Ignoring Reality

Posted: Aug 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Writers make a living stringing words together. So we know that words matter -- but only as long as they have clearly understood definitions. Change the definitions, make the words mean the opposite of what they seem to mean, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Much like the Middle East “peace process.”

Take a look at those two simple words. We all know what they mean. A “peace process” would entail at least two groups moving, well, toward peace. Frankly, that’s the opposite of what’s actually happening.

On Aug. 19, a homicide bomber killed at least 20 people on a bus in Jerusalem. Members of the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. Strangely, there was officially a “cease-fire” in place at the time of the attack. In fact, this was the fourth militant attack since June 29, when the three major Palestinian terrorist organizations declared a three-month cease-fire.

Four attacks. During a “cease-fire.”

Even more strangely, the terrorists insist that a “cease-fire” still exists. As CNN’s Jerrold Kessel reported on the night of the attack, “both the Islamic Jihad and Hamas [are] claiming responsibility. [But] both say that they remain true to the cease-fire which they proclaimed seven weeks ago.”

Hold on. The terrorists insist they’re remaining true to a cease-fire, even as they blow up busses and kill 20 people. And our major media outlets accept that explanation. Or, at least, they’re willing to report it uncritically.

As long as the bombers go unchallenged, the phrase “cease-fire,” like “peace process,” has no meaning, or at least that it no longer means what most of us think it means. This is especially dangerous because, like it or not, the United States is deeply involved in the region.

Israel and the Palestinians are supposedly following a “road map for peace” laid out by President Bush. It’s supposed to lead to an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel by 2005. Those words all sound good. But do they really have any meaning? Or are we just pretending they do?

In June, our State Department released a statement to “welcome the appointment of Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas and the strong start he and his government have made in difficult circumstances, and the acceptance by Israeli and Palestinian authorities of the [Bush] roadmap.”

Well, on Aug. 19, Abbas was in negotiations with leaders of Islamic Jihad at the very moment the bus bomb went off. Clearly, he is powerless to stop actual violence. So what’s the point of Israel or the United States involving him in peace talks? Until Abbas can convince those who are carrying out violence to stop, any agreement he signs is meaningless. It would be nothing more than words on paper -- words we know Abbas can’t back up.

After the attacks, Abbas apparently decided he ought to do something about terrorism. On Aug. 20, Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Elias Zananiri told CNN the terrorists “have decided to change the rules of the game. The Palestinian National Authority will act accordingly.” Again, good words. Let’s wait to see if they’re followed up by actions, or if they are just so much hot air.

Why should we wait? Because it’s not clear the Palestinian people really even want peace with Israel? The New York Times reported that, after the Jerusalem attack, “fireworks burst over Hebron as Palestinians there celebrated the bombing.”

“Celebrated.” The attack killed 20 people and injured more than 130. Many of the victims were children. Yet many Palestinians saw it as an occasion for celebration. Meanwhile, their leaders still spout meaningless rhetoric about cease-fires and peace processes.

If we want the Israelis and Palestinians to be serious about a “peace process,” we’d better make sure there really is such a process in place before we talk about it, because simply talking about it and wishing for it won’t make it happen.

In fact, pretending there really is a “peace process” when we know there isn’t one is dangerous. And if it keeps Israel from doing everything possible to prevent terrorist attacks, pretending there is a “peace process” might even be getting innocent people killed.

Words have consequences. And using words to obscure the truth does, too.