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Middle East Digest

April/May 2000

In This Issue

From the Editor

The Arab/Muslim Nazi Connection

Old Man and the Sea
IDF Leaving Lebanon After Assad Sinks Golan Deal

Oslo in a Rut
Schedule Revised, But Same Old Issues Plague Israel-PA Talks

Mixing Faith And Politics
Israel, PA Court Pope During Holy Land Tour

Viewpoint - Les Enfants Terribles

News Briefs

Middle East Hourglass


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VIEWPOINT - LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES

Pity the poor French ambassador to Beirut. Twice now in as many months, Ambassador Philippe LeCourtier has been summoned by Salim Hoss – the Syrian puppet serving as prime minister of Lebanon – to "explain" some rather refreshing candid remarks by ministers in his government. The most recent call-to-the-carpet came after France’s defense minister, Alain Richard, suggested that talks with Israel over the fate of the Golan Heights have faltered because Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad prefers his stranglehold over Lebanon to a return of the Golan.

In a radio interview, the text of which was later posted on the Internet site of the French Foreign Ministry, Richard observed, "We want… to move toward full sovereignty for Lebanon… What I fear, to speak very frankly, is that… any settlement that would lead to calling into question [Syria’s] domination over Lebanon, even if it means regaining territorial integrity, does not suit it." His insightful theory – that Assad does not actually want an accord with Israel because it would mean having to leave Lebanon – is nothing new. It simply comes from a surprising source – the former guardian of modern Syria and Lebanon in their infancy.

Hoss angrily charged Paris with "interfering with internal affairs, which Lebanon did not accept," while pro-Syrian political parties and the official press in Damascus labeled it a "hostile" position, "falling in line with a Zionist campaign to harm unity between Syria and Lebanon." Nonetheless, LeCourtier emerged "smiling" from his latest session behind Hoss’ diplomatic woodshed. And a spokesman for the defense ministry confirmed that the entire French cabinet "values Lebanon’s sovereignty and respect of UN Security Council resolutions concerning it."

In the first such episode, Ambassador LeCourtier was chastised in late February after French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin – during a state visit to Israel – accused the radical Islamic militia Hizb’Allah of conducting "terrorist actions" against the IDF in south Lebanon. This earlier shining example of French straight talk drew an equally livid reaction from the Syrian lackeys in Beirut. Summoning the French diplomat to his office, an incensed Hoss grilled LeCourtier: "Was the Nazi German occupation of French territory a security zone to protect Germany’s borders? Was the French resistance movement, of which France is proud, a terrorist movement that must be condemned?" Hoss also issued a statement saying he could "hardly believe" Jospin had made such comments.

The French prime minister also had expressed his amazement at Arab objections to Israel’s readiness to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon. "Israel has been criticized for occupying the south of Lebanon," he said. "Therefore, it is quite a paradox that now Israel is being criticized for wanting to withdraw from south Lebanon. After all, the withdrawal is a demand of the UN." At the time, French officials cautioned that Jospin’s "frank" remarks did not denote any shifts in policy. However, it is clear by now that Paris has had "une grande réalization."

THE GREAT FRENCH AWAKENING comes not a minute too soon. Israel is poised to stage a risky exit from Lebanon, and Syrian attempts to exploit the changing landscape threaten to throw the country back into the violent chaos of the not-so-distant past. The Syrian economy is on the verge of collapse, surviving solely by virtue of its umbilical cord to Lebanon’s freer marketplace. Some 1.5 million Syrians work there, earning substantially higher wages than they could back home. Some 35,000 Syrian troops control 90% of the country. Top Syrian military officers also drain off enormous profits from the lucrative international drug trade based in the Beka’a Valley. Syria’s domination is so complete, Lebanese officials are looking thoroughly silly when denouncing Israel’s pledge to leave by their country mid-summer. It will take some heavy lifting to keep the peace and eventually remove the Syrian claw from Lebanon, but credit the influential French for being constructively blunt for once.

After decades of nurturing close relations with the Arabs, the proud country of France, once entrusted with the "mandate" of nation-building in the Levant, seems to be finally coming to grips with the arrested development of Arab statesmanship among its former wards. Like any parent, Paris must be asking, "Where did we go wrong?"

But to hear the explanation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the problem in the Middle East is Israel alone. Mubarak visited the White House in late March, just two days after US President Bill Clinton failed at a summit with Assad in Geneva to salvage the Syrian peace track. Before leaving Washington, Mubarak told TV talk-show host Charlie Rose that although Israel has been in the Arab world for quite a long time, "they still don’t understand the Arab mentality, how they think." Allowing that Assad was a "dictator," Mubarak nonetheless claimed it is a "grave mistake" for the Syrian leader or any other Arab regime to concede land, lest their masses rise up against them. Asked to elaborate on what exactly Israel failed to understand about Arabs, Mubarak said: "They cannot understand how to deal with the Arabs without making them hate them or be on bad terms with them." At the same time, Mubarak said the Egyptians understand the Israelis "very well."

COULD A LEARNING CURVE on Israel’s part be the one simple thing separating the embattled Jewish state from the peace it has so long desired and deserved? So says the Arab apologist Mubarak, who just left Washington with renewed American credentials as an essential mediator on both the Palestinian and Syrian tracks. No need to request Assad or the Palestinian rais, Yasser Arafat, to risk "one inch" for the sake of ending a long and costly conflict they can ill afford to prolong; you will only upset them.

Honestly, that is a standard of conduct suited more to spoiled, unruly children, and not the measure to be expected of responsible leaders anywhere. Israelis understand well that for the past fifty years of conflict, their regional adversaries have enjoyed a complete lack of accountability to the rest of the world. Western states in particular - due to their needs for the free flow of oil and immunity from terrorism - have tolerated, pampered and indulged the bully-like behavior and attitudes of Arab leaders. That is why the sharp French correction of late is so shocking to them, and so, so welcome.

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