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Jewish World Review / May 18, 1998 / 22 Iyar, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Israel, Clinton and character

IT WAS ESPECIALLY IRONIC during the 50th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel that Bill and Hillary Clinton dealt Israel a one-two punch. Like so much that they have done, it was not even honestly admitted.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been denying the obvious --- that the Clinton administration issued a public ultimatum to Israel that it must grant concessions to the Palestinians before even sitting down to negotiate with them. Like the other White House spinmasters, she seems to think that if you don't use the word "ultimatum," then it is not an ultimatum.

Put aside for the moment the insanity of making concessions before even beginning negotiations. Publicly humiliating Israel in front of the world by declaring a deadline for them to agree to these terms is not simply a bad move for the present, it is an incredible precedent for the future.

It takes two to tango and the Palestinians have little incentive to make reciprocal concessions to Israel if they can instead get the United States to lean on the Israelis to make unilateral concessions to them.

To add further insult, while delicate international negotiations were going on among the Israelis, the American government and the Palestinians, Hillary Clinton had to announce on television that she was for a Palestinian state. Her media defenders declare that someday there probably will be a Palestinian state -- missing the point entirely.

What will happen eventually is not something that a responsible person with worldwide visibility blurts out in the midst of major international negotiations. The most charitable explanation is that she just forgot.

But that is too charitable.

Anyone whose IQ is not in single digits knows that such an announcement will be electrifying among the Palestinians and their Middle East allies. What it says, underneath, is that you don't have to tango with Israel. We are for giving you what you want.

No doubt many people in Israel, including at least some in the Israeli government, are prepared to see a Palestinian state emerge --- if it is not a threat to Israel's own security and survival. That is what negotiations are all about, getting concessions that will reduce that threat.

But you don't get concessions by putting the cart before the horse and announcing in advance that you favor a Palestinian state.

The Clintons are not stupid, whatever their moral failings may be. They understand all this perfectly well. What then are they up to?

This is not about Israel or the Palestinians or the whole Middle East.

It is about Bill Clinton's political need to "look presidential" at home by engineering an international deal. The terms of that deal and whether it will eventually lead to peace or disaster is not the point.

If this means throwing Israel to the wolves, so be it. There is nothing new about Clinton throwing others to the wolves to serve his own ends.

Why would Israel be an exception?

Even our own country is not an exception. American military forces are being allowed to deteriorate in order that Clinton can claim a balanced budget, while continuing to escalate federal spending on social programs. Thoughtful and knowledgeable people in both political parties have expressed concern about what that deterioration means for our future.

Other people's futures have never been as important to Bill Clinton as his own present. In years to come, we may yet rue the day that this administration swept international nuclear proliferation problems under the rug or committed Americans to fight and die in Eastern Europe over issues that have no bearing on the wellbeing of the United States.

All these moves helped Clinton at the moment. They provided photo ops that looked good on the 6 o'clock news. It would take character to be concerned beyond the moment for the sake of other people. And Clinton doesn't have character.

That is why "the character issue" that clever people dismiss is the central issue for any leader -- and especially for any president of the United States. Character matters far beyond sexual affairs, though sometimes trivial things can give you valuable clues about things that are much more weighty and much more long lasting in their consequences.

5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.