Saturday, April 20, 2002

GROW UP: Jonathan Rauch rips the infantilism behind much of the conventional wisom on the Middle East, calling it the "Mommy Model." He points out that the problem is that the current conflict is built on a rational understanding of the stakes. I can't quote any part of it; every word should be read.

Friday, April 19, 2002

ROBERT THE WRONG: Belatedly, Robert Wright joins the school of the Camp David revisionists and defends Arafat's behavior there. He credits his main source: this article in the New York Review of Books by Robert Malley (a former assistant to the President for Arab-Israeli affairs) and Hussein Agha (a professor at Oxford who, according to the NYRB article, " has been involved in Palestinian affairs for more than thirty years and during this period has had an active part in Israeli-Palestinian relations.")
Wright's article is wide-open to the following critiques:
1) First, the ad hominem point: Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross and Shlomo Ben-Ami (the ultra-dovish foreign minister in Barak's government) have all defended the conventional wisdom laying the blame for the Camp David failure at Arafat's feet. Somehow, I think they might be in a better position to judge than a hitherto anonymous White House staffer. And more seriously, since the article was co-written by a Palestinian activist, it should be treated with at least as much skepticism as the conventional account. Yet Wright assumes the truth of the article's assertions without further comment.
More substantively, the following two points:
2) Wright assumes the reasonableness of Arafat's refusal to budge from 100% of the pre-1967 borders. But if that is all that the Palestinians wanted, then how does that betray any willingness to compromise on their part? The only way it does is if you assume that they wanted more than the pre-1967 borders - which means Israel's suspicions suddenly look much more reasonable.
3) Most importantly, Wright mischaracterizes the situation between Camp David and Taba:
[B]y the time of Taba, the whole political environment had changed. In September, Barak had allowed Ariel Sharon to make his famous visit to Haram al-Sharif, which many observers consider the spark that ignited the current intifada. Given the only deepening mistrust between Arafat and Israel, America was, more than ever, a vital guarantor of any deal. Yet President Clinton was by then a lame duck, and comments from President-elect Bush had made clear his limited enthusiasm for Middle East peace brokering.
Arafat may also have been troubled by the fact that Barak seemed doomed to lose upcoming elections to Ariel Sharon, who probably wouldn't honor a Barak-negotiated deal.

Did anything happen in the interim to change the situation? Oh yes - the second intifada, only referred to by Wright in a manner which blames Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount for the whole thing. For those who do not remember, the time between Camp David and Taba included innumerable riots, shootings of Israelis, and the grisly lynching of two Israeli soldiers who got lost in Ramallah.
Wright and his fellow revisionists point to the near-deal at Taba as proof that the Palestinains were ready to make a deal. Well, what if there was reason to think that the Palestinians would sign the deal, take their state, and then launch another war against Israel (ostensibly) over the few millimeters of disputed territory remaining? By Taba, there was two months of evidence for that scenario. Notice that Wright, as Deborah Sontag did in a similar magnum opus of revisionism, glosses over the intifada and does not mention any reason why Barak was likely to lose by the time of Taba - drawing any connection between the two would make Israeli suspicions seem justified. As Robert Satloff noted regarding Sontag's article:
The uprising so transformed the Israeli-Palestinian political context that by the time the two sides were, in Sontag's telling, agonizingly close, it no longer mattered. By January's Taba talks, Barak had the support of just one-third of his people and an even smaller fraction of his parliament. Arafat, for his part, had forged an alliance between his Fatah movement and the radical Hamas opposition. But to discuss the intifada, its roots, and its impact would complicate Sontag's tale of imminent peace gone awry, so she sets it aside.
Hence, Sontag makes not a single reference to how violence--any violence--on the part of the Palestinians violated the founding accord of the Israel-PLO relationship, an exchange of letters between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin four days before the signing of the Oslo understandings in September 1993. (Israel's recognition of the PLO was premised on the organization's written commitment to forswear terrorism and violence and to pursue diplomacy as the only means to achieve its objectives.) Sontag makes no reference to Arafat's nine-month-long rejection of American pleas for a cease-fire or his flouting of understandings reached with Clinton at Sharm al-Sheikh on October 16 and 17, 2000, and with Shimon Peres in Gaza on November 1. She ignores Arafat's speech in Davos on January 28, 2001, when, the day after the Taba talks had ended and with Peres at his side, he lambasted Israel for using "fascist military aggression." Nor does Sontag mention the sacking of Joseph's Tomb, the terrorist exploits of Tanzim leader Marwan Bargouti, or the repeated denials by Palestinian officials, from Arafat on down, of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Any of that would have marred her portrayal of Arafat as a cooperative partner in peace.

While Wright's article is shorter and can thus be excused from citing as many details, it suffers from the same overall fault: the willful blindness to the ramifications of the intifada. Looking at Taba outside of that context is reductionist in the extreme.
AN ALTERNATE PROGRAMMING SCHEDULE: Via InstaPundit, Tim Blair offers a TV schedule for the Middle East.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

A MOMENT IN THE SENATE: Gregg Easterbrook dissects today's vote:
Last month the conservatives in the Senate triumphantly screwed the liberals, voting to block higher fuel-economy standards for SUVs. Today the liberals in the Senate have triumphantly screwed the conservatives right back, voting to block oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. How festive. In so doing, conservatives and liberals together will have screwed the country. We will have the worse of both worlds: continued headlong petroleum waste coupled with continued dependence on Persian Gulf oil.

ACT I, SCENE XLVI: Jim Hoagland tries to get informal by trying to give a glimpse of how Yasser Arafat would see himself if he was the star of a one-man play:
No one will ever say I did not change. I am chimera, I am quicksilver, I am Arafat. I have had to turn on a dime every hour of my life to survive these murdering Israelis and my Arab brothers, who see me as a threat to them, too.
They are right. All Arab leaders have betrayed me, dissed me, tried to use me, to kill me and to kill the Palestinian revolution that I alone now embody. They will pay in time. Except brother Saddam Hussein. He knows that through it all, down deep, I did not change at all. I owe the guy, and this time I deliver.
Sure, I shed skin after skin. Watched as lieutenant after lieutenant was murdered when they began to upstage me. Jumped from burning deck to burning deck in the 1970s, ran to catch up with the kids' intifada of the 1980s, and hugged Shimon Peres to survive in the 1990s.
At Camp David, Clinton wanted to make me the George Washington of Palestine. But I would have had to sell out my people, in the miserable camps of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, to become emir of the West Bank. Remember, that was the deal on offer. The money underneath the table was already pretty good -- not as good as what Saddam offers, but more secure.
Those Israeli hacks say I could have achieved my strategic goals without bloodshed with that deal. But they miss the point. Bloodshed is the point. I had to seize, not passively receive. The Israelis now give me total credit for this intifada. History will remember me as warrior, resister, struggler.
I am not a turncoat. Armed struggle has always been my way, my meaning, my religion. The borders of Palestine will be traced in blood, as a great nation's should be. The frontiers will be demarcated and protected by international troops, not by a groveling peace treaty. That is and was my plan. When Israel elected Sharon, to prove to us that brute force could make Israelis secure, it fell into place: We had to show them they were wrong.
These fools in Washington and Europe chase their own tails by debating whether I am a terrorist or not. Did I ever shrink from murder when it was needed? They think if they come up with the right label, like "Enduring Freedom" or "homicide bombers," then everything is fixed. And they say we Arabs are prisoners of rhetoric.

JOURNALISM 101: James Lileks takes journalists to school, using the coverage of the Israel rally in Washington as the lesson plan. And his conclusion is a great use of a picture that says more than a thousand words (not for the squeamish, though).
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING....Victor Davis Hanson offers a glimpse at an alternate universe.
THE AXIS OF EVIL STRIKES AGAIN: The Israelis have apparently discovered more weapons from Iran and Iraq near Arafat's headquarters.
PLEASE BEAR WITH ME: I'm working on a couple of major (read: long) posts for the site. The first will hopefully be up at some point today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

REPORTERS ARE FROM MARS... Max Rodenbeck, the Middle East correspondent for the Economist, writes in today's NY Times:
... Arab coverage of the conflict is not really much more one-sided than, say, America's gung-ho coverage of the Persian Gulf war. (Or, for that matter, Israeli reporting on the intifada: Most Tel Aviv editors seem to accept Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's view that the press's job is "to give the nation pride and hope.")
Somehow, I don't remember the American press exhorting its military to murder citizens wholesale during the Gulf War. If Rodenbeck really believes that paragraph, it's a welcome window into the mindset driving the Economist's coverage of Israel.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Among other places, James Lileks' site has the infamous picture of the Palestinian man holding up his little daughter with pretend dynamite wrapped around her. Lileks has the following observations:
As others have noted, the cultural attitude on display is an inversion of human decency - heaven is a whorehouse, and children are encouraged to die. It takes a particular sort of moral degeneracy to steep your children in the culture of death rather than shield them from it at all costs. Keep in mind that this picture was taken at a rally in Berlin, so it’s not like this fellow has lately seen in IDF kick down doors in his apartment block looking for martyr factories lately.... This man had to go down to the store looking for materials that would make a good suicide-bombing costume for his daughter, like it’s Halloween and she wants to be Ariel the Little Martyr. He had to tie the dynamite around her little waist; he had to look into those little eyes and answer her questions: what’s this? What’s this, Daddy?
He had two options. He could lie. Or he could tell the truth. I’m not sure which is worse.
What haunts me is the idea that she liked this, and thought it was fun - a day with Daddy! - and afterwards all the relatives came over, and she ran into the room and shouted BOOM!
And everyone laughed.
Isn’t that cute.
GIVE JOURNALISTS A CHANCE? P.J. O'Rourke simultanously argues that Israel was mistaken in barring journalists from Jenin and punctures the self-importance of his guild in his inimitable way:
Journalism is the opposite of pancake makeup and boudoir lighting. The farther journalists get away from you, the worse you look. But attempting to control news during a war is too usual to be labeled outrageous. Stalin didn't ban journalists from Stalingrad. He sent them there. They couldn't refuse. I'd rather be banned. And there was censorship in the Soviet press anyway. The International Federation of Journalists is right. Censorship did not bring peace. Not that peace with Germany would have been a good idea.
...Israel thinks reporters have a pro-Palestinian bias. They do. This is not because of the complex blames and injustices of the region. (Journalists are no better than other liberal-arts majors at doing regression analysis with infinite variables.) But when someone is pounding the stuffing out of someone else, there's more human interest in the unstuffed than in the stuffing pounders. The Sioux were right at the Little Bighorn, but Custer is what sells. Any good reporter would have stuck to Yellow Hair, at least until the last 20 minutes. How do you say, "I'm with CNN" in Sioux?
Also, from my own experience, Palestinians are warm, hospitable and chatty. Israelis soldiers are not. Journalists are as alert to social cues as any other herd animal. We prefer the Palestinians even if they don't invite us to come along on suicide bombings. Reporters thus ignore a basic principle of news: There are two sources you can't trust, those who won't tell their story and those who will.
...And where did the idea of Olympian objectivity in journalism come from? Not from the good liberal-arts majors that journalists are supposed to be. Olympus had its finger in every pie in "The Iliad." The great war correspondents of more recent history were strangers to neutrality. Richard Harding Davis seemed willing to fight the Spaniards in Cuba by himself. Ernest Hemingway styled his World War II press contingent "Hem Force" and liberated several French towns, or at least the wine cellars thereof.
As for shaping public opinion, the media's record is spotty. We practically caused that ignominious war with Spain and then, ignominiously, almost kept America out of the war against the Nazis. Maybe we ended the Vietnam War, but it took us long enough.
...Those of us in journalism who support Israel for being open and democratic were left with a lot of explaining to do, but we also learned a lot. The media learned that war, unlike politics, does not depend upon the media to exist. Reporters were being reminded that they are sometimes dense, prejudiced and self-seeking.
KOSHER CANADIAN BACON: A great editorial in the Canadian National Post regarding a loathsome resolution by the UN Committee on Human Rights:

Ariel Sharon is depicted as a blood-drenched butcher in the European press, although he sacrificed Israeli soldiers in ground assaults to spare Palestinians the indiscriminate aerial bombardments that Arab dictators would have ordered as a matter of routine. Palestinians use ambulances as terrorist taxis, yet Israel is lambasted for searching them. Human rights activists, who are appalled by bloodshed in every other context, reinvent themselves as doe-eyed apologists for terror when it is Palestinian teenagers lighting the fuse.
In fact, the mere act of killing people is redeemed in the eyes of an extraordinary number of people and governments around the world for the simple fact that the victims are Jews. It becomes "resistance" borne of "frustration" and "humiliation." Israeli self-defence is repackaged as "state terrorism."
...These coded phrases are understood by the Muslim nations that introduced the motion and the diplomats who passed it. "Foreign occupation" means Jews. "Armed struggle" means people blowing themselves up in restaurants and markets. Naturally, the UNHRC resolution mentions only the Palestinian deaths, condemns only the Israeli actions. It mentions not at all the hundreds of ordinary Israelis murdered in the course of going about their daily business during one of last month's numerous suicide bombings. Nor does it upbraid the Palestinian Authority for funding and facilitating them.
Israel's commitment to human rights is so clear that its Supreme Court ordered the Israeli army not to bury Palestinian victims from the Jenin refugee camp until an investigation could be conducted -- and the army complied. It is exactly the sort of legalistic gesture the world's human rights lawyers typically applaud. But instead, they take the side of Palestinian gunmen, who have whiled away their time in hiding by putting bullets into the heads of scores of suspected "informants."
...The resolution destroys whatever shreds of credibility were left to the UNHRC after the fiasco of the Durban anti-racism conference. The commission is made up of some of the world's worst human rights offenders. Fewer than half are free countries. Neither the United States nor Israel are on the commission, but 14 Muslim nations are. Naturally, dictatorships and absolute monarchies sided with the Palestinian Authority. The sad shock is that they were joined by supposedly decent nations such as France, Spain, Sweden and Belgium. Europe is abandoning the same people as those who were selected as its victims half-a-century ago. The continent's moral implosion is almost as terrible to watch as the terrorism its leaders yesterday endorsed.

And people wonder why Israel does not take the UN seriously.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

GRADING ON A CURVE: Nicholas Kristof's column in today's NY Times noted that the Arab world applies a double standard to Israel:
[W]hile the Israeli brutality in the occupied territories is real, it is small potatoes by Arab standards.
Some 1,600 Palestinians have been killed since the latest round of violence erupted in the fall of 2000. In contrast, two million Sudanese have died in the ongoing civil war here, with barely anyone noticing.
Likewise, Syria blithely killed about 20,000 people in crushing an abortive uprising in the city of Hama in 1982. And Saddam Hussein, who has killed more Arabs than Ariel Sharon and all his Israeli predecessors put together, is somehow a hero for much of the Arab world.

As Andrew Sullivan points out, Kristof ignores the elephant in the room:
If you're a raving anti-semitic paranoiac, defeat at the hands of the Americans is one thing; but defeat at the hands of the Jews is beyond endurance. This is the pathology without which nothing that is now happening in the Arab world can be understood.
Kristof's column has a number of interesting points. Most notably, in describing the rage of the "Arab street" at Israel, he asserts that "there is a tendency among Israel's supporters to assume that the rage must be feigned, but that's a fantasy."
Kristof is attacking a straw-man. I don't think many supporters of Israel assert that the masses are somehow faking rage. Rather, those of us who would have the U.S. and Israel do things which may further inflame that rage are making two different arguments:
1) While real, the rage of the "Arab street" is partly created by and largely stoked by the Arab governments themselves, especially including the "moderate" regimes. Accordingly, those regimes do not deserve protection from the consequences of their policies of incitement, and the U.S. and Israel should not be dissuaded from doing the right thing because of the risks which such governments have brought upon themselves.
2) While real, the consequences of the rage of the "Arab street" will not harm the strategic interests of the U.S. as much as the State Department and media feel; either (a) the danger of "moderate" governments being overthrown is overstated by those corrupt leaders with an incentive to exxagerate the danger (and who in any case have little sense for public opinion in their countries) or (b) even if overthrown, the results to U.S. interests will not be as detrimental as commonly assumed.
Either point is debatable, but Kristof does not engage them.

ON GUN CONTROL AND SUICIDE BOMBERS: Jonah Goldberg expounds on the unwillingness of peace-processors (and their media enablers) to recognize reality.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE.... An e-mail correspondent to Instapundit offers the following observations:

The moral state of things is this:
1. If the Palestinians unilaterally lay down their arms and renounce
violence, they will be given peace, dignity, and their own state.
2. If the Israelis unilaterally lay down their arms and renounce
violence, they will be slaughtered.
3. As far as most of the world is concerned, either outcome would be

On some days, that seems too generous, as in certain quarters option #2 might be deemed preferable. Take Mark Steyn's word for it:
The "whole world" has a pretty good track record of being wrong, especially where Jews are concerned. Fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong, and never more so than when they're teamed with Chris Patten, Mary Robinson, the European Parliament (which has demanded sanctions against Israel), the German government (which has announced an arms embargo against Israel), the brand-new International Criminal Court (which - in its very first 24 hours! - started mulling the question of "Israeli war crimes"), the Norwegian Parliament (which had a visitor thrown out of the building for wearing a provocative Star of David on his lapel), never mind the members of Calgary's "Palestinian community" who marched through the streets carrying placards emblazoned "Death To The Jews", a timeless slogan but not hitherto a burning issue on the prairies.
...Meanwhile, what have we learned from this last extraordinary month? Not much about the Middle East, but quite a lot about Europe. What happens when Palestinian civilians strap on plastic explosives and head for Israeli pizza parlours? Europe says Israeli checkpoints for Palestinians are "humiliating". Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances permit themselves to be used as transportation for bombs and explosives - and Europe attacks Israel for refusing them free movement.
"Ah, those Jews," an attractive, intelligent, sophisticated Parisienne sighed over dinner with me the other night. "They cause problems everywhere they are."
Actually, they don't. Of the 30 ongoing conflicts in the world today, the Muslims are involved in 28 of them. There are no Jews in Kashmir or the Sudan, so the Muslims make do with Hindus and Christians. What the Europeans call "Muslim-Jewish tensions" on the Continent do not involve Jewish gangs attacking mosques or beating up women in hejabs, only Muslim gangs attacking synagogues and stoning a bus of Jewish schoolchildren.
...The "whole world" is agreed that if anybody has to be blown up it might as well be the Israelis. Ah, those Jew troublemakers: why won't they just lie there and take it?

And he has this bon mot about the current Powell mission:
From Washington's point of view, the peace mission was necessary because of a scheduling conflict over scheduling conflicts: they'd booked the Middle East for a war with Iraq only to discover the joint being used for some other guys' war. In an ideal world, the US would like to restore peace in the Middle East in order to launch a massive conflagration there.

EXCLUSIVE REPORT: Mrs. Manhattan was at the Washington rally in support of Israel today along with over 100,000 of her closest friends. It took them a long time to exit the Metro station to join the rally, and they emerged to discover that the crowd had overflowed its allotted space. So she technically was right next to the rally, not at it. Close enough.
Seriously, the rally was a great display of the power of the "American street," which is far more powerful than the "Arab street" so feared in the State Department.
UPDATE: Best of the Web advises the Arab governments:
Arab leaders, listen up: The American street is enraged, and you'd best ask yourselves: Why do they hate us? If you're honest, you'll acknowledge that we're fed up with your one-sided policies toward the Middle East. And if you're not honest, you risk paying an immense price. America's leaders cannot ignore the anger of the street; if they do, the street may bring down the moderate pro-Arab government currently in the White House. It is long past time for Arab leaders to appease the American street. If they let this crisis fester until Americans get desperate, there's no telling what we might do.