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Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2000 / 25 Tishrei, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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Instant summit, instant violence

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AFTER THE QUICKIE Mideast summit, it's hard to tell any difference it has made, except to harden an already prevalent cynicism.

The fighting sputters on, the deaths mount, hope dwindles, and both sides settle in for another long, sporadic war. Not all the kings' men and all the kings' allies are going to put this Humpty-Dumpty of a peace back together again.

This summit didn't end so much as die out -- but with a lot of words to cover its predetermined failure. The American president's final statement, which stated nothing, can only paper over the abyss that has opened in the Mideast -- an abyss that, one hates to realize, was there all along.

Once again Bill Clinton is going to extricate himself from a long, intricate, once-hidden mess it will be others' job to clean up. If they can. The next president of the United States is not going to find a clean desk. He'll be lucky if it isn't on fire.

The peace process that began a decade ago in Madrid and produced the Oslo Accords worked only so long as the Israelis were willing to retreat. Yes, they were willing to leave Gaza (gladly -- the place has been a pesthole since the Philistines). Yes, they would even part with most of the West Bank, aka Judaea and Samaria. And they withdrew unilaterally from the buffer zone they'd carved out of southern Lebanon.

Israel's tottering government was even willing to sign over much of their capital, heart and soul -- Jerusalem. And still, though men cried peace, peace, there was no peace.

But once it became clear that the Israelis weren't about to give up Israel, the stones started flying, soon enough followed by small-arms fire. Often enough from the Palestinian police the Israelis had agreed to arm, and who were supposed to maintain order in the Israelis' decade-old fantasy of a Mideast peace.

Suddenly it dawned on the Israelis that they had been negotiating only with themselves, dreaming of what a nice, sweet, simple peace would look like with neat lines on the map and a cooperative neighbor. That dream is now in ruins, and fatuous statements from an American president are not about to put it together. The peace process has become a war process.

But there is no alternative to peace, well-intentioned statesmen say, though it's hard to believe they can swallow their empty platitudes. Of course there is an alternative to peace. It is called war, and it has clarified matters regularly and violently in the Levant.

The pattern of conflict can be traced across the century from the Arab riots, aka The Arab Revolt, of the 1930s to the Arab riots, aka the Intifadah, of the 1980s and now the 2000s. In between have come intermittent and more formal wars -- in 1947-48, 1956, 1967, 1973 ... not to mention the late unpleasantness in and around the Persian Gulf in 1991. That's the Middle East.

The notion that the Oslo Accords can somehow be resurrected rests on the now demonstrated fallacy that Yasser Arafat can or wants to control the rock-chunkers. They have only been encouraged by the U.N.'s one-sided resolutions, which have given them the green light for these latest upheavals.

The mob sees auguries of victory in Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, and from Gaza and the West Bank. At last, they may believe, they've found a way to make the Jews retreat, then disappear. And it's as simple as throwing a rock. (This is not to say that Yasser Arafat himself has thrown any stones; his specialty is throwing children into the front lines.)

What the rock-chunkers, the lynch mobs, the Kalashnikov-wielding demonstrators in Arab capitals have not yet grasped is that the Israelis aren't about to withdraw from Israel. But that small matter, one suspects and dreads, is about to be clarified. And as usual, it will be the innocent -- the Arab child caught in a crossfire with his father, the Israeli reservist who takes a wrong turn and winds up in hospitable Ramallah -- who will suffer most. The Middle East has never lacked for graves.

What can the world do besides mourn? For a start, its statesmen can stop talking cant. "A cease-fire should be happening within hours, immediately,'' Madeleine Albright trumpeted as the instant summit concluded. Can even she believe that? Exhaustion may set in between further eruptions, but that is scarcely peace.

This happens every time an American president engages in another meaningless diplomatic exercise or responds to the complete breakdown of his and all our hopes by pretending that nothing has really changed. America once again seems more like a dazed spectator than a shaper of events in the world. We might be back in the Carter Years.

Now, once again, we have opted for drift rather than mastery, and a fine neutrality between friend and enemy, aggressor and defender. The people who blew that hole in the USS Cole do not have our best interests at heart. That one should have to point out that salient fact is a measure of the fantasies American diplomats have indulged in. Behind the fine words that will be spoken at the funeral of our sailors, the rock-hard truth needs to be noted: The mob will never be our friend, and neither will those who employ it.

Just as this country abstained when the U.N. passed its latest, inflammatory resolution, so now this administration seems to abstain from pursuing a forceful or even cogent foreign policy.

What would a real foreign policy be like? It would begin by making it clear that the United States of America will not abandon an ally, or ask it to risk its existence.

Instead, one anticipates that any day now the Israelis will be pressed to negotiate the shape of the table at which they will be expected to make still more concessions, and retreat from still more strongpoints. Of course they will receive much in return: still more worthless assurances of peace from Chairman Arafat. Today Jerusalem may be his Last Territorial Demand, but soon enough it would be Tel Aviv.

Reading the news from the Mideast, it's hard not to think of the fate of another American ally, the definitely former Republic of Vietnam. And does anyone even remember the fate of the Kurds, another Middle Eastern people whom another American secretary of state deemed expendable? They are as forgotten as the Tibetans when the latest trade pact with still Communist China was signed with much ado.

All of Madeleine Albright's statements should come with a little warning label at the end. Caution: Being an American ally can be dangerous to your health. These empty dreams can be papered over so long. A dreadful wake-up call is coming. In the Mideast it can be heard even now.

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