathed Sharon. And as Arafat’s murderous West Bank henchman Marwan Barghouti made clear, the Palestinian leadership realized that this most contentious figure’s visit to that most incendiary of sites – location, too, of the third holiest shrine in Islam – must not be allowed to pass quietly. Sharon, as Barghouti put it, was “a hated man,” and his Temple Mount walkabout was the perfect pretext to trigger the eruption of purported spontaneous protest the Palestinian leadership had been planning.
“Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form,” Barghouti elaborated in subsequent interviews.
“The explosion would have happened anyway. It was necessary in order to protect Palestinian rights. But Sharon provided a good excuse.”
A DECADE has passed since that orchestrated “explosion” marked the start of the misnamed second “intifada” – which was not a “popular uprising” at all, but rather a strategic effort to attain through terrorism the maximalist demands that Arafat had refused to relinquish at the negotiating table.
Ten years later, there are many in the international community who seem to have forgotten how uniquely horrific that deliberate resort to terrorism turned out to be for Israelis. Ostensibly baffled by Israelis’ caution, skepticism or outright derision regarding the current Palestinian leadership’s peacemaking credentials and intentions, some of those who did not live through those years of terror conveniently underestimate the lingering trauma and now presume to lecture us about the need for optimism and risk-taking.
The Israelis of 2010 revel in a reality in which security guards no longer look all that closely into our shopping bags or under our sweaters for bombs when we enter malls and restaurants. We delight in the fact that we can take our children on buses and buy vegetables in outdoor markets without constantly eyeing the people around us for signs that they might be about to detonate explosives hidden around their waists and send us all to Kingdom Come. We have gradually relaxed in the knowledge, born out of several years of relative calm since we mercifully built the security barrier, that day-to-day life here is no longer quite the grisly lottery of the early years of this decade, and that even murderous killings on the roads of the West Bank are fairly intermittent rather than routine.
More foolish commentators, including some who have presumably bought into that Arafat-led effort to falsely depict Israel as the serial derailer of peace efforts, have lately taken to mis-portraying this tentative Israeli embrace of something akin to blessed normality. They cite it, perniciously, as evidence that we are no longer interested in a permanent accommodation with the Palestinians. Time magazine’s now notorious assertion, in a cover story earlier this month, that “Israel doesn’t care about peace” – that we are “otherwise engaged... making money... enjoying the rays of late summer... [and] have moved on” – is a particularly risible such misrepresentation.
HOW IGNORANT are such commentators of our mindset. How stupid do they take Israelis to be? How can we possibly have “moved on”?
We, who live in a country surrounded by hostility. We, who send our children off to the army, knowing that they will truly be risking their lives for so long as we are unable to achieve normalized ties with the Palestinians and those numerous other nations, led by Iran, that are determined to wipe us out. We, who do not for a moment mistake this current, all-too fragile calm for a sustainable reality of peace. We, who have watched Hizbullah and Hamas rearm with rockets that can reach over any fence and now hit any target in the country.
We, finally, who have not forgotten the mangled, smoking buses, the smashed restaurant windows and ceilings, the orphaned baby strollers, children’s shoes and school satchels in the aftermath of bomb blasts. The pools of blood and the scattered chunks of human flesh. The more than 1,000 families torn apart, never to recover.
OUR VERY existence depends on the processes now playing out behind closed doors in Washington, Sharm e-Sheikh and Jerusalem.
And our ostensible new partner may be no terror-fostering Arafat, but he has thus far chosen not to energetically champion, to his own people, the cause of compromise with ours. We wish that he had done so; we will not blind ourselves to the fact that he has not.
Mahmoud Abbas has yet to acknowledge the right of the Jewish people to this sovereign state in our historic homeland. He declares, on the one hand, that he seeks to work with us for peace, but vows, on the other, that he will not countenance “even one concession” on the vexed, disputed issues where compromise is central to any viable accord.
Is this the climate in which our prime minister, now a repeated advocate of Palestinian statehood, should agree to extend the settlement freeze he reluctantly introduced last November? Would this discredit him politically, and represent a counterproductive concession to that declaredly intransigent, noncompromising Abbas? Or would it demonstrate, again, the positive intent Netanyahu showed 10 months ago, and thus, perhaps, this time, improve the climate in talks we hope fervently will produce a sustainable peace?
The way forward, in a climate of mutual goodwill, would lie in the middle ground between these two questions: Is it not an Israeli interest in any case to extend the freeze in areas where we do not envisage expanding sovereignty? And why would Abbas have a problem with Israel building in areas he knows it will retain?
WE HAVE wrenching decisions to make, under a prime minister who sounds more conciliatory week by week and is better positioned politically than any of his recent would-be peacemaking predecessors to bring the overwhelming majority of his people along with him. Abbas, it would seem, has a longer road to travel. We urge him, simply, to take it.
By eerie coincidence, this latest negotiating effort is gathering pace exactly 10 years after the outbreak of the terror war marked the end of the last one.
Our unbearable second intifada losses constitute terrible evidence of the potential costs of new missteps. We know it could be worse still, next time. But those losses also underline the extraordinary potential benefits if, this time, the Palestinians truly want to find a way forward with us.
Nobody needs to remind Israelis about any of this – not about the costs, not about the benefits. And nobody should have the gall to tell us we don’t care about peace. Our lives are at stake.