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Israel's negotiating posture shrinks as Palestine's gains with violent acts

On May 15, "seething tensions across the West Bank and Gaza Strip exploded into the deadliest violence in the territories in nearly four years" (the Washington Post). "Tensions exploded" or "violence broke out" (another favorite pressed into service by USA Today) is a curious and passive locution.

But the violence that "broke out" in the West Bank and Gaza was no spontaneous combustion. It was no Act of God. It was an act of Arafat. The Nobel Peace laureate encouraged it. His Fatah faction helped organize it. His people responded.

In the 1980s, it was rocks and bottles. Now, thanks to the "peace process" that granted the Palestinians a 40,000-man police force, the Palestinians had live ammunition at their disposal, too.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

We are seven years into the Middle East peace process agreed to in Oslo. Israel has its most dovish government ever. It has granted the Palestinians the first free government in their history. It has transferred to Palestinian control almost all of Gaza and half the West Bank even before final negotiations.

And it ended the occupation. Fully 99 percent of Palestinians live under Yasser Arafat's authority. And yet "violence breaks out," i.e., the Palestinians decide to start a one-day mini-war. Why?

May 15 is the anniversary of Israel's founding. On May 15, 1948, with the end of the British occupation of Palestine and in accordance with the mandate issued by the United Nations six months earlier, the Jews of Palestine declared independence.

The riots were a protest against the birth of the State of Israel, something the Palestinians had supposedly accepted.

The riots, moreover, mark not just an anniversary but a tactic. Arafat was unleashing the "street" to get more from the Israelis at the negotiating table.

Arafat has done this in the past. Whenever he feels that the Israelis are not granting him enough concessions fast enough, he acts. And Barakturned the other cheek.

Having seen his negotiations with Syria end in humiliation, Barak has staked his peacemaking reputation on Arafat.

He has not only surrendered the territories that the Clinton administration had pressed hard for Israel to give up. His negotiators have been assiduously giving away trump cards, indicating they are prepared to recognize a Palestinian state and to give up practically all of the West Bank including Jordan Valley.

And what does Barak do on the very day of the riots? Gets his Cabinet to give to Arafat three symbolically important villages in the Jerusalem areafor nothing.

The collapse of Israel's negotiating posture is breathtaking. Israel has been giving away authority and territory, and violating its own "red lines" on practically every issue in dispute. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have stood absolutely firm.

In 1993, their demands were: 100 percent of the West Bank, all of East Jerusalem, the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, and statehood. They have moved not an inch in seven years. Indeed, as one Palestinian negotiator explained defiantly, they already made their one concession in 1993 _ they had recognized Israel's right to exist.

The riots of May 15, the anniversary of Israel's establishment, shows how flimsy and insubstantial this concession really is. No matter. Barak is hard at work.

On a final peace? Dream on. He is negotiating giving the Palestinians yet more territory in return not for peace but for time: Arafat pockets his new territory, statehood, and international recognition. What does Barak get? Agreement to postpone talks on Jerusalem, refugees and final borders.

Until Arafat can digest his gains and then arrange for violence to "break out" again.

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Washington Post Writers Group