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THE PREREQUISITE TO PEACE

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist
Copyright 2002, The Boston Globe

June 27, 2002

There are times, George Orwell is reputed to have said, when the first duty of an intelligent man is to restate the obvious. President Bush did his duty this week when he cut through the murk of the past nine years -- the years of the Middle East "peace process" -- to assert some obvious truths.

"Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism," he said. "Today, the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority, and power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few. . . . Today, the Palestinian people live in economic stagnation, made worse by official corruption." All of this is true, all of it is plainly visible, and all of it has been persistently denied or ignored for years by most of the world's governments -- including, until very recently, those of Israel and the United States.

Having acknowledged obvious facts, Bush drew an obvious conclusion. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be possible until there is "a new and different Palestinian leadership," one "not compromised by terror," nor until Palestinian society becomes "a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty." Only when that transformation takes place can a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians be fashioned. And only then will it make sense to talk of a Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, there is no chance that the Palestinians will willingly undertake such a transformation. For one thing, the current Palestinian rulers will not agree to go. That includes not only Yasser Arafat, but his thuggish lieutenants -- the likes of Jibril Rajoub, Mohammed Dahlan, Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, and Marwan Barghouti, all of whom are "compromised by terror." For his part, Arafat wasted no time in brushing off Bush's call for new Palestinian leaders, telling reporters the next day that the president was "definitely not" referring to him.

But it is not only Arafat and his aides who are compromised by terror. The Palestinian people themselves are openly wedded to it and deeply opposed to co-existence with Israel. Bush fudged when he said, "The hatred of a few holds the hopes of many hostage." The dismal truth is that among the Palestinians, it is the many who nurse hatred and who support the slaughter of civilians.

Just this month, a poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (a Palestinian institute) found that 68 percent of Palestinians approve of suicide bombings and 51 percent favor the liquidation of Israel. Palestinian TV extols the terror attacks that have been turning Israeli pizza shops and commuter buses into horrific scenes of massacre. Palestinian muftis preaching in the mosques of Gaza exhort the faithful to kill Jews "wherever you meet them." Summer camps indoctrinate Palestinian kids in jihad; schoolbooks teach them that Israel must be destroyed.

The nearly nine years of Arafat's misrule have severely poisoned Palestinian society, and in such toxic soil peace cannot take root. Palestinians have been steeped in hatred and bloodlust; great numbers of them are convinced that it is only a matter of time until the Jews are expelled and all of "Palestine" is theirs. It is folly to think that they could abruptly change course, and extend to Israel the hand of neighborly goodwill.

As a prerequisite to peace, Palestinian culture must be drastically reformed. The venom of the Arafat era must be drained. Persons implicated in terrorism must be punished and ostracized; democratic norms must be instilled; the virtue of tolerance must be learned. There is only one way to effect such wholesale changes: The Palestinian Authority must be dealt a devastating military defeat, one that will crush Arafat and his junta and shatter forever the Palestinian fantasy of "liberating" Israel and driving the Jews into the sea.

Then the Palestinian territories must be reoccupied, the terror chieftains executed, and the putrescence of Arafat and Hamas flushed away. That will make it possible to rebuild the structures of civil society -- the legislature, the courts, the police, the media, and above all, the schools -- from the ground up. The Palestinian polity can become a true liberal democracy, one committed to pluralism, civil rights, competitive elections, and the marketplace of ideas. When that happens, peace with Israel will be a given, and no one will fear the creation of a Palestinian state.

A fanciful pipe dream? Not at all. There is a historical model for just this sort of transformation: the US occupation of Japan.

In 1945, the United States dealt the brutal Japanese empire an annihilating defeat. The atom bomb broke Japan's will to fight and forced upon it the shame of occupation and unconditional surrender. General Douglas MacArthur was Japan's supreme ruler for the next seven years -- years he used to forcibly remake Japanese society. A new constitution was imposed, new laws were written, a new educational system was mandated. The values of democracy were explained and popularized. By the time the occupation ended in 1952, a frenzied warmonger had been transformed into a peaceable democracy, one that remains to this day a trusted ally of the West. The postwar treatment of Germany was much the same.

There are differences, of course -- no one proposes to drop an A-bomb on Gaza -- but what was done to Japan and to Germany can be done to the Palestinians. Pulverizing defeat, followed by occupation and transformation. It would be a blessing to all the peoples of the Middle East -- to the Palestinians above all.

Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.
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