Many Israeli doves and progressive American Jews blame Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for the escalating violence in the Middle East and contend that he is not a real partner for peace. This position conveniently disregards Israel's occupation of Palestinian areas--the torture, Jewish settlements, land confiscation, house demolitions, poverty and daily humiliations--and advances a paternalistic interpretation of events: As if Arafat decided to send his people to war and they, like a herd, obediently complied.

A woman walks towaard an Israeli soldier aiming at Palestinian
stone-throwers in the West Bank town of Hebron.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton's nifty maneuvers during the Camp David summit last July also swayed many Israeli peaceniks. These two leaders managed to convince the world that Barak was willing to make great concessions by offering Arafat municipal control over some East Jerusalem neighborhoods and sovereignty over three small villages located on the city's outskirts. The international media readily appropriated this position and helped shape public opinion by presenting Barak as moderate and Arafat as a peace rejectionist.

But Barak's performance since entering office indicates that he ought to bear most of the blame for the current crisis. While the prime minister owes his electoral victory to the Palestinians--he received 95 percent of the Israeli Arab vote--he never considered the Arab parties as prospective coalition partners. Barak's decision to exclude the Arabs from his government was not considered outrageous at the time, since this kind of racism informs the mindset of many Jews.