Between bombers and bombed, where's the choice?

Posted: Mar 26, 2002 12:00 AM
We have to back off from this one so as to achieve the wider view. Among Americans, courtesy of a robust and unshackled media, noses are pressed against all the Middle East minutiae -- special envoys, negotiating sessions, cease-fires, pullbacks, and so forth. These are not the questions most in need of addressing by Americans, for all the value Middle Easterners and American diplomats may ascribe to them. The question needful for reflection over here is: Whom would you want living next door -- industrious, generally honest people who keep noses and neighborhoods clean, or people ready to blow themselves up, and you along with them? It's really not much of a choice, though that choice's nature gets lost amid the recriminations always on display in the -- to give it a neutral name -- Palestinian controversy. The Palestinian terrorists, both individually and collectively, are truly appalling people -- as bad as any Al Qaedist who ever put a knife to an airline pilot's throat, and just as crazy in the head. I mean, whom do we want to win this thing? The PLO-Fatah-Hezbollah crowd, vengeful, murderous, armed to the teeth, ready to blow up a bus or a crowded restaurant for the sake of expressing its precious hatred? That would be all we needed: these sweethearts running Palestine-cum-Israel, doling out foundation grants for bomb research at Osama (formerly Hebrew of Jerusalem) University. If it were just the mad bombers, that might not be critical. We could hope for better things from peace-loving Palestinians. There must be some of these -- it's just that they seem, like Br'er Rabbit, to lie mighty low. One reads of families bursting with pride that Junior or Sis self-splattered on a Jerusalem sidewalk, taking several Israeli young people along for the ride. What for that matter of Arafat? Do we read of him frantically working the streets and back rooms, urging the bombers to cease and desist in the interest of peace? He might fail in that beneficent endeavor. There is nothing wrong, all the same, with trying -- the activity for which he shows hardly any taste. Where does all this get us, then? Is there a larger point than beating up on the morally disabled -- the bombers and their well-wishers? Well, sure. An ingratiating American trait is the disposition to look for solutions -- to split differences among contending parties and hope for nicer behavior. It could still happen in the Middle East. Theoretically. (It nearly did in 2000, when Arafat, in the American-brokered talks, walked away from almost everything he could have hoped negotiations would bring him.) Moreover, simple war-weariness sometimes drives compromise. But what if it doesn't this time around? If it doesn't, and the self-splatterers increase in number and savagery, it is hard to know what we should expect the Israelis honorably to do in their own defense -- apart from doing what they have to do under the law of survival. What they "have to" do could entail the reoccupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip and the physical ouster of the feckless or cunning (take your pick) Yasser Arafat. It would certainly entail the wider use of military force. It is amazing we need to have such an argument as this. Israel, with all its flaws and failings, is democratic and Western at the core. It strikes only when struck, or to prevent being struck. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the slaughter of several dozen innocent Muslims at prayer a few years ago -- acts perpetrated by Israeli fanatics -- show there are awful people on both sides. The difference on the Israeli side is that awfulness doesn't equate with national policy. If it did, Americans could stand aside while Israelis and Palestinians battled to the finish, and bad luck to them both. It doesn't work that way. As things are going over there now, our conciliatory efforts notwithstanding, we may have to choose. That is, if you call choosing between the splattered and the splatterer a choice in any normal sense. COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.