Peace and Arafat not on same page, says Israeli editor

David Horovitz is fine with the American "road map" to peace. He has a problem with the driver, however.

The respected author and editor of The Jerusalem Report magazine, like many on the Israeli left, is still feeling burned by the detonation of Camp David. Peace and Yasser Arafat are like oil and water — the two shall never mix.

"There's nothing wrong with the road map per se, just as there was nothing wrong with the Oslo accords per se," said Horovitz, in San Francisco this week as part of a national speaking tour arranged by the American Technion Society.

The outbreak of the current intifada led to "a consensus in Israel, and there's never a consensus in Israel. This confirmed Israel cannot make peace with this leader, meaning [Palestinian Authority President] Arafat. Though there is a new prime minister, it is still Arafat who holds all the keys to influence and power."

According to the current issue of The Jerusalem Report, in fact, only one in every 50 Palestinians give Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, a "favorable" rating.

Horovitz is a lean, average-sized man with tired eyes and a subtle grin. An emigre from Great Britain to Israel 20 years ago, he still speaks in a rapid-fire English accent, packing a wealth of fully formed ideas into hastily spoken sentences with the deftness of a politically savvy racetrack commentator.

For those frustrated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's mercurial treatment of peace talks, Horovitz argues that there's no incentive for Sharon to talk seriously because there's seriously no one to talk with.

Sharon "is not being tested, there's no pressure on Israel or Sharon to be more generous, and there's not even pressure on Sharon to pull the troops back. That's what America would like to do as phase one on the road map, but how can we pull our troops back until someone tries to stop the bombings?" asked Horovitz, The Jerusalem Report's top editor since 1998.

If Israelis see a chance for peace, they'll vote for the candidate who will bring it to them, he continued. After all, despite three years of security that seemed like a walk in the park compared to what came before and since, Israelis emphatically dumped Benjamin Netanyahu for Ehud Barak in 1999.

"Barak's only claim to our vote…was that he was going to make peace with the Palestinians. That was only four years ago; there's no credible argument we won't make peace if we have the chance to," argued Horovitz, who did fault Sharon for giving so-called Palestinian moderates like Abbas little to work with.

In his tenure, Sharon has "on the whole, acted fairly within the national consensus," but Amram Mitzna's pledge to negotiate with Arafat is now "an anathema to Israelis," and the Labor Party leader was trounced.

"If there's a shift on the Palestinian side, everything will change in Israel. Arafat has determined the last four or five elections in Israel, more maybe," Horovitz said.

"I don't think there will be any progress as long as [Arafat] is there, but I don't think it'll necessarily get better as soon as he's gone. I don't mean to sound too optimistic."

So, what to do? Horovitz doesn't have an answer to that one, and notes that no one else does either.

Arafat can't be killed because of an international backlash and probable resultant orgy of terror, he can't be negotiated with, he can't be exiled because it would give him even more power to incite terrorism and holing him up in Ramallah hasn't exactly worked wonders. Limiting Arafat's movement is Sharon's best bad option, according to Horovitz.

In order for Abbas to be able to at least have a chance to follow up on his promises, Horovitz emphasizes the need for pressure from America and Europe to force reform within the Palestinian Authority. That being said, Horovitz adds with a sneer, "In parts of Europe it is safe to say that Israel's assumed right to exist is no longer assumed."

While Horovitz and others have been scarred by years of terror, he said that he is still willing to make sacrifices for peace and believes his feelings mirror the nation's.

"I'm as ready to compromise as I ever was," he said. "I don't think there's any way for Israel to exist as a Jewish country and a democracy without compromise with the Palestinians."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.