November 27, 2001

George Will:
Sneering at Powell, Flacking for Sharon

Last Sunday, George Will published a column mocking Secretary of State Colin Powell's initiative to restart the Mid East peace process. Powell, he writes, would have the United States, "intruding itself, with special emissaries and multiplying plans" into the conflict. Instead, the US should just exercise "restraint" and let well enough alone.

But letting well enough alone is not what Will really means. He is not suggesting that the United States "restrain" itself from giving a $2 to $3 billion annual subsidy to Israel (a sum larger than US aid to any other country, despite Israel's distinctly first world economy), nor that it restrain itself from shipping to Israel the most up-to-date weaponry the American arsenal can produce. Nor does he suggest that Washington restrain from deploying its veto in the UN Security Council in order to shield Israel from unpleasant resolutions.

Feeding a large stream of dollars, tanks, helicopters and jet fighters to one side in a nasty conflict is not the kind of intrusion which upsets Will. What irks him is that Colin Powell has laid out a plan to follow through on the George Mitchell and Warren Rudman plan to prod Israel into a peace settlement with the Palestinians who inhabit the land it seized in 1967. For Will, working towards a peace process – trying to create the kind of settlement backed by every one of America's NATO allies, and every friendly Arab country – is reckless intervention.

Will seeds his argument with a few untruths, or half-truths, perhaps hoping readers won't notice. He claims that at Camp David in the summer of 2000, former Israeli premier Ehud Barak offered 98 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and they scorned the offer. Actually Barak's maximum offer at Camp David – at least the verbal suggestion that went from Barak to President Clinton to the Arab negotiators – came to about 90 percent of the West Bank, with a compensating 1 percent to be taken from Israel proper.

This was certainly a more realistic offer than any previous Israeli leader had made, and demonstrated considerable political courage on Barak's part. Most observers, (including knowledgeable Palestinians) agree that it was a shortsighted mistake for Arafat's team to fail to respond in kind. But it falls well short of the 98 percent claimed by Will, or the 95 percent touted by various Israeli spokesmen after the collapse of the negotiations.*

Will takes some detours for slaps at Arafat's provisional governing authority; it is a "thugocracy" which could not successfully govern Switzerland, he writes. Apparently Will thinks it a simple matter to establish democratic rule in a territory whose commerce and roads and water supply remain under the control of a hostile occupying power. More realistically, he might have said that even the Swiss would have a trouble governing themselves properly as subjects of the occupation in Palestine.

Will then amuses himself wondering whether Powell will try to persuade Ariel Sharon to drop his "supposedly utopian" demand for seven days without violence before proceeding even to talk to the Palestinians. Yet the sincerity of Sharon's wish for seven days of "peace and quiet," can be viewed in the light of the Israeli prime minister's response to Powell's peacekeeping speech, delivered the Monday before Thanksgiving. The day after, Reuters reported "Israel demolished Palestinian houses in Gaza and said it would build new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron." The day after that, the Israeli military settled on a Palestinian militant to kill with their American built helicopters.

The death toll since Powell's speech: 13 Palestinians, including some elementary school boys in Gaza who touched an Israeli tank shell rigged as a booby trap and a thirteen-year-old shot in the chest for throwing rocks; one Israel soldier, killed by mortar fire in the occupied territories. Sharon desperately wants seven days of peace and quiet before negotiations can begin, you see.

I understand that there are Israelis who believe, as Sharon's late tourism minister Zeevi so charmingly put it, that the Palestinians are "lice" who deserve no better than extermination; I understand too that some American Jews have invested their hearts and souls in the belief that Israel has a divine right to the biblical lands of "Judea" and "Samaria." I don't understand the Waspish George Will.

The United States will be fighting terrorism in one form or another for a long time to come, and the Palestinian situation has become a festering wound which has diminished and diminished again America's standing in the Middle East. The failure of American peacemaking efforts have erased whatever positive image the United States might once have had by virtue of not being a colonial power. The Israeli settlers in Gaza and the West Bank – many of whom, to our shame, are actually American citizens – serve objectively as agents for fomenting animosity against this country – animosity both from the Palestinians whose land and resources they take and from all those throughout the Arab and Muslim world who identify with the Palestinian plight. Why does George Will want to exacerbate the problem?

If he were putting forth an argument based on concern for Israel's security, it would be morally understandable. But he doesn't even bother. Perhaps that is because it is so clear that those who want to destroy Israel or submerge it under endless terror are the major beneficiaries of the Israeli occupation. It gives them a large and growing pool of Palestinians living in hopeless circumstances from which to recruit.

A peace settlement – one which gives Palestinians promise of normalcy, education, and careers, and the prospect of a better life for their children – would go far toward draining the swamp of future terrorists. Peace would thus benefit the Israelis who want and deserve tranquil lives of their own. Its benefits to the United States and the West, which cannot win its struggle against terrorism without allies in the Muslim world, are vast. Colin Powell understands this and is trying to make progress accordingly. George Will's sneering answer is, "Create more Terrorists."

*Ron Pundak's "From Oslo to Taba: What Went Wrong?" is a concise analysis of the Camp David negotiations and their failure. This can be found in the Autumn 2001 issue of Survival, the publication of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. Pundak is Director General of the Peres Center in Tel Aviv.

Text-only printable version of this article

As a committed cold warrior during the 1980’s, Scott McConnell wrote extensively for Commentary and other neoconservative publications. Throughout much of the 1990’s he worked as a columnist, chief editorial writer, and finally editorial page editor at the New York Post. Most recently, he served as senior policy advisor to Pat Buchanan’s 2000 campaign , and writes regularly for NY Press/Taki's Top Drawer.

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