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PERSPECTIVES ON MIDDLE EAST PEACE : How Much Longer? The Toll of Terrorism : It was naive to think that Western standards of reason and logic could prevail against fundamentalist hatred.

<i> Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of the Jewish Week, New York. </i>

When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited the site of the latest suicide bombing at Beit Lid Junction on Sunday where at least 19 Israelis were killed, hecklers shouted, “How much longer?”

That is what many Israelis are asking: How much longer will Israel allow a brave but failed peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization to continue? And Rabin has no answer. He can only repeat that Israel will not allow terrorism to halt the peace process.

But in many ways it already has.

I have supported and defended the peace agreement from the outset. But in searching the skies for a new dawn in Israeli-Arab relations, I failed to notice the dark clouds all around. For since the handshake on the White House lawn a year ago September, a number of events have signaled the agreement’s flaws. The PLO’s refusal to abide by the accord and Israel’s refusal to acknowledge that reality are too obvious to ignore.

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The premise of the Israel-PLO accord was that the Palestinian Authority, once it controlled Gaza and Jericho, would move toward democracy. There was also the belief that Palestinians, given a chance to improve their economic lot, would let that take precedence over their hatred of Israel. They would thus become increasingly mainstream in their political beliefs and reject the militancy of Islamic fundamentalists.

But that has not been the case. Yasser Arafat is as corrupt a despot as ever, adding to the frustration of those under his rule. The economy has not improved, hatred of Israel is unabated and support for militant fundamentalists is on the rise. Young men who die in the act of killing Jews are praised as heroes by the masses.

The fact is that Arafat has not honored his commitment to the accord. He has taken no action to revoke the PLO charter, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state; he has refused to extradite two killers of an Israeli man who are serving in the Palestinian police force; he has refused to condemn most Arab terrorist attacks, discipline PLO members who engage in terrorism or apprehend Arab terrorists who attack Israelis.

All of this led Ezer Weizman, the president of Israel and a longtime dove, to call this week for suspension of talks with the PLO. The president’s power is largely ceremonial, but it is also symbolic, and he reflected the views of many Israelis when he said that Arafat might not be “the right man” with whom to make peace.

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Arafat did condemn Sunday’s violence. But in allowing militant Islamic fundamentalists to operate openly in Gaza, contrary to his pledge to combat terrorism, he blurs the distinction between the image of his PLO as pro-peace and that of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist.

Those who say that terrorism, as tragic as it is, does not pose a threat to Israel’s survival, are correct from a military point of view. Israel’s army is strong, but its morale is fragile. It is important to recognize that continuing terrorism takes its toll on the psychological and spiritual survival of a people as well.

I am still hopeful that the principles of negotiation can lead to peace, still proud of the peace with Jordan (which would not have been possible without the PLO accord first), but sobered and chastened by the level of bloodshed and lack of remorse since the accord was signed.

I was naive to believe that Western standards of reason and logic and compromise could be applied to a Middle East still driven by Arab intolerance of Jews and a religious fundamentalism that inspires violence.

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Israel has bent over so far in the peace process that it risks breaking in half.


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