THE PEACE OF CHELM

Rael Jean Isaac
Outpost, December 1993

 

†††††††† The stories of the foolish Jews of Chelm are among

the most popular in Jewish folklore. In a number of these

tales, the humor lies in the contrast between the fixed idea

to which the citizen of Chelm becomes attached and a

totally divergent reality.

 

†††††††† There is the story, for example, of the impover-

ished Reb Selig of Chelm who longed to see Warsaw.

Holding his shoes in his hand (so as not to wear them out)

he leaves wife and children to set out barefoot for Warsaw.

When he goes to sleep by a fork in the road he sets his

shoes pointing toward Warsaw so he will know the direction

in which to continue when he awakens.†† A passerby

reverses the shoes and Reb Selig returns to Chelm. con-

vinced that he has come to Warsaw. Nothing that he sees

with his own eyes changes his fixed conviction that he is in

Warsaw, not the familiar houses, the streets, the syna-

gogue, the people, not even his own wife and children. In

fact, at the conclusion of the story, now living in the circle of

his little family, as he thinks, in Warsaw, Reb Selig is

homesick for Chelm.

 

†††††††† The humor in these stories is good-natured, but

when the logic of Chelm runs a state, its people are in

desperate trouble. And this is precisely what has happened

to the Jews of Israel.Their leaders, having attached

themselves to the fixed idea that "peace is at hand" ignore

the evidence for a wholly different reality. Israel's Labor

leaders lack the innocence of Reb Selig who knows he

must be in Warsaw regardless of the evidence of his

senses. For they know the reality which, to the peril of the

public that trusts them, they recklessly ignore.

 

†††††††† Indeed, by far the most trenchant criticism of the

Israel-PLO agreement comes from the very same Israel

Foreign Ministry that concocted the agreement.

 

†††††††† In May 1990, the Israeli Foreign Ministry published

a 40-page report entitled The PLO: Has it Complied With

Its Commitments?"Its purpose was to show that the PLO

had systematically violated the commitments Arafat had

made in his 1988 press conference in Geneva-to recog-

nize Israel and renounce terror-and the U.S. should there-

fore end its dialogue with the PLO, which was predicated

upon those commitments.

 

††††††† The 1990 Israeli Foreign Ministry report docu-

ments in painstaking detail that in violation of Arafat's

promise in Geneva.

 

1) Virtually every faction of the PLO. from Fatah to

the Palestine Liberation Front to the Democratic Front for

the Liberation of Palestine to the Popular Struggle Front.

had engaged in terrorism since Arafat supposedly "re-

nounced" it.

 

2) PLO terrorists had not been penalized or so

much as criticized by the PLO-on the contrary, the PLO

refused to condemn the Palestine Liberation Front's May

30, 1990 attack on Tel Aviv beaches although Abu al-

Abbas, the raid's organizer, was a member of the PLO

Executive Committee. When the U.S. denounced the

raid (Abu al-Abbas had been the mastermind of the

attack on the Achille Lauro in which wheelchair-bound

Leon Ktinghoffer was brutally murdered), the response

of the PLO Executive Committee was to denounce

Washington for "protecting Israel and its crimes." Ara-

fat's Fatah colleague, and head of PLO foreign affairs,

Farouk Kaddoumi (who told a United Nations luncheon

audience that included the U.N. Secretary General that

Klinghoffer was killed by his wife for the insurance

money) made PLO policy clear: "The PLO is not pre-

pared to condemn operations which any Palestinian

organization or faction undertakes."

 

3) The PLO had made no attempt to repeal its

guiding document, the Palestine National Covenant, or

to change any of its (many) provisions advocating the

elimination of Israel.

 

4) The PLOs "phased plan," adopted in 1974.

remained the PLO strategy for implementing the Cove-

nant. Only four days after Arafat's 1988 press confer-

ence. his deputy Salah Khalaf. declared that the PLO

aims to establish "at first a small state, and with Allah's

will, it will be made large, and expand to the east, west.

north, and south.I am interested in the liberation of

Palestine, step by step." A year later, Farouk Kaddoumi

promised: "The recovery of but a part of our soil will not

cause us to forsake our Palestinian land...We shall pitch

our tent in those places which our bullets can reach...This

tent shall then form the base from which we shall later

pursue the next phase." The PLO explained how it

differed with Hamas: "[Hamas says] all of Palestine is

ours and we want to liberate it from the river to the sea at

one go. But Fatah, which leads the PLO, feels that a

phased plan must be pursued. Both sides agree on the

final objective. The difference between them is the way

there."

 

5) The PLO not only refrained from encouraging

Arab states to recognize Israel, but tried to intensify the

confrontation of Arab states with Israel.

 

6) The PLO called for escalating the violence of

the intifada, urging the Arabs of Judea and Samaria not to

be confused by statements such as those Arafat had

made at Geneva. In a 1989 leaflet distributed in Ramal-

lah, Fatah declared "the struggle in which our people is

engaged is not a struggle for the purpose of reaching a

settlement or a political solution and initiatives...(the PLO's]

investing in the diplomatic course and in political events

from time to time is a political cover and temporary tactic."

 

†††††††† All the above comes from the 1990 Israeli Foreign

Ministry report.

 

†††††††† It is striking that in 1993, just as in 1988, Arafat's

"word" provides the sole basis for belief in the PLO's

transformation. All that has changed is the format, In 1988

a press conference, in 1993 a letter (dated September 9)

from Arafat to Rabin. What Arafat promised in Geneva in

1988 and what he promises in his 1993 letter to Rabin is

basically the same: to renounce terror (assuming respon-

sibility over all PLO elements to assure compliance) and

to recognize Israel's right to exist.

 

†††††††† It is worth emphasizing that this brief letter consti-

tutes the entire basis upon which Israel relies for a "new"

PLO. The text of the lengthy "Declaration of Principles"

consists only of Israeli commitments to satisfy PLO

demands: there is no mention of the PLO eliminating the

Covenant, or the "phased plan" for Israelís destruction or

even renouncing or condemning terror against Israel. (In-

deed, the Declaration of Principles could be construed as

Israel's endorsement of the PLO Covenant-in it Israel

agrees that elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will

"constitute a significant interim preparatory step toward

the realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian

people and their just requirements"-the PLO code term

for Israel's disappearance.)

 

††††††† What evidence did Israeli leaders have that the

PLO had changed between 1988 and 1993? None at all.

Israel's Foreign Ministry report makes that abundantly

clear.All that had changed was the Israeli leadership:

Rabin and Peres had adopted the fixed idea that they

were "in Warsaw." Taking refuge in a Utopian dream world

(one can see the bumper sticker in their minds saying

"Imagine Peace"), they had blotted out previous and

present experience.

 

†††††††† Thus, it can scarcely come as any surprise that

although the ink is barely dry on Arafat's letter to Rabin,

the PLO has already managed to violate almost all the

undertakings contained in it. On the very same day that

he signed the "Declaration of Principles" in Washington,

Arafat told Jordanian TV that he was implementing the

"phased plan." Arafat refused to condemn a series of

terrorist murders of Israelis after the signing of the agree-

ment, and Rabin backed him up. declaring that Arafat is

only required to condemn attacks carried out by his own

people. After the Fatah murderers of Haim Mizrachi were

captured, under pressure from the United States, Arafat

finally, via the PLO news agency, declared he had not

ordered the attack and wanted a halt to violence. With all

this, Arafat has not hesitated to condemn Israel for con-

tinuing to arrest terrorists, including those of Hamas. The

PLO urges continuation of the Arab boycott. It even urges

continuation of the intifada in all areas not yet turned over

to the PLO.

 

†††††††† The follies of the villagers of Chelm were laugh-

provoking because they were without serious conse-

quence: if Chelmites could not tell billygoats from nan-

nygoats or Warsaw from Chelm. if their logic made no

sense (like the sage of Chelm who almost drowned and

vowed never to go into the water again until he had

learned to swim), no one was the worse for it.

 

†††††††† But it is no laughing matter when the men of

Chelm determine the future of the Jewish people.

†††††††† Rael Jean Isaac is author of Israel Divided and

Parties and Politics of Israel.