We are all supposed to go mad with joy at the prospect of yet another diplomatic "breakthrough" for the Middle East "peace process" but pardon me while I stifle a yawn. For this "peace process" is all process, and no peace. As the "peace" process was being announced, news of an Israeli attack on a south Lebanese school hit the wires: 20 children were injured, some seriously. The Israelis duly apologized a gesture that seems worse than useless. Yet the U.S. stubbornly keeps trying to "broker" an Israeli-Arab agreement, resorting to arm-twisting, bribery, and everything short of grabbing both parties by the scruff of the neck and knocking their heads together. Yet nothing seems to work. What's up with that?
Well, 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."
In 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.
Dotted 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.
Only 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.
Like 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 project.
This 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"
"operates 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."
In 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.
Long 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.
This 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 with Israel's.
The 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?
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.
Not 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 your delectation:
"Crucifixes 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.
"With 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 yesterday.
"And hotels face further restrictions because both Christmas and New Year's fall on Friday night the Jewish Sabbath.
"There can be no music in the hotels on Friday night, because "music, using microphones ... is a desecration of the Sabbath."
"The 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.
"Some 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."
Imagine 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 Austrian (Haider), Swiss (Swiss Peoples Party), French (LePen), German, or American (Pat Buchanan).
The 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 obvious.
In 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.
The projected price-tag 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.
US 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!
Strangely, 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
"not 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 problem."
Furthermore, 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."
If 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.
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