first of all, perhaps I shouldn't have said "both"
parties, implying only two, for there are more factions, interests,
and intriguers in this part of the world than anyone other
than a full-time factionologist could keep track of. On the
Arab side, we have not only the Palestinian Liberation Organization,
led by the ailing Yasser Arafat, but all the Palestinian splinter
factions the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(DFLP), Hamas, the Lebanese Hezebollah ("Party of God")
and that does not begin to exhaust the list of grouplets
that proliferate on the running sore of the world's most persistent
trouble spot, like maggots buried in a gangrenous limb. These
groups not only hate the Israelis, but also hate each other.
They have engaged in a constant war of attrition against the
West, as well as a merciless internecine struggle for hegemony
over the Arabs, that will never end, no matter how many "historic"
accords are hailed as the beginning of a "new era."
BURDEN OF HISTORY
this part of the world, there can be no "new era"
not with that much history embedded in the very landscape.
Three of world's major religions call this place the "holy
land," and no matter who signs what piece of paper, conflict
is inevitable and perpetual. The Vatican's recent complaint
to the Israelis about the proximity of a new mosque rising
next to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is just
the latest wrinkle in a four-way tug-of-war. Churches jostle
mosques springing up in the shadows of synagogues.
with shrines, and mythic places, Palestine is a veritable
field of historical landmines: there is no such thing as an
ordinary hill, oh no that unprepossessing mound
of dirt and rocks over there is known to Christians as the
Mount of the Blessed Vision, to Muslims as the Mountain of
the Holy Prophet, to the Greek Orthodox as the Knoll of Holy
Ghost, and to the Jewish settlers as the Hillock of Hillel.
And they have been fighting over every square inch of it for
the greater part of the last two thousand of years.
GOD OR THE US GOVERNMENT
God could "broker" an agreement among the warring
parties and so naturally the US government has stepped
in as the nearest equivalent. Such hubris begs for retribution
and if the "peace plan" now being concocted
in Washington gets any further than palaver, a rebuke of major
proportions may not be long in coming.
everything else that comes out of Washington, D.C., the Middle
East "peace process" is precisely the opposite of
what it pretends to be. The elaborate diplomatic structure
being built up around this ongoing process Camp David,
the Wye River Accord, and now the Syrian-Israeli talks
seems like a setup for perpetual war if ever there was one.
The whole point is to build a diplomatic wall around Israel:
US policymakers imagine that this web of agreements will provide
a shield, of sorts, that will deflect Arab anger at the Zionist
is an illusion that Israeli hardliners have rightly dismissed.
For all three agreements or potential agreements depend on
the power of the Arab leaders to enforce them. But the tides
of fundamentalism are rising: a mighty religious and civlizational
passion inflames the hearts the minds of the Arab "street."
The aging (and ailing) Hafez
al-Assad cannot last much longer, and the rules of the
Syrian succession are murky. Arafat is in even worse health,
and, without him, no single Palestinian leader would have
the authority to guarantee the terms of the Wye
accord. The rule of Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak is much more solid, due to massive
amounts of US taxpayer dollars pumped into Egypt, and there
is no immediate reason to think that a fundamentalist takeover
is imminent or even likely. Yet even there the specter
of Muslim fundamentalism is far from absent, in spite
of systematic government repression, and continues to haunt
the regime. As Mark
Helprin, the novelist and Wall Street Journal contributing
editor put it the other day, the emerging "peace plan"
apart from all consideration of the activities and attitudes
of powerful and implacable states such as Iraq and Iran. It
will be surrendering its last portions of strategic depth.
It appears to be accepting a major shift in the correlation
of forces, with no provision for contingencies such as the
radicalization of Egypt; the unexpected transfer to its antagonists
of nuclear weapons from Russia, China, North Korea, or Pakistan;
or the sudden rise of a unified Arab coalition following a
single galvanizing event, as in 1967 and 1973."
short, the US diplomatic house of cards could come tumbling
down in very short order and so the question arise:
why build it in the first place? But the Arab "street"
is not the biggest obstacle in the path of peace. The greatest
resistance to the American peace offensive, in terms of effectiveness,
is likely to come from within Israel and also the United
States. Helprin and other critics of the coming Grand Rapprochement
denounce Israeli Prime Minister Barak as the Neville Chamberlain
of the Jewish state: they rightly disbelieve that the Arab
street cannot be restrained indefinitely. Israeli settlers
are already denouncing the proposed restoration of the conquered
Golan Heights to Syria as a sellout and announce that
they have no intention of moving, while the mysteriously
idiosyncratic Druse raise a ruckus and demand their
rights, too. Who will untangle these conflicting claims, who
will calm these impassioned partisans that's right,
you guessed, we're sending in the troops.
IN THE MARINES
understood as a prerequisite for the success of the whole
project is a "peacekeeping" force comparable to
that authorized by the 1979 Camp David agreement and which
now patrols the Sinai. Along with units from Colombia and
Fiji, the 529 soldiers of the elite XVIII Airborne Corps spends
weeks in complete isolation behind barbed wire encampments,
battle-ready 24 hours a day. Including logistical support,
around 870 US military personnel are now the core of the "multinational"
presence in the Sinai, and that is exactly what the present
administration has in mind for the Golan Heights. The only
difference is that they're going to need a whole lot more
than 870 "peacekeepers" to evict 17,000 Jewish settlers
IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS?
has always been the tendency of US policy in the region: to
bring in American soldiers, in whatever "multinational"
guise, as the ultimate guarantors of Israeli national security.
The Israel Firsters, in Israel and elsewhere, do not look
forward to this prospect with any great enthusiasm. As nationalists,
they naturally resent the idea that a foreign country, such
as the US, could or should be trusted to defend the Jewish
state. Is it good for the Jews? This is a question to be decided
in Israel, not Washington. But such archaic concepts as national
sovereignty will not get in the way of the globalist "peacemakers,"
who have their own economic and geopolitical interests in
the region interests that may not always intersect
civilizational passions sweeping the region are not limited
to the Arab "street" Israel is itself undergoing
a period of religious intensity and even turmoil. Radical
fundamentalists are rising to challenge the left-idealist
egalitarian roots of the Zionist movement, and agitating for
a return to orthodoxy and religious-ethnic purity. While the
Western media went crazy when the "far right" Freedom
Party came in second in the recent Austrian elections, because
party leader Joerg Haider supports some limits on immigration,
we hear virtually nothing about it when the same phenomenon
erupts in Israel. Isn't it funny how that works?
SOUND OF SILENCE
When a faction of ultra-Orthodox
Jews in coalition with Israeli government officials proposed
a new law severely limiting the "right of return"
which provides a right of automatic citizenship to anyone
who can claim kinship with a Jewish ancestor, where were the
outraged editorials? Austria did not threaten to cut off all
diplomatic relations with Israel, as Israel threatened to
do with Austria after the election returns came in. The pundits
were silent. Yet the Israeli backlash against immigration
is not fundamentally different from the Austrian and Swiss
movements against multiculturalism, reported so luridly and
extensively in the English-speaking press. Lured to Israel
by the generous welfare benefits bestowed by the socialist
system, an increasing number of non-Jewish immigrants are
beginning to display some political clout. Rabbis complain
that they are setting up butcher shops that deal in pork,
a violation of the religious laws at the conceptual core of
the Jewish state. Yet I have seen only one,
or at most two news stories about this phenomenon
and no commentary on the subject.
even the outrageous news that Christian religious symbols
crosses, mangers, etc. in Israeli hotel lobbies
will be forbidden by law during the Christmas season has aroused
the least bit of indignation. Since the link to the single
Associated Press story [November 25, 1999] has long since
expired, I will reproduce the whole short item below, for
CRACK DOWN ON CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS
and Christmas trees have been banned from Israeli hotel lobbies
during the millennium holiday season because they are offensive
to Jews, Israel's chief rabbi said yesterday.
a flood of Christian pilgrims expected during the holidays,
Israel's rabbis earlier this month said Christmas celebrations
had to be held out of sight in closed-off rooms. Crosses are
"against the Jewish religion" and the sight of a
cross or a Christmas tree "is forbidden for a Jew,"
chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau told the Foreign Press Association
hotels face further restrictions because both Christmas and
New Year's fall on Friday night the Jewish Sabbath.
can be no music in the hotels on Friday night, because "music,
using microphones ... is a desecration of the Sabbath."
decision to keep Christmas celebrations hidden in closed rooms
was a compromise reached between hotels and tour operators
eager to draw Christian visitors and the rabbis who issue
the valuable certificates ensuring that the hotels are kosher.
rabbis have tried to stop any Christmas and New Year's celebrations
in hotels that receive the kashrut certificates which
includes most hotels in the country."
OF THE THE "X"-WORD
the uproar if Jewish religious holiday celebrations had to
be similarly closeted. Can anyone doubt that the roar of righteous
indignation would be head from pole to pole? And yet, somehow,
the punditocracy is strangely subdued in the presence of this
kind of "xenophobia." Please note that the "x"-word
never gets mentioned in this connection only if you're
(Haider), Swiss (Swiss Peoples Party), French
(LePen), German, or American (Pat Buchanan).
ABOUT IT, NORMAN?
idea that the US must be the military and diplomatic guarantor
of Israel's national security is being resisted not only by
those who would put America first and stay our of the region,
but by Israeli nationalists and their American friends, who
see that it would endanger the nation's security and compromise
its sovereignty. I know Pat is reaching out these days, but
I wonder: can Buchanan and Norman Podhoretz can get together
on this one? While the former may be against intervention
on general principles, I would think that the latter would
join the "keep US troops out of the Golan" coalition
on purely pragmatic grounds. To begin with, only Israel can
ensure its own defense. Secondly, if we find that American
troops are one day the major barrier between tiny beleaguered
Israel and an Arab world united in "holy war" against
Zionism, then the answer to the perennial question
"Is it good for the Jews?" should be fairly
the face of a protracted and bloody struggle, both pro-war
and anti-war sentiment in this country would inevitably express
the passions of ethnic and religious solidarity. Such a debate,
if it were at all prolonged, would inevitably replicate, in
this country, the sectarian hatreds that sparked the war to
begin with: and so the contagion of civilizational conflict
would spread, with war as the vector and Madeleine Albright
as a kind of diplomatic Typhoid Mary.
$18 BILLION BRIBE
of the Israel-Syrian peace accord is estimated at around $18
billion and this is on top of the $1.8 billion
bill for the Wye accord, recently wrangled out of Congress.
Even with its legendary clout on Capitol Hill, the Israeli
lobby will have a hard time getting that major a commitment
out of a Republican Congress hostile to foreign aid. But the
cost of intervention is bound to be paid in American lives
as well as tax dollars.
troops in the Golan Heights and, who knows, perhaps
even back in Lebanon would be the ultimate test of
interventionist sentiment in this country. It is a test the
present administration is not yet ready to take; what is significant,
however, is that, for the first time, the possibility is raised.
And that ought to send alarm bells ringing all over America
and make the issue a top concern of all the presidential
candidates. Where does George Dubya stand on US troops in
the Golan? Would Bill Bradley have US soldiers fight and die
to protect the Palestinian mini-state from Arab "extremists"?
Does John McCain want to see Americans evicting Israeli settlers
from their sacred ground? And what does Steve Forbes have
to say about the prospect of a permanent US military presence
in the most volatile trouble spot on God's good earth
and please don't tell me that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian
Authority need to immediately institute a flat tax!
US NOT BE ENSNARED
only Pat Buchanan has even addressed this important issue,
which will necessarily occupy much of the attention of our
next President. In A
Republic, Not an Empire, he proffers some very wise
advice: steer clear of this snake-pit. While hoping for "a
just peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,"
he warns that we ought
to let this country become ensnared in this bitter and interminable
quarrel by either imposing peace or policing it. We have already
allowed ourselves to be drawn into the Balkan quagmire; to
repeat this in the Middle East is to invite another Lebanon.
As the peace process moves forward, the United States should
begin to disengage militarily from the Middle East. While
we have friends and allies there, no vital US interest is
at risk in this volatile region as there are no more
Soviet client states there. As for the specter of Islamic
fundamentalism, the huge US military presence and the perception
of American dictation and domination only exacerbates that
DIKTAT OF DIPLOMATS
Buchanan calls for ending foreign aid to Israel and Egypt,
a drain of $5 billion yearly, and lays out the terms of a
fair peace. But that peace, he avers, can only be made by
the warring factions not imposed by the diktat of diplomats,
but mutually agreed to by ancient enemies finally exhausted
by endless war. As Buchanan puts it: "Ultimately, the
choice is for Israelis and Arabs to make."
that is true, as it indubitably is, then the prospects for
peace in the Middle East are indeed bleak for both
sides are steeped in a religious obscurantism and fanaticism
that has recently been increasing in its intensity and irrationality.
To jump into the middle of this blood feud would be madness
just the sort of madness of which our rulers have proved
all too capable.