On the Middle East, Ever the Middle East

Posted: Apr 18, 2002 12:00 AM
Q: So you're back from some time off? A lot happened while you were gone. A: It's always good to get away. But as Sinatra said, "It's oh so nice to come home" - despite all the catching up one has to do. Removed as I was, I did notice that a quote surfaced by New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, acknowledging he used to smoke dope: "You bet I did, and I enjoyed it!" And idiots with too much money in their pockets were bidding $3,200 for a wad of gum spit out a month ago in Tucson by Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez. Q: Then you missed all the news about the Middle East? A: News about the Middle East enters everywhere. Q: So what's your take? A: Utter dismay at the renewed hostility, worldwide, toward Israel. Anti-Semitism seemingly penetrates every culture at every level. Q: Isn't that mean-spirited and harsh? A: I am convinced more and more every day that it is the truth. The mind keeps replaying Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fine words about the importance of judging people principally by "the content of their character." Q: But the Israelis insistently occupy the Palestinians' homeland. Why don't they just withdraw and let the Palestinians get on with their lives? Even President Bush and Secretary Powell were demanding that they withdraw, to no avail. A: The Palestinians never have had a homeland. As a reader of my newspaper noted in a letter to the editor last month, they have twice refused to accept a homeland - "once, more than 50 years ago, when the United Nations offered them part of the Palestine Mandate (governed by Britain between the World Wars), and (in 2000) when Yasser Arafat literally walked away from achieving a country of his own," to the cheers of Arabists and Islamists around the globe. Now as then - unsatisfied with less than 100 percent of what they consider to be THEIR West Bank - Arafat has gone to war for that "100 percent." Q: While you were away, you obviously missed the piece by Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Clearly speaking for all the moderate Arab nations, he expressed his "great sympathy with the suffering of the Palestinian people and the anger of the Palestinian leadership because of the terrorist Israeli aggression against them." He added, implicitly regarding the demands that Yasser Arafat order a halt to Palestinian suicide bombers targeting Israeli innocents: "No leader in the world can guarantee that no one will resort to violence; but I can guarantee that a desperate and oppressed person whose dignity has been insulted and who is willing to die cannot be stopped by any means. I am convinced that the government, army, and security agencies of Israel have lost the war regardless of how many battles they win." A: First, there are no genuinely moderate Arabist/Islamist regimes, just as there are no democratic ones. Second, the ambassador's comments reflect similar proclamations of solidarity by Jordan's Queen Rania and of Arafat's wife Suha. Safely ensconced in Paris with her daughter, the latter said that if she had a son, there would be "no greater honor" than to sacrifice him for the Palestinian cause. With a deft rhetorical touch, she asked how anyone could "expect me and my children to be less patriotic and more eager to live than my countrymen and their father and leader who is seeking martyrdom?" Third, if the Arabist/Islamist regimes are so upset about the Palestinians' plight, and so caring, why do they resist solving the Palestinian problem by taking in the Palestinians and absorbing them in their own countries - many of the Palestinians being refugees of losing wars the Arabists/Islamists have waged against the Israelis across 54 years? Q: If all that were true, then Bush wouldn't have made his demands of the beast Sharon.... A: Look. Sharon's problem is immediate - the very survival of his nation. War erupted under Arafat 18 months ago in Israel's very midst. On the premise that the first war Israel loses is the last war it will fight, and with Palestinian atrocity piling on atrocity, Sharon finally had to act to rub out the urban-war cancer metastasizing throughout his country. Bush's problem is longer term and (generally, still) farther away. To Bush, the Middle East is but a front - albeit a major one - in the worldwide terror war. Q: If Bush and Sharon are fighting the same war, why would Bush demand that Sharon fight it with any less vigor than Bush appears to be prosecuting it worldwide? A: That, my friend, is your best question. The prospect of hanging concentrates a man's mind: Sharon had to act to save Israel, and never mind how others might view the consequent actions; Israel is the only front currently concerning him. Bush is moving forces on a multiplicity of fronts. Failing at least to admonish Sharon - for show or from genuine concern - might lose Bush cooperation or acquiescence regarding battles to come. The Saudi ambassador's comments suggest no palliation is possible there; ditto comments from certain Europeans with lingering anti-Semitic sentiments. Yet Bush had to issue his pleas to Sharon to desist, though Sharon soldiered on. And the great Colin Powell came home after six days on scene with nary a pledge of a pullout or a cease-fire, with hardly a Yasserian condemnation of violence, and with seemingly nothing tangible regarding a peace conference or follow-on political/diplomatic negotiations. Q: It all was a sham then, and nothing was gained.... A: There's a difference between a sham and a tactic, though they can be one and the same. And the gain? The gain was this: In response to a mounting clamor that he (begin ital) do something about Sharon, Bush made a ballyhooed yet failing public effort. Sharon persisted in (a) purging the Palestinian camps of their war-making capabilities and (b) isolating Arafat. And Bush can continue planning, among other things, the fatal Saddamization of Hussein.