QUESTION: What does Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin call it when more of his countrymen have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in the past 23 months than in any 23-month period in Israel's history; when Palestinian attacks are concentrated inside Israel's pre-1967 borders; when every few weeks a bus filled with Jewish passengers is exploded by a suicide bomber; when even the president of Israel, a steadfast dove, says of his nation's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, "It isn't working"; and when the Palestine National Covenant, two years after it was supposed to be amended, still calls for the extermination of Israel?
On Monday, 707 days after Rabin and Yasser Arafat inaugurated this "peace" with a handshake on the White House lawn, the latest bus bombing ripped through a busy street in Jerusalem. Four people died gruesomely, not counting the bomber; one was Joan Davenny, a schoolteacher from Connecticut. The flames and flying glass injured 108 riders, many of them students. Body parts were strewn everywhere; a child's note was found, soaked with blood.
A bad business, said Rabin, but the government is "determined . . . to continue building peace." So "after the funeral," negotiations with the PLO would resume.
For the kind of peace Rabin is building, "after the funeral" makes a perfect motto.
Monday's butchery was described by Hamas, the popular Islamic movement, as part of a "systematic military campaign" against Israel. It was the 11th fatal assault on Israelis this year, the sixth suicide bombing in 10 months. The post-handshake death toll has now passed 170.
Quite a peace process.
Enemies can make peace, but only if peace is what both sides want. Israel's accommodationist government wants peace almost at any price. To that end it has surrendered Gaza and Jericho to the PLO. It is negotiating a surrender of most of the rest of the West Bank. And it has made clear its readiness to yield the Golan Heights to Syria's dictator, Hafez Assad.
But where is the evidence that the Arabs want peace with Israel?
Repeatedly Arafat tells Arab audiences that the accords with Israel are but a step in the PLO's "plan of phases" -- the policy, adopted in 1974, of attempting to destroy Israel piecemeal. Time and again he defines the peace process as a war process. In a speech in June, Arafat endorsed "jihad through deaths and martyrdom and sacrifices." He sang the praises of Abir Wahaydi, a terrorist convicted in the massacre of 38 people. This is a peacemaker?
For 10 months, Jordan has formally been at peace with Israel. Yet Jordanian unions ban their members from all contact with Israelis. The National Islamic Front says "God has strictly forbidden" Jordanians to buy Israeli products or do business with Jews. "The conflict between the Arab masses and Israel," promises Sari Nasser, a professor at Jordan University, "is just beginning."
The most famous Arab poet in the world, Adonis, was expelled from the Arab Writers Union in January. His offense: meeting with some Israeli writers at an international conference in Spain.
If these are the signs of peace, what would enmity look like?
The Lebanese regime threatened to put Miss Lebanon on trial for posing in a photograph with Miss Israel. "Schindler's List" was denounced as Zionist propaganda and barred from theaters across the Arab world. Radio Damascus hails suicide bombings like Monday's as "daring martyrdom operations."
When Hamas vows to wipe out Israel, it is voicing a common Arab sentiment. In his latest poll of Mideast Arab attitudes, professor Hilal Khashan of Beirut's American University finds that for many Muslims, "the war against Israel is not over; in fact, it has not really yet begun."
Khashan, who surveyed 1,205 Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Palestinian Arabs, lays out his data in the current Middle East Quarterly. His conclusion is blunt and distressing: "If current trends persist, Arab publics will probably not become ready for peace with Israel." What he discovers en route to that conclusion is even more distressing. Two-thirds of those who oppose peace with Israel favor suicide attacks as an alternative. When those who do support Arab-Israeli peace are asked for their reasons, only 14 percent want peace for the sake of peace. Far more numerous are those who view peace as "a chance to reorganize ourselves" -- a tactical truce while waiting for Israel to weaken.
How would Arabs feel about seeing Israeli visitors in their country? Angry or sad, 68 percent. Would they consider sending their child to an Israeli university? No, 93 percent. Would they be interested in learning about life in Israel? No, 82 percent.
"These responses to interaction with Israelis," writes Khashan, "are neither haphazard nor isolated. They reflect a deliberate choice by the respondents to shun any form of interaction with Israelis, even when they profess to support peace."
Making peace is like doing the tango: It takes two. Rabin's government rests on the illusion that Israel isn't dancing alone. It's an illusion most Israelis no longer share. The number is falling with every funeral.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)