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-
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
†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
†††††††† 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
†††††††† 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.