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Jewish World Review May 8, 2002 / 26 Iyar, 5762

Robert W. Tracinski

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Conference in
Cloud Cuckoo Land | On Thursday, the Bush administration announced that it would join with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia to host an international peace conference to settle the conflict in the Middle East. No location was announced for this meeting, but I can suggest a neutral country that would be perfect for the idea: Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is the fictional city in the clouds from Aristophanes' play "The Birds," a parody of the mystical fantasies of the philosopher Plato and his followers. So it seems like the natural location for a conference based on a gossamer foundation of fiction and fantasy.

Fantasy No. 1: The Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and its release of Yasser Arafat constitute "progress."

According to Colin Powell, "This is a time for prompt action to take advantage of this new window of opportunity that has been presented to us." The vague grammar -- the opportunity "has been presented to us" -- is no accident. Powell doesn't want to admit who gave him this opportunity.

Remember that Israelis tried for a year to get a mere "seven days of quiet" as a pre-condition for negotiations -- yet Arafat would not give it to them. It is only now, after weeks of relative calm, that diplomats can start talking about a peace conference. But it was not Arafat who gave us this lull in the killing. The killing was stopped by Israel's vigorous military offensive -- in defiance of Powell's demands.

Fantasy No. 2: Re-arming Yasser Arafat is the path to peace.

Everything about this new peace conference is up in the air. We don't know who will participate, what proposals it will discuss or even what results it is supposed to achieve. (Here is Powell's best description of the conference's goal: to "pull together ideas and create momentum and figure out a way to move forward.") But there was one specific measure that everyone agreed should be taken right away: rebuilding Arafat's "security apparatus" so that he can get to work on -- get this -- cracking down on terrorism.

Israel's invasion unearthed a mountain of evidence that Arafat not only tolerates terrorism but has actively funded and coordinated terrorist attacks. This includes documents showing that the chief of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank worked with Hamas and Islamic Jihad to plan suicide bombings. Yet these are the people we are supposed to re-arm to stop terrorism.

Plato's followers -- the inhabitants of the original Cloud Cuckoo Land -- believed that the facts of this world are an illusion, and that they had to look inward to discover the real reality, the "Realm of Pure Forms." His contemporary followers in the diplomatic corps apparently believe that Arafat the terrorist is an illusion and that the "pure form" of Arafat is a statesman.

Fantasy No. 3: The Arab world is interested in making peace with Israel. This obviously explains why the Saudis hold telethons for the families of terrorist bombers and allow their ambassadors and state-run newspapers to publish the foulest anti-Jewish incitement. This is also why the Arab nations have refused to take in Palestinian refugees, herding them into semi-permanent camps where they are promised the "right of return" -- over Israel's corpse.

The Arabs' only real goal is to thwart the assertion of American power. By agreeing to make peace in Israel as a pre-condition for our war against Iraq, we are giving them every incentive to make sure the killing continues.

But the ultimate fantasy, the fiction on which everything else rests, is this: We can make peace by negotiating with terrorists.

A news report on the peace conference proposal reminds us that "The last international conference on the Mideast was held in Madrid in 1991," which "paved the way for the past decade of progress." Yet this is a decade that has seen constantly accelerating Palestinian terrorism. In the decade before the 1993 Oslo accords, Palestinian terrorists killed 209 Israelis. In the two and a half years after that, they killed 213 Israelis. And in the past 19 months, terrorists have killed more than 400 Israelis. Oddly, the Israelis aren't eager for another decade of this kind of "progress."

Perhaps when this new conference is done bringing peace to the Middle East, its participants can move on to other important controversies, like the partitioning of Atlantis and ending world hunger by distributing all of that green cheese from the moon. Those goals are as firmly rooted in reality as the new Mideast peace conference.

Comment on JWR contributor Robert W. Tracinski's column by clicking here.

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