I’ve just always been astonished by how quickly Palestinian leaders hijack the most current Western political lingo for their narrative of oppression. It was only days after we started hearing about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans that Yasser Arafat started using the same expression about the Palestinians. Now we have Kamal Khatib of Israel’s Islamic Movement declaring that “there will not be a second naqba.” Assuming he does not read Charles Krauthammer’s columns, we should assume he ripped this from John McCain. Give them credit for staying up-to-date.
Topic: Yasser Arafat
The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.
The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.
The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.
The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.
My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.
Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.
“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”
This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.
The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.
The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.
Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.
Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”
Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.
Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.
There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.
Before the college student could grin in agreement, Carter did the mathematics of bloodshed. He said that for every Israeli killed in the conflict, 30 to 40 Palestinians die because of Israel’s superior military and “pinpoint accuracy.”
Actually, since Yasser Arafat ordered up the current intifada on September 29, 2000, 4,604 Palestinian Arabs have died compared to 1,033 Israelis (figures through February 2008). That’s according to the manifestly anti-Israeli IfAmericansKnew.com. So while any politician can manipulate statistics and I am sure Jimmy Carter could cherry-pick some period of time in which “30 to 40″ Palestinians died compared to a single Israeli, in the sweep of this war the ratio is more like 4.6 to 1.
I kind of get the feeling Carter wishes the 30-40:1 ratio was true.
The Dean of the Credulosphere is upset that I have not expressed sufficient reverence at the unveiling of J Street, and cannot understand why we Israel “hawks” (his label) haven’t learned anything from the obvious failure of everything we believe in. His evidence? The difficulties of the Iraq war. Well, let me break out the sock puppets and flash cards for the Dean: Israel and Iraq are two different countries.
But never mind that rather large quibble. Yglesias is exasperated and he’s just not going to take it any longer:
the attitude of thoughtless, unreflective scorn that you see from the Pollacks [sic!] and Kirchicks and Goldfarbs of the world is like it comes from some weird alternative reality where their ideas have generally been deemed vindicated, rather than one where 178% of the public says we’re on the wrong track.
What is the counterproposal to an effort at diplomatic engagement with the existing non-AQ powers in the Middle East? More of the same? Because the last five years have worked out so great?
The counterproposal to diplomatic engagement with Hamas is defeating the group in the only arena that it is willing to be engaged — the battlefield. As I always say, you don’t make peace with your enemies, you defeat them.
And as far as Israel is concerned, yes, hawkishness over the last five years has indeed worked out “so great.” The Dean of the Credulosphere doesn’t appear to have a historic memory longer than three or four blog posts, but if he did he would remember that five years ago buses and restaurants were being detonated by suicide bombers on a weekly basis in Israel. In March of 2002 alone, 134 Israelis were murdered in such attacks.
Did diplomatic engagement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Yasser Arafat stop this relentless murder? Of course not — Operation Defensive Shield did. The IDF killed or captured the people responsible for the terror war, sent the rest underground in fear for their lives, encircled the hotbeds of Palestinian terrorism with military checkpoints and roadblocks, and flooded terror networks with informants. By 2004 the intifada was over; Israel won, Yasser Arafat lost, and after four horrible years of death and murder, Israelis were able to resume something resembling a normal life.
If you’re the Dean of the Credulosphere, you don’t know any of this, or you choose to ignore it, perhaps assuming that the intifada ended because some kind of vague deal was struck, or because Kofi Annan asked everyone to cut it out, or because terrorists just got tired of fighting, or, you know, whatever; you can always blog about basketball, right? Well, Dean, no deals were struck, and there was no diplomatic solution. So yes, the past five years in Israel have actually been quite nice as far as Palestinian terrorism is concerned. I heartily endorse more of the same. It’s called winning.
It’s no small feat for a regular Joe to gain access to Yasser Arafat’s tomb, located as it is in the West Bank. Yet private U.S. citizen Jimmy Carter was last seen silently laying a wreath of red roses on the terrorist’s grave. Carter’s trip director told reporters: “He and Mrs. Carter and his son Jeff wanted to pay their respects to President Arafat.” Mission accomplished! Even Barack Obama’s call for dialogue with our enemies was confined to the living.
Citizen Carter has more ambitious plans still. “I haven’t been able to get permission to go into Gaza. I would like to. I asked for permission. But I was turned down. But maybe we can find a way to circumvent that. I don’t know yet,” he said. This guy thinks big. I’m not even sure that an American President could “find a way to circumvent” the laws of the sovereign nation of which he’s a guest. But this Carter fellow, who insists he’s there as a plain old American citizen, just like you and me? He’s looking for an angle. If this guy had only been in a position to solve the Middle East crisis, I bet things would be much different today.
But who am I kidding? He’s just Joe Sixpack on vacation. It’s not as if he’ll be a keynote speaker at the 2008 Democratic convention or anything. If he was, he could work wonders. Not only does his family respect Arafat—Carter says they like Obama, too. A regular guy who’s able to do so much could really sway people with an endorsement like that.
Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.
Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.
Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.
Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.
For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.
Noah Pollak writes that Israel seems finally to be implementing the Bush Doctrine: Jerusalem allegedly has warned Damascus that it will be held accountable for Hezbollah attacks on Israel’s northern border. I hope he’s right, but I remain skeptical.
After all, when Ehud Barak (then prime minister, now defense minister) withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, he issued similar warnings that Syria would be held accountable for any further aggression. Well, Hezbollah’s aggression continued and in 2006 Israel fought an inconclusive war against that terrorist group, ignoring the suggestions of some commentators (including yours truly) that it should expand the conflict to Syria.
Is there any reason to think that the current government-led by the same prime minister (Ehud Olmert) who so conspicuously mishandled the Hezbollah war-will be more far-sighted in the future? I wouldn’t bet on it.
A fundamental problem here is that, while Israel believes in retaliation and deterrence, it doesn’t by and large believe in another aspect of the Bush Doctrine-regime change. Most Israelis are deeply cynical (not without reason) about the prospects of positive political change in the Arab world. Their attitude is: Better the devil you know. In Syria, the devil in question is Bashar Assad and, all things considered, Israelis prefer keeping him in power.
I’m not sure this attitude makes much sense, since Assad is already an avowed enemy of Israel who is actively helping anti-Israeli terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. To the extent that his aggression is restrained-he is not, for example, firing missiles from Syria into Israeli cities-it is not because he is a nice guy but because he is deterred by the threat of Israeli retaliation. Presumably that same threat would function against any future Syrian regime, even if it is led by Islamists.
But Israelis, at least those who run the government, are comfortable dealing with traditional Arab strongmen and can point to the rise of Hamas in Gaza as evidence of the dangers of democracy. In point of fact, Hamas’s rise is actually the price that Israel pays for supporting an autocrat–Yasser Arafat–for so long on the theory that he would do Israel’s dirty work by suppressing Palestinian militants. Instead, Arafat nurtured a climate in which shahids (martyrs) were glorified, the Jewish state was reviled, and moderate political figures were intimidated into silence, jailed, exiled, or killed. The corruption and ineffectiveness of his administration eventually turned most Palestinians to an even more radical alternative.
But just about the only prominent Israeli who believes in supporting Arab democrats is Natan Sharansky, and he is not in government any more. That’s why it is so ironic that American “neoconservatives”–who champion the promotion of democracy–are derided in some quarters as practically Mossad agents. In fact, the Mossad, and other organs of Israeli government, while happy to rub out terrorist kingpins, are not interested in toppling state sponsors of terror.
This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malley–former and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.
Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.
Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.
Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.
In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.
Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.
In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.
But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?
“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.
If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.
Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.
I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.
In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”
It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.
Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.
Now that Samantha Power has left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, attention should perhaps turn to Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley. Perhaps best known for his gushing over Yasser Arafat and Camp David revisionism, Malley’s true danger lies in the extent to which he has called key events in the Palestinian arena–his supposed area of expertise–blatantly wrong. As I noted a few weeks ago, Malley supported allowing Hamas’ participation in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, and welcomed last year’s brief period of Hamas-Fatah “unity governance,” predicting that a “wholesale breakdown of relations between the two groups” was unlikely. In short, Malley has a consistent record of supporting policies that ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, thus warranting the scrutiny he has received as Obama’s adviser.
But Aaron David Miller, Malley’s former peace-processing colleague during the Clinton administration, won’t have any of this. In yesterday’s LA Times, Miller ignored these substantive criticisms, attributing the backlash against Malley to Jewish paranoia. Miller argues that the charges against Malley stem from “the tendency of many American Jews active in pro-Israeli causes to worry about everything”; he continues:
I’ve lost count of the number of times Jewish activists or friends have said to me that this official or that journalist or this academic must be anti-Semitic. On other occasions, I have been told that I myself should not be so publicly critical of Israel, lest we give our enemies grist for their propaganda mills.
Yet Miller’s charge that Jewish identity politics–rather than Malley’s own faulty ideas–have informed public scrutiny of Malley is profoundly ironic. After all, insofar as Miller depicts criticisms of Malley in “us versus them” terms, he is guiltiest of playing identity politics.
Still, if Miller’s utter misrepresentation of the case against Malley in a major U.S. newspaper requires further proof of its substance, examples of Malley’s dubious policy analysis abound. So, here’s another one. While addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in the aftermath of Hamas’ Gaza coup last June, Malley argued that the United Nations had erred in not engaging Hamas:
The UN, of all entities, has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restrictions on talking to anyone-their role is to speak to everyone. To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing: imposing a ceasefire and empowering Abbas to talk to Israel.
Of course, the notion that Hamas would empower Abbas to talk to Israel is delusional. But perhaps more disturbing is Malley’s belief that the UN should talk to terrorist organizations. And, to correct Miller, one need not be Jewish or paranoid to say so.
Today Israeli military intelligence reported that the “Grad” missiles that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon over the weekend was confirmed to have been of Iranian origin. The missile made a direct hit on an apartment building in a city that had, until recently, been thought outside the range of Hamas fire. A sixth-floor apartment was completely destroyed.
A few notes:
1. Hamas is an Iranian satellite. People love to confuse this point, mainly because Hamas is made up of Sunni Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel, rather than Shi’ite Islamists hell-bent on destroying Israel. Yet for all intents and purposes, Hamas is doing whatever it can to replicate the successes of Hizballah by creating a state-within-a-state (or, to be more precise, a state-within-a-not-quite-state) armed and supported by Iran.
2. Hamas has weapons. We don’t know how those Grads got there, but it stands to reason that the ripped-open Egyptian border of a few weeks ago may have helped.
3. It is unclear what kind of fire Israel has to come under before international opinion graces Israel the right to retaliate. Granted, Hamas has less sympathy than did Yasser Arafat when he was running Gaza. But worldwide condemnations of the kind we’ve seen this week, from the EU and UNSC, do little service to democratic states struggling against terror. Nor does equally condemning Israel and Hamas help much. That is, after all, what terrorists thrive on–the presumption of equivalence.
For an interesting take on the Israeli perspective of all this, read my friend Yossi Klein Halevi’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. He writes of an emerging conflict in which Israelis feel much less guilty about the plight of Palestinians than they used to:
Gaza’s people are being held hostage to a political fantasy. And the international community is abetting the tragedy. The U.N. actually considers Palestinians to be permanent refugees, to be protected in squalid but subsidized camps even though they live in their own homeland of Gaza, under their own government.
So long as Gaza refuses to heal itself, Israelis will rightly suspect that the Palestinian goal remains Israel’s destruction. Not even a full withdrawal from the West Bank, they fear, will end the war, any more than the pullout from Gaza stopped the rockets. Israel’s crime isn’t occupying but existing.
And so we move toward the next terrible round of conflict. This time, though, for all our anguish, we will feel a lot less remorse. Because even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist.
Read the whole thing.
Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?
On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”
He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.
His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”
Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.
And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:
President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.
All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.
Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).
There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.
In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.
Until Sarkozy, that is.
The Nobel Prize has become little more than an award offered in recognition of outspoken anti-Western, anti-American, or anti-Israel bile. Whether the recipient is Yasser Arafat or Al Gore (for Peace) or Harold Pinter (for Literature), the ideological thread that links the winners is visible in varying degrees: America is either on the wrong track or apocalyptically on the wrong track, and Israel was never on the right one.
So, when Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel prize for literature, Christopher Hitchens, a Nobel detractor and a big Lessing fan, wrote: “It’s as though the long, dreary reign of the forgettable and the mediocre and the sinister had been just for once punctuated by a bright flash of talent.”
It turns out the Nobel Committee must have known something Hitchens didn’t, because since receiving the award, Ms. Lessing has seen to her “sinister” duties retroactively, as it were. In October of 2007, the BBC quoted Lessing on 9/11: “Many people died, two prominent buildings fell, but it was neither as terrible nor as extraordinary as they think.” Additionally, she described Americans as “very naïve people.” Today, the International Herald Tribune quotes Lessing predicting the assassination of a President Barack Obama: “He would probably not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would kill him.” One supposes this has to do with those American propensities for alarm and naïveté.
Do you think the Nobel Committee made an arrangement with Doris Lessing beforehand?
Joel Pollak (no relation) reports on his blog that Charles Enderlin, the France 2 television reporter implicated in the Mohammed al-Dura fabrication, admitted at a talk at Harvard last night that the famous scenes of Yasser Arafat donating blood after the 9/11 attacks were, like the footage of the IDF killing al-Dura, staged:
Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
The blood donation story made headlines around the world. It was reported by esteemed news agencies like the BBC, and photographs of Arafat lying with an outstretched arm ran on many front pages. But the whole scene was staged, Enderlin said. Arafat didn’t like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs.
Arafat, it’s worth noting, died in 2005 of AIDS, and it is thus a good thing that he didn’t actually donate blood. Is it possible that the reputation of the international press corps in Israel, especially its European members, could get any worse?
Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she had “better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op.” What she meant, of course, was that she had better things to do than invite people to Annapolis exclusively for a photo op. So have no fear, jpeg collectors: from the moment Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Monday, the cameras were rolling.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photos that each Annapolis participant chooses to publicize are highly significant. Given that it had the most invested in the conference’s success, the White House naturally led the Annapolis photo race, offering a full slideshow of the opening state dinner, and as many photos as possible depicting Bush as the matchmaker behind an Olmert-Abbas courtship. The Israelis were not far behind, with photos suggesting that the courtship had progressed to the point that Abbas and Olmert even sat around a table with each other’s families. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an impressive contribution to the Most Hopeful-Looking Photo Contest, depicting Bush forming the human chain with his counterparts.
Perhaps the real photo story emerging from Annapolis, however, was Bush’s relentless pursuit of the hallowed Middle East Money Shot, which typically features the sitting American president dramatically guiding an Arab-Israeli handshake. Jimmy Carter was the original choreographer of this image, while Bill Clinton was fortunate to enjoy the famous pose twice: at the signing of the Oslo Accords and the forging of Jordanian-Israeli peace. (Clinton narrowly missed out on a third Money Shot at the signing of the Wye River Memorandum, where he was boxed out by an ailing King Hussein.)
Prior to Annapolis, Bush had posed for the Money Shot only once—at the inconclusive 2003 Red Sea Summit on the “Road Map,” where Abbas, then Yasser Arafat’s impotent prime minister, locked hands with Ariel Sharon. But during the one-day Annapolis Conference, Bush went on a tear, managing no less than three different shots of himself standing amidst new best friends Olmert and Abbas.
Of course, the Money Shot is not as meaningful as it once was: it no longer signifies the signing of a treaty and, as Rice demonstrated in February, even a secretary of state can pose for one. But the optimism it symbolizes was apparently too seductive for the American and Israeli presses to pass up: The New York Times, MSNBC, FoxNews, Ma’ariv, and Ha’aretz all featured the Money Shot prominently in their Annapolis coverage.
Yet, in the absence of concrete steps taken to further peace, the pessimism of Arab photojournalism seems more apt. Arab press coverage of Annapolis naturally depicts Bush meeting with Abbas, but domestic Palestinian opposition to peace talks that challenge their viability is also a major theme. Moreover, Olmert is rarely displayed alongside Abbas, and the two are never seen shaking hands—with one key exception: Hezbollah’s al-Manar station, predictably misusing the symbols of Arab-Israeli peace, proudly features the Money Shot.