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There are a number of angles on the real story behind Arafat’s refusal at Camp David, when Barak made all those offers for a peace settlement and the Palestinian president answered “no” to the whole world’s surprise. Two dealing with the Temple Mount I think have a special meaning.

The first: President Bill Clinton had a long, particular anxiety-ridden discussion over the division of that area, so sacred to both religions. He spoke patiently, carefully, trying out a number of solutions (above and below, the Haram and the Wailing Wall, secular sovereignty and religious sovereignty) for a suitable, reasonable division.

But at a certain point, Arafat told Clinton that the Temple of Solomon, and Herod later on, was all an invention. He claimed that there was no proof that that area was sacred to the Jews, while the mosques were right there for all to see. He said that the only religion that had any right to proclaim its sovereignty there was Islam.

Clinton became truly angry and told Arafat that he knew for sure that it has been the most important, indeed the only basic, place of worship for the Jews for 2,000 years, while Islam had others. Arafat then asked him where he had heard that, and Clinton looked at him thunderstruck, as if Arafat had asked him if he was sure he even existed. More or less, Clinton’s reply went something like “I know. I read it. Everyone knows it. That’s the way it is. Stop trying to prevaricate.” That story was substantiated by the former president himself.

The second is about the negotiations: Barak and Arafat had almost agreed on division of the Temple Mount where the al-Aqsa mosque rises, the historic, archeological site of the Beit ha Mikdash containing the Holy of Holies. Arafat refused, pointblank, to have the affirmation that the site was sacred to “the Moslem and Jewish religions” written into the agreement.

This is not a territorial question or even one of principle. Instead, negation of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and therefore in Israel, the choice of a policy of negation of all Jewish rights to settle in the Middle East as its natural home is a strategic element of this intifada. While the issue of the settlements is important, it is secondary in the campaign to undermine Jewish legitimacy at the real heart of the tale.

There’s a formal reason for all this. Substantial talks were difficult to resume after the failure of the summit in the States. What else could the Palestinian leaders have asked for after their refusal of such obviously advantageous Israeli proposals? They were forced to raise their bid.

But there is another key issue, an occasion for great anxiety. History is full of certified proof of how easy it is to convince the world of a whole bunch of lies about the Jews. You can tell someone that Jews make unleavened bread with human blood or that they are hatching an international plot to take over the world. You can tell people that Jews hate everyone and conspire to evil in the country where they live and that they are enormously rich and powerful, inherently treacherous and devoted to evil. You can tell the world that we’ll have to get rid of them … sooner or later. Just tell.

There’s a good chance people will believe you.

You can tell everyone that the Temple of Solomon and Herod have nothing to do with Jewish history, that the Jews are probably extinct or never existed. You can tell people that the original inhabitants of that land were the Caananites from whom the Palestinians descend and that the Jews have disappeared like dust.

Then, along with that, tell everyone that Jews today perform planned massacres, that they used planned aggression to respond to the attacks and gunfire and mortar shells fired on Gilo. Tell people that their favorite targets are children and that Sharon is a bloodthirsty beast. Say that it’s his fault that the Middle East is in flames today, and that, despite two not-guilty verdicts, he is the perpetuator of a massacre of Palestinians committed 20 years ago.

After that, try repeating the gag about how the Israelis use nerve gas and depleted uranium and bomb children with poisoned candies. Write up a document and have it signed by a bunch of Middle Eastern, African and even European countries at the U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, stating that Israel is racist – a return to that far-fetched Cold War resolution that “Zionism is the same as racism” that the U.N. retracted with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Repeat the blasphemy that the only desperately democratic country in the Middle East, a democratic country at war, the only country in the world in this situation, is not worthy of being a partner of the civilized nations of the world. You can repeat that, while no one has the guts to point out that none of the other Middle Eastern countries has even one iota of the civic sense of liberty and human rights of that country. They’ll believe you.

Why?

The answers are complex and each one of us can find at least three or four: the simplification of a conflict where Israel is apparently stronger; Europe’s desire to throw off its sense of guilt by finally accusing the Jews of terrible responsibilities; the legacy of the liberation movements of the ’60s; the Cold War and communism; anti-Semitism.

Take a close look at how the information on events does not begin to break down that complex wall of lies, at how everything that appears obvious to an honest observer is completely the opposite of what people see and know about this conflict. And if you do, your thoughts can’t help turning to the bastion of lies the murderous ideologies of the 20th century built around the Jews: the Nazis to exterminate them, the communists to imprison them, persecute them, close them in a ghetto and, in part, kill them.

Do we have the tools today to stop the Great Lie when who knows what direction it might take? German, and Italian, intellectuals, the Europeans who watched it being fabricated back then did not know how to stop it. Still, it was obvious; it was ridiculous. In short, it was a lie. Today, we have the warnings of the past, and the State of Israel exists. We have better ways of stopping it. What we need to examine is our own moral courage, our willingness to engage in a bitter battle of ideas.


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