In all arguments of policy and politics, there comes sooner or later the inevitable moment when it becomes simply undeniable that one side of the argument is true, or mostly so, and the other is false, or mostly so. Sometimes the moment arrives as a thunderclap, as in the case of American isolationists on Dec. 7, 1941. More typically, it is reached in cumulative fashion, as a gathering weight of facts finally passes some tipping point.
The inevitable moment is no petty-minded partisan. It arrived for conservatives on the issues of civil rights and the environmental movement; and it arrived for liberals on budget policy and welfare reform. Inevitable moments are ignored at peril. Political factions that refuse to admit what the general public no longer accepts as debatable propositions are condemned to irrelevancy. Thus, the fate of the isolationists after Pearl Harbor, the fate of the segregationists, the fate of the American left for its decades-long refusal to admit the truth about Russia, China and communism.
The moment has now arrived for the doves of Israel. The argument over peace in Israel has been for many years at its core a simple one. The hawks on the right have argued that the Palestinians do not, in their hearts, want a peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state; they want no Jewish state at all. The doves on the left have argued that the Palestinians, if given a measure of land and autonomy, would support at least a side-by-side peace, where Jews and Arabs would tolerate each other as neighbors on contested land.
Throughout the "peace process" that began with the Oslo accords in 1993, the doves have maintained their position, and they have maintained it in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary: the continued killings of Jews, Yasser Arafat's insistence that what was being forged was a Palestinian state with Jerusalem its capital, the unchanged hostility of the man in the Gaza street. They have maintained that Arafat's Palestinian Authority was something approaching a state with which a democracy might do mutually honorable business--when any visitor to Gaza can see that Arafat's land is a gangster-police state, or more precisely, a gangster-police non-state.
Meanwhile, all along, the Israeli right has grimly, glumly said: No, you are wrong; the Palestinians don't want to be our friends; they want us dead or gone.
On Sept. 28, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by a small army of Israeli troops, visited the spot in Jerusalem claimed by both Jews and Muslims as a holy land--what the Jews call Temple Mount and the Muslims call Haram ash-Sharif. Sharon made no attempt to enter an actual Muslim place of worship. Nevertheless, the visit was clearly a provocation, and it succeeded. The resulting anti-Jew, anti-Israel, anti-peace riots quickly blossomed into something more like war, with not only Palestinian civilians throwing rocks but Palestinian Authority troops and police engaging in firefights with Israeli forces. By Oct. 10, at least 89 were dead, most of them--not surprisingly given the overwhelming superiority of the Israeli forces--Palestinian.
For a while, the doves and their allies in the international press presented the facts on the ground through the usual lens: It was all Sharon's fault, the resulting venting of Palestinian rage was regrettable but understandable, the Israeli forces were massively and murderously overreacting.
But then a curious thing happened. Time passed; and the Palestinians were still in the streets, still attacking Israeli positions, still insisting on a war that past lessons had taught them could be won diplomatically by losing militarily. At a certain point, it became impossible to maintain the fiction that what was happening in the streets did not express not only popular will but the will of Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians, it seemed, actually did not want peaceful coexistence; they wanted war, and they wanted the Jews dead or gone.
Things of course will not rest here. Great pressure is being exerted and will be exerted even more to paper over what has happened and, as they say, move on. But there is no moving on from the inevitable moment. One side was right in its fundamental assessment of the Palestinian view of "peace." The other was wrong. Maybe this will change over time, but that is the reality now, and in Israel, everyone knows this.
Michael Kelly is the editor in chief of National Journal.