Israel News

A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

October 12, 2001
Issue number 348

Commentary...

Civilization Envy: On Muslims, Israel, and McDonald’s  By Jonah Goldberg

Someone once noted that a "gaffe" in Washington is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Thanks to globalization, this is a worldwide phenomenon.

A Reuters story this morning begins, "Muslims around the world today demanded an apology from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the European Union recoiled with horror after the Italian asserted that Western Civilization was superior to Islam."    The Arab League demanded an apology or an explicit denial that the Italian could have even said such a thing. The European Union, led by Belgium (stop laughing), acted as if someone had used his fingers to eat caviar. "I can hardly believe Mr. Berlusconi made such remarks," gasped Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian prime minister.

Mr. Berlusconi told reporters in Berlin, "We should be conscious of the superiority of our civilization, which consists  of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it, and guarantees respect for human rights and religion." "This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries," he asserted.

While critics have called his remarks "unacceptable," "barbaric," "silly," and — of course — "racist," I am at a loss to find a single untrue word in his remarks (meanwhile, how his comments can be "racist" is beyond me, since all "races" can be found within the Islamic world).

Now of course, this hasn't always been so. There was a time when the Muslim world was out in front in the race for human  advancement, and there was an even longer period when the leader in that race was too close to call between the Islamic, European, and Chinese civilizations. But for right now, and for the foreseeable future, members and fans of Western Civilization have every right to wave the big foam"We're Number 1" finger as high as we want.

There's not a single category of enlightened governance in which the West broadly speaking isn't superior to the Islamic world — again, broadly speaking. Religious freedom, social mobility, and tolerance, the guarantee of rights and liberties in law, prosperity — you name it, and we beat the robes off them  (though in family cohesion, they probably have the edge on us).

To disagree with this assessment would require us to throw out the very standards by which we judge our own society's  shortcomings. For example, you can't say (as Jesse Jackson does all of the time) that the United States is racist or authoritarian or a police-state, and hold that Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, et al., aren't far worse, without being intellectually dishonest. You can't say that it's a crime that America "lets" so many of its people live in poverty, and then think that Saddam Hussein, with his dozens of palaces, is in some way a more enlightened leader. The same holds even for our "allies" Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Even in the historical arena, the argument is not so cut-and-dried as the anti-Westerners would have us believe. After all, the Arabs are just as culpable for their participation in the slave trade as the West. What makes the West unique was not our involvement in slavery, but our insistence upon ending the institution, both at home and abroad.

No, I'm beginning to believe that the central source of animus from the Arab world is, quite simply, envy.

Indeed, I've been reading a lot of books and articles about the Middle East lately (what? I do research sometimes), and I'm coming to the conclusion that this really doesn't have much to do with Israel after all. At first, like everybody else, I could hardly avoid the conclusion that the World Trade Center was related in some significant way to Israel. I never agreed with the folks who are always looking to peg any of these sorts of things on our support of Israel, but it seemed naïve to think that the Jewish state didn't have something to do with it (even though bin Laden's biggest gripe is the presence of our "crusader" armies on the Arabian peninsula — and they aren't there because of Israel, they're there to protect the flow of oil from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).

Of course, even if the attack did result from our support for Israel, I wouldn't have agreed with those who say September 11th proves we should abandon Israel. After all, you can make enemies by having the right policies just as easily as you can from having the wrong ones — just ask all the cops who are hated just for being cops. We supported Afghani freedom fighters in order to defeat the Soviet Empire, and just because the Taliban is a harsh unintended consequence of that support, doesn't mean we should have held the door open for Soviet expansionism. Does it?

Bernard Lewis, perhaps the greatest living English-language historian of the Middle East, wrote a brilliant essay eleven years ago in the Atlantic entitled "The Roots of Muslim Rage." It is the best short piece I've found on this subject to date, and I think anyone interested in this topic should read it (thanks to Andrew Sullivan for calling it to my attention). Lewis shows that while Israel is obviously unpopular in the Arab world, it may not be for the reasons so many knee-jerk Israel foes believe. Consider that when the Soviet Union was a bigger supporter of Israel than the U.S., the Arab world didn't turn their enmity upon the Russians for it. Nor did they praise America when we stood aloof from Israel's plight. The United States has no imperialist or colonial record that even compares to Britain's, France's, or Germany's, and yet we are denounced for our "imperialism" more than any other country. Indeed, the Russians ruled millions of Muslims, while the U.S. ruled  virtually none. And yet the United States remains the bad guy above all others. Lewis suggests, with professional restraint, that this is because the Muslim world is jealous and resentful. Pure and simple.

Islamic culture, politics, and religion — which are far more conjoined than they are in the West — cannot reconcile with the fact that the West, led by America, is the lead dog on the sled of humanity. Israel may serve as a painful reminder of this superiority, but they will find something else to gripe about no matter what you do.

Lewis gives a wonderful example. In 1979, a group of Muslim dissidents seized the Great Mosque in Mecca — "an event in which there was no American involvement whatsoever,"  Lewis writes — and an angry crowd in Islamabad, Pakistan, attacked and burned the American embassy in response.

This is the sort of thing individuals and even whole societies do when they feel they aren't getting the respect they deserve. Personally, it reminds me of our domestic race-mongers who are convinced that every American action or event has to do with race. It's an attempt to elevate your own status by picking  an "opponent" of greater stature — even if that"opponent" doesn't spend a minute out of his year thinking about you. The deeper your sense of victimhood, and the more unfair the world is to you, the greater your claim to moral superiority.

Indeed, after September 11, claims to social martyrdom were invoked by Arab-American activists far more quickly than any denunciations of the assault. In that corner of the national conversation, the shrieks of outrage about discrimination against Muslims came fast and furious, while the fatwas  against mass murder remained in their holsters.

But this attitude also reminds me, oddly enough, of the global assault on McDonald's, about which I've written a bunch. Around the world, McDonald's is attacked for all sorts of bizarre reasons, including ones that don't technically qualify as "anti-American." Depending where you go, Mickey D's haters may invoke the environment or animal rights, economics or religion. Indeed, protestors often prefer attacking McDonald's to attacking  the local American Embassy.

While ideologues of all kinds see McDonald's as an enemy, McDonald's sees them only as potential customers. This conflict of visions alone may explain a lot of the problem. But from a broader perspective, the anger may be explained by the fact that McDonald's is a tangible signal that the world is going in a direction these people don't like. McDonald's is carried on the same wind as consumer culture generally, women's rights, economic freedom, and all sorts of other stuff, good and bad.

But one thing is certain: That wind blows from America. This arouses jealousies, inflates grievances, and fans resentments not based in fact. The problem is that even if you get rid of McDonald's, you do nothing to stop the wind. In this sense, Israel may just be like a giant McDonald's franchise in the  Middle East — an infuriating reminder of the fact the Islamic world won't be calling the shots for a long time to come.

In fact, as Lewis argues better than I, this poses a real problem for both sides in the conflict of civilizations. If America is going to be resented for its success no matter what, there isn't much  we can or should do to make them like us. All we can do is protect our own interests as best we can. And then ait for them to grow up.  (National Review Sep 28)

They Hate Us Because They Hate Israel     By David Gelernter.

There are two competing theories about the Sept. 11 massacres. The Israeli-connection theory holds that we were hit because we are Israel's only friend in the world. The Great Satan theory, on the other hand, deems the Israel connection to be only a sideshow. Mideast terrorists hate us for our own selves.

The Israel-connection idea has been put forward by Europeans and other shady characters who hope that America will take this occasion to turn her back on Israel, as Europe has long done. I have tried to disbelieve this theory -- but I can't. The Israel theory is right. And when all is said and done, I'm not sorry it is.

There is no silver lining to the vicious murders. But if the attack came not merely because of who we are but because of noble things we did, it is better to acknowledge that fact with pride than to mistake or overlook it. Perhaps in the end the Sept. 11 massacres will look to us the way Pearl Harbor did to our ambassador to Britain in 1941: "So tragic in itself and yet the final mistake that was to end the power of the Axis." Indeed yesterday the military might of America was unleashed against Afghanistan.

The Great Satan idea resembles another theory: that Hitler declared war on America four days after Pearl Harbor out of sheer obstinate, irrational hatred of the U.S. and all she stood for -- freedom, democracy, justice. Yes, the Adolf Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens do hate America and all she means. But Hitler had more concrete grounds for going to war.   

The U.S. had supported Moscow with aggressive war-supply shipments ever since Germany's attack on the U.S.S.R. in June 1941. And in supporting Britain against the Nazis, the Roosevelt administration had pressed right to the brink of war -- with shipments of materiel, U.S. Navy help in patrolling the Atlantic for U-boats, and the joint British-American proclamation of the Atlantic Charter in August 1941. Privately, Churchill quoted Roosevelt on the topic: "I shall never declare war; I shall make war." Yes, Hitler hated America; but America earned the Nazi declaration of war as a fighter against evil. Today, we ought to be proud of having earned the terrorists' hatred.

The analogy is rough. Britain once stood alone, except for her faithful friend, the U.S.; today Israel stands alone, except, again, for the U.S. But Israel's enemies do not control half the earth, and the U.S. has never tried to provoke terrorists into a confrontation. Still, the analogy is useful. Terrorists evidently control large segments of Arab opinion the way the Nazis once controlled Germany -- by swagger and lies, by dispensing a dangerous hallucinogenic ideology for losers, and by murdering opponents. It is a tragedy that so many Arabs seem to support terrorist groups; yet we have to remember that, in many parts of the Middle East today, it takes heroism to oppose them.

But isn't it true that Mideast terrorists hate Western civilization, and America as its most powerful representative, without bringing Israel into the picture? No doubt, but that hatred can't be the whole story.

If Osama bin Laden and his friends hate America because they hate freedom, democracy and the West, why don't they hate Britain, France and Italy just as much? Is it because we are the conspicuous intruders in the Middle East? But that's not true. Ever since the late 1960s, France has worked hard to be conspicuous in Arab lands, favoring the murderous regimes that terrorists love. But if these terrorists hate Western civilization in principle, surely France's cozying up to their favorite thug-governments ought to make them especially resentful of France. And of course France (unlike the U.S.) has an imperialist history in Arab lands -- in North Africa, Syria and Lebanon. But Mideast terrorists don't mind France. France is no friend of Israel.

Over the course of the past century, many European powers played the role of conspicuous alien in the Middle East, far more so than the U.S. does today. Italy held Libya. Spain had colonial possessions in northwest Africa. Britain controlled the Suez Canal and (jointly with Egypt) the Sudan. She also held decisive influence in Arabia, Jordan and Iraq, controlled Palestine under the League of Nations mandate, and Iranian oil via the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. From roughly 1920 through the early 1950s, Britain was the Mideast superpower. Arab fighters took on colonial armies everywhere, but never hated Europe with anything approaching today's poisonous passion against the U.S. Arab nationalists launched no terrorist strikes against the people of London or Rome or Madrid.

Maybe that was because terrorism hadn't yet been invented? But it had been. In 1929, Arab terrorists murdered 60 Jews in Hebron. That same year they killed 45 Jews in Safed, and dozens more all over Palestine. This is the real theme of the Middle East. Not hatred of the West; hatred of Jewish settlers and Israel. Fanatical hatred of the West is fairly new. Fanatical hatred of Jewish settlers is old.

Martin Gilbert cites (in his history of Israel) a political leaflet in Jerusalem, 1929: "O Arab! Remember that the Jew is your strongest enemy and the enemy of your ancestors since olden times." The resolution of a 400-man meeting in Damascus, 1937: Britain must choose "between our friendship and the Jews." A 1937 memo by Britain's foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, noted that Britain must abandon her promise to let Jews build a homeland in Palestine; otherwise she will incur "the permanent hostility of all the Arab and Moslem Powers in the Middle East."

Notice the "otherwise." Notice the "must choose." There was no question of automatic Arab enmity merely because Britain was a conspicuous Western superpower in the Middle East. To the extent Britain supported the Jews of Palestine (as she largely did during the 1920s and '30s), she incurred Arab hatred. To the extent she abandoned the Jews of Palestine (as she did in the late '30s), Arab hate-mongers found it easy to forgive her.

Of course, Arab thinking has changed, and terrorism has too. No doubt these terrorists do resent and loathe America for herself. No doubt they would even if Israel had never existed. But the evil that murders at random and then celebrates has the handprints of Jew-hatred all over it.

         Why are these things important to say? Some people believe that to acknowledge the Israeli connection is to encourage the U.S. to back away from Israel. It would be far from irrational for the U.S. to do exactly that. But it would be dishonorable, and the many dead in our many wars make it impossible to doubt that we stand on our honor and stand by our friends. When the U.S.S.R. backed Arab terrorist states in the '70s, U.S. support for Israel was a far more dangerous proposition than it is today. In 1973, it brought us within shouting distance of global war. We did not back off then and we will not today.

         The Great Satan theory has been put forward by thoughtful people with irreproachable credentials. They could be right; but I can't help suspecting that in the end they fail, albeit unintentionally, to do America justice. The U.S. will strive to do what is right, and this is no empty promise. These are words imprinted in American blood across the whole 20th century, and now on the 21st too. A moment when we have suffered grievously for doing right is exactly the wrong moment to shrug our shoulders and blend into the crowd. New York and Washington were hit, not Paris and Rome.

         This is equally a terrible time for Israel to make concessions to Yasser Arafat, and for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to suggest that the U.S. is not a trustworthy friend of Israel. Of course we are, and we have proved it so many times that there is nothing to discuss.

         Now is the time to speak plainly to our allies, and inspire them to do right: to oppose terrorist murder not only when the victims are Americans but also when they are mere Jews, not only in New York and Washington but in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If that happens, the terror gangs will have accomplished the last thing they ever wanted: to increase justice in the world.

The writer, a professor at Yale, is the author, most recently, of "Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology" (Basic Books, 1999).

(Wall Street Journal Oct 8)

Syria as Peacemaker?    Washington Times    Editorial  October 9, 2001

         On Sunday, the United States formally notified the United Nations Security Council that its counterterrorism military attacks may not be limited to Afghanistan. The legal document the United States sent to the U.N. Security Council asserted that the United States reserved its right to attack terrorist cells beyond Afghanistan, a senior administration official told the Associated Press. Clearly, one leading candidate for later attack is Syria, which has sponsored terrorism and harbored and protected terrorists for decades, including several groups operating in Lebanon, which Syria considers a province. Yesterday, the U.N. General Assembly elected Syria to one of the 10 rotating seats on the Security Council, a development that Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos rightly decried as a "mockery of the council's recent counterterrorism resolution."

         Syria has remained a fixture on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism since it became a charter member of the list in 1979. Demonstrating yet again that Orwellian doublespeak is an integral part of all totalitarian regimes, including Syria's, earlier this month Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa announced that Syria was "determined to help the international effort to combat terrorism." Syria's "help," however, was conditional. Alluding to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Mr. Sharaa declared that terrorism could not be eliminated until its "roots and causes" were addressed, notably the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, which Mr. Sharaa called "the highest level of terrorism."

         Never mind that the occupation to which Mr. Sharaa referred was the direct result of the 1967 Six Day War, which was precipitated by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's expulsion of U.N. peacekeepers and Egyptian and Syrian mass military mobilizations. And never mind that Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in the historic 1979 land-for-peace agreement negotiated at Camp David. Regarding the Golan Heights, which Syria lost to Israel in 1967, it is worth recalling what happened following last year's negotiations in Shepherdstown, W. Va., between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Mr. Sharaa himself. Less than three weeks later, Mr. Sharaa delivered a speech in Syria at the Arab Writers Association meeting. He was asked whether the recent land-for-peace negotiations indicated that Syria would be granting "the Zionists a right in Palestine." Mr. Sharaa confirmed what Israel had always feared was Syria's long-term strategy. "[R]estoring Palestine in its entirety is a long-term strategic goal that cannot be achieved in one stage," Mr. Sharaa declared. "The first stage is the stage of restoring the occupied lands of 1967." He left no doubt what stage two would be.

         Indeed, the Syrians have rarely disguised their long-term objective of obliterating Israel. Terrorism and war are merely the means. For years Syria has provided a safe haven for some of the most extreme members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It strongly supports Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

         In short, Syria deserves to be in the crosshairs of the anti-terrorism campaign, not on the U.N. Security Council.   (Washington Times   Oct 9)

Sharon's Warning Shot     Jerusalem Post   Editorial

         Whatever caused the crash of Sibir Airlines Flight 1812 from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, the tragic results are, unfortunately, certain. Seventy-eight passengers and crew are dead, among them over 50 Israelis. That most of these Israelis came to live here only recently only compounds the tragedy, and heightens Israel's responsibility to determine what happened.

         Given the attacks of September 11, and that witnesses from a nearby Armenian aircraft reported seeing an explosion from the Russian plane, the prospect the plane was downed by a terrorist attack initially seemed to be a real one. But American satellite surveillance reportedly proves that it was an errant Ukrainian missile that downed the plane.

         Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yushchenko should be given some credit for pledging a quick and thorough investigation into the tragedy, given that his defense minister had categorically denied the possibility that a missile from a Ukrainian military exercise could have brought down the plane. It is also encouraging that, according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to include Israel fully in the investigation that has already begun.

         It is imperative that there be complete cooperation among Ukraine, Russia, and Israel, and any foreign intelligence agencies that can shed light on what happened. The sooner the cause of the crash can be positively determined, the better it will be for relations between the nations involved, and at least the added burden of uncertainty will be lifted.

         Forced to confront tragedy upon tragedy, Sharon also addressed yesterday's terror attack in Afula, in which three Israelis were murdered and seven wounded, just a day after two Israelis were murdered in another terror attack in Elei Sinai.

         Sharon's statement that the cabinet had authorized "all necessary measures" in response seemed to be an explicit warning that Israel's policy of restraint has reached its limits.

         Most striking, however, was Sharon's direct accusation against the United States: "Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a 'convenient temporary solution.' Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism."  The Bush administration will no doubt be surprised by Sharon's hurling what is the most painful arrow one ally can aim at another, the charge of Munich-style abandonment. Aside from the element of surprise, however, the Bush team is hardly in a position to argue that Sharon's charge is unjustified.

         Sharon is absolutely right that it is morally and strategically bankrupt for the US to act as if its alliance with Israel is a liability in the war against terror, while praising Arab regimes that have been fanning the jihad against America for years. The excuse that stiff-arming Israel is needed to build a coalition does not wash - where is it written that the US needs the permission of Arab states to act in its own self-defense? If anything, lessening the bonds between the US and Israel at this moment stinks of weakness, when what is needed is reassertion of America's commitment to defend its interests across the board, including Israel's security.

         President Bush's speech at the State Department yesterday was encouraging in that he reiterated that America would not only "have no compassion for terrorists," but would have "no compassion for any state that sponsors [terrorism]." But when it comes to the terror Israel is confronting, Bush went mushy, saying only "that in order for there to be peace, we must reduce the level of violence."

         Israel's problem is not some amorphous "level of violence" but a terrorist offensive as unacceptable as that facing the US.

         The fact that Sharon had to accuse the US of appeasement at this time should be a serious warning signal for US policy. If any two countries should be tightly coordinated in the war against terror - against both nations - they are the US and Israel. If the Bush administration does not want to be surprised by such accusations in the future, it should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, not push it into a corner.    (Jerusalem Post Oct 5)

History Repeats Itself     By Isi Leibler

         We are told that history never really repeats itself, but have not recent events in America created a sense of deja vu?

         Like the Nazis, the Islamic fundamentalists unleashed their attack on civilization by first targeting the Jews. The world ignored Nazi anti-Semitism and was willing to betray Czechoslovakia in order to appease Hitler. Had the Nazis been confronted earlier, millions of lives might have been saved.

         The UN, including members actively financing and supporting terrorism, condemned Israel for defending itself. The Europeans employed double standards and intensified their hostility toward Israel, even after Arafat rejected Barak's offers and reverted to violence. Our only friends - the Americans - continued to maintain an even-handed policy, making mindless statements about ending the cycle of violence without identifying the cause or distinguishing between victims and victimizers. 

         Then, America itself was targeted by Islamic fundamentalists.

         President George W. Bush responded by declaring war against international terrorism and countries harboring terrorists. But it only took a day or two before Israel was again requested to assume a low profile while countries such as Syria and Iran, which are on the American blacklist as havens of terrorism, were invited to join the new coalition. And the Middle East's most notorious terrorists - Hizbullah,  Hamas, and Islamic Jihad - were conspicuously omitted from the new catalogue of international terrorists, which America is compiling.

         This bizarre scenario continued, with American Secretary of State Colin Powell once again pressuring Israel to resume negotiations with Arafat or be accused of undermining the campaign against terrorism.

         It is understandable that the Bush administration should seek to enroll as many Muslim countries as possible in its coalition against terrorism, or at least soften their opposition. It might even be argued that Israel should comply with American requests to assume a low profile. But it is utterly grotesque for Israel to be asked to assume the role of the sacrificial lamb or compromise its own security requirements for the sake of the wider anti-terrorist coalition. The specter of Czechoslovakia 1938 looms high.

         The attempt by the State Department to gloss over terrorism directed against Israel has generated spirited protests from congressional leaders, in particular Tom Lantos. However, the Jewish media recently quoted a number of Jewish leaders, warning their fellow Jews against rocking the boat by questioning American policies vis a vis Israel. Amongst them are some with unblemished track records of support and devotion to Israel.

         One such prominent leader said: "We have never been aligned with a greater force for good than the United States of America. And if the United States in this crucial moment says to its friend and ally, we need your help, even if Israel doesn't think it's a good idea, you do it."  Another stated: "You don't want to push the Israel issue” Let Israel push the Israel issue while the American Jewish community gets on board behind the president."  More ominously: "It is not in our interest to go out ahead of a president who has a 90% rating." 

         Such remarks are not necessarily representative. Indeed, the Presidents Conference has yet to formulate their position once American policy has been finally clarified. But the quotes have a chilling resonance.

         One recalls that when news of the Nazi exterminations became known in the US, various Jewish groups appealed to president Roosevelt to intervene - to bomb the railways, or do anything that might inhibit the terrible slaughter. Historians tell us, however, that the revered leader, Rabbi Stephen Wise, urged restraint. Claiming to be a close friend of the president, he said that Roosevelt was a good man and would do his best to help. But Wise warned American Jews that they should not pressure their popular president to intercede because they would be accused of distracting from the war effort and this would generate an enormous outflow of anti-Semitism.

         The situations are not analogous. Today the US is the greatest democracy in the world, the American Jewish community has a proud record of standing by Israel and unlike the Jews of the Holocaust, the Jewish state is capable of defending itself.

         But a worst-case scenario is not to be discounted in which the US decides to pressure Israel into compromising its security interests in order to appease anti-Israeli elements. Under such circumstances there is the danger that some American Jewish leaders could mistakenly confuse patriotism with blind support for a misguided administration. It would be the first time in many years that American and other Diaspora Jewish leaders would be obliged to stand up and be counted in a potentially unsympathetic environment. 

         The odds are that American Jews are sufficiently self-confident and would rise to the occasion. Indeed, Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the President's Conference, has already criticized the administration's endorsement of Palestinian statehood as "the wrong message to send at the wrong time."

         But one should not underestimate the painful choices that may have to be faced, and be conscious of the historic and perhaps even existential consequences for the Jewish state in the event of misplaced or befuddled judgments by fellow American Jews.    (Jerusalem Post Oct 7)

The writer is chairman of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress.

What's Wrong With A Palestinian State   By Bret Stephens

The West can't afford to be neutral between democracy and dictatorship.

         On Dec. 9, 1969, Secretary of State William P. Rogers gave a speech at the Galaxy Conference on Higher Education in Washington, in which he laid out his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. "A durable peace," the secretary said, "must meet the legitimate concerns of both sides. . . . To call for Israeli withdrawal as envisaged in the U.N. Resolution without achieving an agreement on peace would be partisan towards the Arabs. To call on the Arabs to accept peace without Israeli withdrawal would be partisan towards Israel. Therefore, our policy is to encourage the Arabs to accept a permanent peace based on a binding agreement and to urge the Israelis to withdraw from occupied territory when their territorial integrity is assured."

         Thus was born what instantly became known as the Rogers Plan. The plan itself, which also offered vague formulas on the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees, proved as ineffectual as its author. Yet it furnished a blueprint for U.S. Near East policy that successive administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have followed ever since: a posture of evenhandedness between Arabs and Israelis, adamant rejection of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the view that "land for peace" is the only vehicle for a comprehensive resolution of the conflict.

         One might think that 30-plus years worth of failed peace initiatives--including the 1982 Reagan Plan, the 1993 Oslo Accords, last year's Camp David summit and the subsequent Mitchell Plan--would be enough to persuade someone in the higher reaches of the State Department that there was something amiss with this paradigm. But as Henry Kissinger once observed, "When enough bureaucratic prestige has been invested in a policy it is easier to see it fail than to abandon it."

         So it hardly comes as a surprise that the Bush administration, after initially vowing not to micromanage Mideast policy the way President Clinton did, appears to have reversed course. According to a report in the New York Times, prior to the Sept. 11 attacks the Bush team was plotting an intensive diplomatic initiative to revive final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And going one better than the Clintonites, the administration was also prepared formally to back the creation of a Palestinian state. On Tuesday, President Bush confirmed those reports when he declared, "The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right of Israel to exist is respected."

         On one level, such a commitment is groundbreaking. According to the Times, it would represent "the first time a Republican administration has backed a Palestinian state." In fact, it would be the first time any administration has done so. But on a deeper level, it is only the natural culmination of the Rogers Plan and its various successors, particularly the Oslo Accords. In this, it portends not just failure, but disaster.

         The problem here has nothing to do with the moral right of the Palestinians to a state. Not even Ariel Sharon disputes that Palestinians are entitled to live under a government of their own choosing, where they can enjoy political freedom, personal security, and civil and property rights, provided they respect the rights of their Israeli neighbors to the same. Nor is the problem connected with the drawing of boundaries: Most Israelis would happily return to the pre-1967 borders if they could feel reasonably certain that doing so would bring an immediate and lasting cessation to terror attacks.

         The problem, rather, has to do with the nature of a prospective Palestinian state, and the signal that American recognition of such a state sends to the Arab world at large. As anyone who has actually spent time in Palestinian areas knows, a Palestinian state would almost certainly be politically dictatorial and ideologically radical. This was true before the outbreak last year of the Al-Aqsa intifada; since then, the radicalization of the Palestinian population has only increased, with polls showing 75% popular support for suicide bombings. This is a state that cannot be trusted to govern itself democratically, much less respect the security of its neighbors--not just of Israel, it should be said, but of Jordan as well.

         Worse yet is what such recognition would do to America's efforts to build a lasting antiterror coalition in the Middle East. The Bush administration may now be gambling on the idea that recognizing "Palestine" would gain the U.S. some sympathy in places like Egypt without actually committing it to a follow through. But this merely purchases time. The Arab world would quickly become even more aggrieved with the U.S. if, after declaring itself for Palestinian statehood, it failed to live up to its commitments, however symbolic.

         Meanwhile, Israel would come under ever-greater pressure to make compromises--"for peace," of course. But if last year's Camp David summit held one lesson, it's that the most Israel can concede is less than the minimum the Palestinian Authority can accept. It's hard to conceive of any negotiating formula the Bush administration can offer that would bridge this gap, short of putting a figurative gun to Mr. Arafat's head. This too may be in the president's plans. But by contemplating the recognition of a Palestinian state, Mr. Bush is doing the opposite, rewarding the terror tactics Palestinians have employed over the past year. This, of course, is an invitation to further terror.

          In his speech to the Galaxy Club, Secretary Rogers failed to appreciate that Arab hostility toward Israel was not born in the 1967 war (even if Western hostility was), meaning that it would not cease with the return to the pre-'67 borders, much less the creation of a Palestinian state. He also made the mistake of attempting to remain neutral between totalitarian regimes and a democratic one, which history shows does nothing to appease the former while undermining the latter. Now the Bush administration seems set on doing the same thing.

         The only way a workable peace treaty--and a viable Palestinian state--is ever going to emerge is if Israel and the U.S. confront Arab radicalism head on by showing that the West is not neutral between democracy and dictatorship, and that any resort to violence will be punished, not rewarded. If the president wants progress in the Mideast, he should return to his original script.    (Wall Street Journal Oct 7)

The writer is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.


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