Michael Miner (Hot Type, 11/16/01) is to be commended for bringing to light the dismay many members of the Jewish community feel over the Chicago Tribune’s treatment of Israel in its pages. One need go no further than a quote in Miner’s piece attributed to Tribune editorialist Storer Rowley to see the extent to which criticism of Israel comes quite naturally, while Yasir Arafat is treated with kid gloves:

“I was a great supporter of Barak, but his proposal didn’t go far enough. The longer the intifada goes on, the more doubt I have about Arafat’s ability to seize this opportunity to be the statesman he needs to be. But there’s a great preponderance of opinion that it’s all Arafat’s fault–he turned on the violence. That’s a very simplistic attitude.”

To describe as “simplistic” the belief that Arafat turned on the violence after Camp David turns a blind eye to the facts themselves, irrespective of how “simplistic” they may seem to be to Rowley. According to all official American accounts, Arafat walked away from the negotiating table after being offered virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza, as well as East Jerusalem. Cornered by then-prime minister Ehud Barak to put his cards on the table and settle the dispute, Arafat rejected the offer, made no counterproposal, and left. In short order bombs were going off inside Israel and civilians were being shot dead on the roads. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were given the green light to wage a terror war against Israel unhampered by Arafat’s dozen or so security forces. Militia groups associated with Arafat and the PLO also began killing Israeli civilians and soldiers and continue to do so even now. If this is not proof enough, the Palestinian minister of communications admitted in a widely publicized speech that the violence was planned by Arafat even before Camp David. So much for good faith negotiations, and for denials of responsibility for initiating the violence.

While Arafat may not order each bombing and shooting, he is, at the very least, responsible for them. He let the dogs loose and has done nothing to rein them in, this despite repeated urgings by the U.S. and the European Union. It is undeniable that Arafat is again using terrorist violence to continue his war against Israel. If Camp David demonstrated anything, it is that Arafat has no intention of ending the conflict, at least with Israel still in existence. Yet Rowley, like members of the now-discredited Israel far left, still clings to the fantasy that Arafat may one day get in touch with his inner statesman. One can only wonder how long it will take before Rowley finally gives up on Arafat. Apparently over 30 years of terror has not been enough.

As for Rowley’s reference to settlements, this is a red herring if there ever was one. Neither Yasir Arafat nor his delegation ever mentioned settlements as a stumbling block to negotiations, or a reason as to why they failed. It was only after they were unable to give any reason why they rejected Barak’s offer, and never bothered to make a counteroffer (this was, after all, negotiation), did they again repeat the mantra of settlements in a transparent attempt to obfuscate their belligerence at Camp David. Barak, who was later driven out of office by the Israeli electorate by the largest margin ever, offered to uproot settlements, consolidate others, and even to give the Palestinians land inside Israel proper to correct the balance. But this is all beside the point. Arafat refused to negotiate and turned to what he knows best–violence.

Rowley’s thinking, which is apparently shared by others at the Tribune, is reflective of a broader campaign by the Palestinians and their supporters to destroy the “myth” that Arafat was to blame for the failure at Camp David. This version–which is held by both Bill Clinton and special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross–is dismissed as a “simplistic narrative,” one that fails to give sufficient attention to the complexity of the negotiations. For the most part, this attempt to undo the facts of what happened at Camp David is confined to the Palestinians and their apologists. But to think that this sort of revisionism has found fertile ground in the mind of at least one Tribune writer is truly horrifying. And those who support a peaceful resolution of the conflict have every reason to be up in arms.

Evan J. Winer