Mideast: more of the same?

Posted: Mar 06, 2002 12:00 AM
The killed and the killers are undergoing the indefinability that attaches to the long ago. Seventeen Athenians were killed on Wednesday and 11 Spartans. Nine Algerians were trapped, eight French ambushed. Twelve South Vietnamese ... 20 Viet Cong ... "XYZ Raids Kill 17 ABCs." In Tel Aviv, "Three Die in a Shooting."

We do know that, however shrouded by the mists, in history we nevertheless did have ultimate winners and ultimate losers. Ask any Carthaginian. Can we assume that in today's situation in the Mideast a historical outcome is foreseeable? Perhaps not a final outcome. But some factors of the struggle limn into reality.

  • Ariel Sharon cannot keep it up. He is the head of a democratic government, and cannot sustain majority support in a situation in which the daily returns of his leadership are pockmarks of dead Israelis. To the question, What do you say, Gen. Sharon, about your promise to bring an end to the tribulation of your country? he has no answer.

  • As for his counterpart, whatever was once thought about the powers of Yasser Arafat, now it is clear that he cannot exercise control over the Palestinian world. A British observer on the BBC reported last week that the one thing we have absolutely learned in the past bloody month is that there is "no single authority over Palestinian terrorism."

    The perspective takes us nonstop to Vietnam in the 1960s. The Viet Cong needed the sustenance that the North Vietnamese ferried down the Ho Chi Minh trail -- bombs and other explosive materials. But the Viet Cong did not need megatonnage to slice the throats of South Vietnamese village leaders. Single bullets and sharp razors would do it.

  • Inasmuch as there is no regnant authority over Palestinian impulses, the Israelis need to devise the means to affect the national resolution of a whole people. In the case of the Viet Cong, the answer was: victory. In the existing travail, it has got to be less than that because the Israelis are not going to give up. The South Vietnamese had to do this, lacking the arms and the cohesion to prevail.

    Attention is given, then, to initiatives that hold out hope for substantive diversion of purpose: something that might mitigate Palestinian rage and affect hegemonic Israeli defiance.

    Egypt's Hosni Mubarak suggests a meeting between Arafat and Sharon. It is difficult to imagine that such a meeting would do anything less than inspire new levels of antagonism. Sharon hates Arafat and has reason to do so. Arafat hates Sharon and has reason to do so. To set up a meeting at which the soreness of mutual hatred could only be enhanced is not productive statesmanship.

    We have Saudi Prince Abdullah's proposal. It has the virtue of what they call in the business world a "novation." To suggest that Israel recall its settlements, withdraw every Israeli pup tent to behind the 1967 borders and move to co-government of Jerusalem is certainly visionary. But not so much so as to have been thought acceptable by the Barak government as recently as two years ago.

    But the notion is certainly revolutionary that the Arab states should transform themselves to docile neighbors of an independent Israel. Immediate objections have been raised by two troublemakers, one of them mostly a symbolic disrupter, the other, an active belligerent. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi has said he would withdraw from the Arab consortium. Syria's Bashar Assad has said that no progress can be made until the Golan Heights are returned. But the Golan Heights are necessary to the safety of Israel if war threatened that safety.

    If the Abdullah initiative were to flower, the fear of war would recede. Is it conceivable that the Abdullah covenant would actually eliminate the 50-year-old fear the Israelis have for their mere existence?

    Here, of course, is the crux of any proposal that might cut through it all, and this is the factor of the guarantee of Israel's security. A credible force operating under the new covenant would need participation by states willing to patrol a peace that would take time to engender genuine changes in attitude. And the United States would need to be one of these guarantors.

    It is a vision, the idea of a settled Mideast community, with teen-agers no longer lining up to act as bomb carriers against Israeli women and children. Most visionary nostrums are to be rejected for the same reason we reject Utopia. But the alternative is another headline tomorrow: "XYZ Raids Kill 17 ABCs."