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Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2001 / 5 Adar 5761

Don Feder

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Powell continues Middle East neutrality -- FOR those who had hoped that on Israel the Bush administration would be an improvement over its predecessor, Secretary of State Colin Powell's performance during his Middle East trip was depressing.

Last fall, after the United States failed to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for defending itself from the latest intifada, then-Secretary of State Madeliene Albright explained that, to facilitate a Middle East peace, "we have to be an honest broker."

Some of us thought Bush would abandon that disastrous course and begin behaving not as a broker but an ally -- that we would revert to treating Israel as the friend it has always been and Yasser Arafat as the enemy he most certainly is.

Instead, in Ramallah, Powell called on Israel to end its "siege" of the West Bank and Gaza, which consists of stopping most Palestinian workers from entering Israel proper.

Sounding like a social worker discussing the root causes of crime, Powell explained that when Arabs can't get to their jobs in Israel, their frustration leads to rioting. But, the borders were closed because of the violence, not the other way around. Powell assumes Palestinians have a right to employment in Israel. Worse, it fails to show any understanding of Israel's security concerns. Just two weeks ago, a Palestinian from Gaza slammed his bus into a crowd of Israelis, killing eight. How is Jerusalem supposed to protect its people if it can't control access to its territory?

After giving the standard assurances about our commitment to Israel's survival, Powell engaged in the moral equivalency that was the hallmark of Clinton's Middle East policy. All sides have to "move away from incitement and violence," the secretary of state urged.

How exactly has Israel engaged in incitement and violence -- by allowing its soldiers to defend themselves when faced with mobs howling for their blood?

The Palestinian Authority continues its revolving-door policy of arresting and releasing, the killers of Israelis and Americans. A few days ago, Arafat's police freed three Palestinians accused of the kidnapping murder of a Tel Aviv businessman and a 15-year-old boy.

Does Israeli TV call the Arabs Nazis and urge their annihilation, as Palestinian television does with Jews? What could be more provocative than the edict of the man Arafat appointed mufti (chief religious authority) of Jerusalem?

Sheik Ikram Sabri recently decreed that the Western Wall is exclusively a Moslem site, and it is an affront to Islam for Jews to approach the Wall, which is Judaism's holiest shrine. Has Israel's chief rabbi forbidden the Moslems from praying in Mecca?

Beginning with the Oslo accords, the United States decided that in the interests of peace it should adopt a neutral stance between a nation that had loyally supported America for half a century and a gang that had shown its hatred of us at every opportunity.

Before he became a nation-builder, Arafat murdered American diplomats. Throughout the Cold War, he sided with the Soviets. Prior to the Gulf War, he was Saddam Hussein's most prominent Arab ally, hailing the Butcher of Baghdad as "first and foremost among the Arabs."

Arafat blessed the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and Palestinians in the Gulf state provided logistical support to the invading army. When Scud missiles hit Israeli targets during the war, Palestinians danced on the rooftops of their homes.

Besides threatening to march on Jerusalem, Saddam has funneled millions of dollars to the families of rioters killed in clashes with Israel. On Saturday, more than 2,000 Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza in support of the Iraqi tyrant, burning U.S. flags and pictures of President George W. Bush pasted on cardboard models of missiles.

None of this deterred our new secretary of state from deploying the usual platitudes. Peace is in everyone's interest, Powell declared, and the Palestinians have "made the strategic choice" to pursue peace. When? How?

Can Colin Powell really be that naive? Or, for an establishment Republican who's hopelessly out of his depth, is it merely easier to maintain the Clinton Middle East policy of substituting soothing incantations for a recognition of harsh reality?

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate