WASHINGTON -- Underlying most political questions are facts, strange as that sounds of those absorbed with only the buffoonery of politics. Facile politicians and political commentators do best when they can avoid these facts or vaporize them with rhetoric. In the two big stories of the week facts made fools of the political poseurs. The big stories were the presidential debates and the serious violence spreading throughout the West Bank.
The debates were for the most part a chaos of conflicting numbers and claims. If there were facts heaved back and forth in the pols' wrangling, they were quickly obscured by an opponent's obfuscations.
Republican partisans will argue about the edge their candidate had owing to some choice line, his cool, or his impregnable position on tax cuts or educational choice. The Democrats will make similar claims for their candidate. The overall effect is a cloud of ignorance as to who might have won and what might have been established.
Yet there was one clear moment. That came when some clearly established facts were introduced, facts about which no one could plausibly argue. Toward the end of the debate, Jim Lehrer, who as moderator performed admirably, asked Gov. George W. Bush, "Are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?"
Bush responded by mentioning two events that indisputably had taken place while Al Gore was vice president. Bush reminded viewers of Gore's tortured excuse for his campaign irregularities of 1996, "no controlling legal authority," and of his lies about not knowing the nature of a fund-raising event at a Buddhist temple, an event now found to have been illegal.
Anyone who knows anything about recent history knows that these events took place. They are facts. Gore could not refute Bush so he ducked and attempted to change the subject. He implied that this recitation of chill fact was an attack on him. It was the only clear moment of confrontation in which one candidate was obviously right, the other wrong. Attribute that clarity to the facts.
Facts can only be wished away for so long. For nearly eight years and with increasing insouciance the Clinton administration has been ignoring the facts that underlie the conflict between Israel and her enemies. Now supposedly a visit by a retired Israeli general and active politician, Ariel Sharon, to the Temple Mount set off rioting by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
The Clinton administration has been talking as though a peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis were at hand since last summer. Such seasoned American foreign policy specialists as Zbigniew Brzezinski had apparently been assured during Camp David that a peace settlement was at hand. They, too, were persuaded to speak of an imminent settlement to the media. But the fact is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were ready to negotiate anything of substance at Camp David. The negotiations were typically rushed under the pressure of the President's political agenda. Now matters have been made worse. With a recklessness that utterly ignored the facts, President Clinton began pressuring the Israelis to consider what no earlier Israeli government had considered, redividing Jerusalem.
Aggressiveness was encouraged among the most bellicose of Palestinian factions. Contrary to the administration's scheming were the facts. Israel is surrounded by implacable foes. The foes bear ancient enmities against Israel and her friends in the West. Only by maintaining strength and the most deliberate of diplomacy will peace be negotiated with the Palestinians.
The administration's push to redivide Jerusalem has encouraged open war. The hostility
of many Palestinians against Israel should not have been ignored. Yasir Arafat has repeatedly failed to secure public order in the areas under his government. His forces have built up their armaments in blatant disregard for the Oslo accords. Now we see a clarifying moment. An Israeli citizen goes where he should be free to go and all hell breaks out. The peace process has been brought to a violent halt.
All this because facile pols failed to be restrained by the facts. The facts in the Middle East are that Arafat and his lieutenants are not ready to live in peace with a democratic Israel.