IMAGINE THE PRIME MINISTER of Israel, addressing a Jewish audience in New York about the newly signed accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying something like this:
"The Palestinians have Jericho for now. But the Canaanites once controlled Jericho, too -- until Joshua showed up. We view Jericho the way our great prophet Joshua viewed it."
The reaction would be scalding. The winking implication that Israel still schemed to recapture Jericho from the Palestinians -- much as the ancient Israelites under Joshua conquered it from the Canaanites -- would be stunning evidence of Israeli bad faith.
PLO officials would be furious at the double-cross. Every nation would perceive that Israel's solemn oath, its signature on treaties, the word of its leaders, were fraudulent. Syria and Lebanon would break off negotiations with Israel. Palestinians, backed up by the State Department and the Security Council, would demand new concessions from Jerusalem as a condition of going forward with the peace process.
"Jihad will continue"
As the PLO was making final preparations earlier this month to take over the Gaza Strip and Jericho -- supposedly the first fruits of Israeli-Palestinian "peace" -- Yasser Arafat was reconfirming his violent rejectionism. "Jihad will continue and Jerusalem is . . . for the Muslim people," he told a Muslim audience in Johannesburg. "Our main battle is Jerusalem."
When used by Middle East Muslims in reference to Israel, "jihad" -- holy war -- is shorthand for "drive the Jews into the sea." Some words are ambiguous; "jihad" is not one of them. When Arafat says, "Jihad will continue," he is saying: "The killing of Jews will continue."
That is not all Arafat is saying.
"This agreement," he continued in the Johannesburg mosque, "I consider to be worth no more than the agreement which was signed between our prophet Muhammed and the Quraish."
Every Muslim knows what Muhammed did to the Quraish (much as Christians and Jews know that Joshua fit the battle of Jericho). In 628, the Prophet signed a treaty pledging 10 years of peace with the Quraish, who ruled Mecca. Within two years he broke his word, attacked the Quraish, and conquered their city. Israel, jeers the strutting Arafat, may expect the same from me.
Would you buy a used treaty from this man? Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres would.
Rabin's reaction to Arafat's jihadmongering was to ask for a note affirming the PLO chairman's commitment to peace. That's showing him, Prime Minister. Better yet, why not make Arafat write "I will not call for holy wars" 500 times on the blackboard?
For Peres, the Neville Chamberlain of Israeli politics, even notes are unnecessary. Serenely convinced that he has brought about peace for our time, Peres tells interviewers that it really doesn't matter whether Arafat can be trusted. "I trust the stream of history," he says soothingly. "I don't think that a person, or a speech of a person, can turn the world around in the wrong direction." As long as the peace talks continue, "all the rest does not count."
Even Israel, it seems, is not immune to the lure of appeasement.
But while Peres wriggles his toes in the stream of history, others notice that the "peace process" has not stopped Palestinian thugs from making war. Since the handshake at the White House in September, more than 50 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks. With one or two very grudging exceptions, Arafat has refused to condemn the murders. Last month, asked to comment on the killing of eight civilians at a bus stop, he literally turned on his heel and walked off.
Jihad will continue, Arafat told his Muslim audience. And it does continue, even as Peres floats little paper boats in the stream of history. It continues at the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad - which butchered two Israelis 10 days ago in the now Palestinian-occupied Gaza Strip. It continues at the hands of Arafat's own PLO faction, Fatah, which has attacked Israelis 36 times since last September.
"None of us will give up until the Jews have left," a spokesman for the Fatah Hawks told The New York Times last Christmas. "We are still committed to the same struggle."
Arafat has broken every promise he signed his name to last fall. PLO terrorism has not stopped. Violent acts have not been renounced. Violators have not been disciplined. The death-to-Israel clauses in the Palestinian Covenant remain unrepealed.
This is a peace process?
At its core, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been about occupied territories or Palestinian nationalism. The PLO was formed to "liberate" Israel three years before the '67 war. Beating at the heart of the conflict is the inability of Middle East Arabs to accept Jews as neighbors entitled to peace and security. That, Arafat reminded his Johannesburg listeners, has not changed.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)