I would devote more attention to fine details if I thought the large ones were generally understood. I, therefore, invite my readers to obtain two crayons, a razor blade and an outline map of the Middle East.
Use one colour of crayon to fill in the Arab countries, as neatly as possible, plus or minus Iran. Now, sharpen the other crayon with the razor blade to as fine a point as you can and use it to colour in Israel -- taking great care not to slip into Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, or the Sinai. The area around Jerusalem will be especially difficult, perhaps you should use a rapidograph.
Let my reader now dwell on just one crucial, historical fact. It is the single biggest obstacle to obtaining any kind of peace between Israel and the Arabs: All the Arab states, with the arguable exception of Jordan, have consistently demanded a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and all of their descendants -- to the patch you coloured in as Israel. They have confined the great majority of these people to refugee camps for more than half a century, at the expense of the United Nations. The children and grandchildren and now great grandchildren of these refugees have thus been kept from assimilating and making new lives elsewhere, as the ultimate demographic weapon against Israel.
The State of Israel was created in 1948, by the same UN, in the face of an invasion by the armies of all its Arab neighbours. Some three-quarters of the Arabs living in what became Israel fled -- mostly on instructions from their own leaders, who promised they would soon return. The number was between 600,000 and 700,000. At the same time, Jews dispersed throughout the Arab world -- some 860,000 of them, counted on their arrival in Israel -- fled their own homes and left most of their belongings to make new lives in Israel. Forget blame -- I am only saying look at both halves of the apple.
The Jews of Israel are five million today, plus a million-and-a-quarter Arabs, the descendants of those who did not leave and, in fact, flourished. The Palestinian diaspora -- descendants of those who did leave -- has been variously estimated at now five-plus million. And almost everyone now living in the "occupied territories" can claim at least one ancestor who lived within the Green Line to clinch his own right of return. If Israel can be forced to receive them, Israel ceases to be the only Jewish state and quickly becomes the 23rd member of the Arab League.
Surprise: Israel does not agree to commit suicide. Surprise: the Arabs will settle for nothing less. The diplomatic "road map" leaves this issue to be resolved "later."
It does, however, demand that Israel begin now, to remove Jewish settlements from the West Bank. For it is commonly accepted, among the world's diplomats, that Jews have no right by history or birth or otherwise to live without invitation in territory "belonging" to Arabs.
Now let us draw in the focus to present events, as recent as yesterday. The Israelis retaliated for the latest terrorist hits on Israeli soldiers and civilians by attempting to assassinate Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior leader of the terrorist organization Hamas. They did this several days after the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly declared that he would "under no circumstances" act against Hamas, and after Hamas itself had publicly pledged to continue terror strikes on Israel. From his hospital bed, Rantisi repeated his call for the extermination of all "criminal Zionists" -- an expression which in the Hamas lexicon means all those Jews not descended exclusively from Arab forebears (who would thus be entitled to "dhimmi" or protected minority status in return for paying special taxes under an Islamic theocracy).
President Bush, through his spokesman, condemned Ariel Sharon for ordering an attack that "will undermine efforts by Palestinian authorities and others to bring an end to terrorist attacks and does not contribute to the security of Israel." As the recipient of the strikes of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush should understand that Mr. Sharon will be his own judge of what constitutes a necessary response to terror.
Mr. Sharon and Israel will not stop retaliating for terrorist hits. Nor, for that matter, will they be stopped from dismantling West Bank settlements, if they can see the prospect of something in return. In yesterday's case, there was nothing in return: For Mr. Abbas had already declared he wouldn't himself act against Hamas.
The Israelis will make hard decisions, but not suicidal ones, and granting an open season on Jews to Palestinian terrorists would be suicidal.
The Bush administration is trying to appease Arab opinion by telling the Israelis to do what they just won't do (stop defending themselves); and to assuage Israeli opinion by telling the Palestinian Authority to do what they just won't do (confront the terrorists themselves, and thus sign their own death warrants).
This is not a "road map." It is a demand for a double suicide, and it is absolutely crazy.
©2003 - Ottawa Citizen