Jewish World Review April 8, 2002/ 27 Nisan, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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A muddled message
to the Middle East | When in doubt, blame it on your friends.

George W. Bush and his administration are all but paralyzed with doubts, obviously without a clue about how to make the Palestinians behave with a minimum of the decency good Christians, good Jews and good Muslims expect of themselves.

So he blames it on the only people in the Middle East who seem to understand Western standards of civilization. This president who only a fortnight ago looked to have it all together, having bucked up the resolve of timid friends and allies across the world in his war on terrorism, is suddenly having a read-my-lips moment. He no doubt means well; so did his daddy a decade ago. But can we ever again have the confidence in his resolve that we once did?

In what sounded like a textbook exercise of moral equivalence, the president yesterday conceded that Israel has the right - he could have said duty - to protect itself, but scolded the Israelis for doing so and added to the pressure first exercised by the Europeans to force Israel's army to go home and wait for the next suicide bomber, when everyone will go tut-tut-tut.

There was, of course, the ritual scolding of the Palestinians and a reminder that they really and truly ought to be good. Don't they know that naughtiness is not nice? "I call on the Palestinian Authority and our friends in the Arab world to join us in delivering a clear message to terrorists," he said. "Blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, suicide-bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state."

Taken at face value, this makes no sense, because so far the suicide bombers have helped the Palestinian cause immensely. They have brought European calumny down on the Israelis for having the audacity to defend themselves, enlisted the mindless elements of the Western media into taking up the Palestinian cause, and appear to have sucked the Americans into the Middle East maelstrom, with President Bush dispatching Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the scene of the suicidal atrocities.

But very little is ever as it seems, particularly in that miserable corner of the world. The president dispatched Mr. Powell to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but - and here's what may be the catch - he won't actually get there until the middle of next week. By then, Ariel Sharon will be finished with the grim task of dismantling the Palestinian terror infrastructure.

The president may have given the game away with this: "The Israel government feels it must strike at terrorist networks that are killing its citizens," he said, and added: "Yet, Israel must understand that its response to these recent attacks is only a temporary measure. All parties have their own responsibilities, and all parties owe it to their own people to act."

Every president must say things he doesn't actually mean, and he surely couldn't have meant for his effusive praise for Prince Abdullah's famous Saudi peace plan to be taken literally, even if over the past few days it sometimes sounded like it.

The chutzpah of the Saudis knows no limits. Only this week, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told an audience in Oklahoma City that the Israelis had better take what they can get, and the West had better make them take it - or else.

"We're offering the Israelis full, total peace and security in return for ending the military occupation," he said, perhaps in the belief that the audience of rubes hadn't read the details of the suicide pill prescribed for Israel, and wouldn't know that the Saudi peace plan does no such thing. But even this was delivered with a remarkable threat from the representative of the nation that provided 15/19ths of the gang of killers who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11.

"I cannot guarantee this down the road," Prince Bandar said, "when everybody becomes a suicidal bomber."

A lot of the rest of the world wants only for the Israelis to shut up, the French to sell their cheeses and the Germans to stuff their faces with sausages, with no interruption from those annoying Jews. Those who would so easily trust Israel to the mercies of the Arabs, should take to heart the warning implicit in the diary of Ari Shavit, an Israeli journalist, writing in the New Republic of the way the terrorists wear down even the strong. "We are in the grip of an experiment testing how long a society can endure under relentless terrorism before it begins to disintegrate."

Israel today, tomorrow the world.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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