Thursday, October 28, 2004

MSNBC - Amb. Wendy Sherman on Yasir Arafat

MSNBC - Malign Neglect: "Malign Neglect
Both Bush and Kerry blame Arafat for the mess in the Mideast. If the Palestinian leader is suddenly out of the picture, both candidates will have to come up with real policies—not just transparent appeals to Jewish voters. WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
By Christopher Dickey
Newsweek
Updated: 1:26 p.m. ET Oct. 28, 2004Oct. 28 - If “the old man” dies, and it’s looking like he might, both George W. Bush and John Kerry have some explaining to do. Like, what’s their policy toward Israel and the Palestinians? Do they really even have one?

To date, 75-year-old Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat—known to friends as Abu Ammar (“the old man”), known to enemies as a liar, murderer and thief—has provided both our president and his challenger with a convenient cop-out. If they mentioned the peace process at all, it was to bash Arafat. “You know,” said Bush in the second TV debate, “I've made some decisions on Israel. That's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat because I felt like he had let the former president down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state.”

Otherwise, what’s passed for policy toward Israel in stump speeches by the candidates and their boosters has been nothing but a transparent appeal to Jewish voters. The candidates assume that Jews want to be told that the United States will do anything and everything to protect and support Israel, no matter who leads it or how. Rarely in the history of international relations have the politicians of one country expressed such unconditional love for another. Former president Bill Clinton, campaigning for Kerry in Florida, went so far as to say the Democratic candidate is a “loyal friend of Israel.” Loyal?

President Bush and his minions like to suggest that the Iraq war was launched, not least, for Israel’s benefit. “I personally think one of the reasons we don't have as many suicide attacks today in Israel as we had in the past is because Saddam is no longer in business,” says Vice President Dick Cheney. “A free Iraq will secure Israel,” says the president.

This line of argument is not only less than true, it’s more than dangerous. If suicide attacks are down, it’s not because Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is no longer around to offer a $25,000 recompense to bombers’ families, whose homes are usually bulldozed by the Israelis. It’s because the infamous wall built by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on mostly confiscated Palestinian lands has proved an effective short-term barrier against most terrorist attacks. The theoretical strategic threat Saddam would have presented if he ever got back on his feet was a legitimate concern, but not a likely one. As we all know now, and some of us knew then, before the invasion ever began, he was thoroughly contained, disarmed and defanged. According to the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, "Iraq has now become a convenient arena for Jihad, which has helped Al Qaeda to recover from the setback it suffered as a result of the war in Afghanistan. With the growing phenomenon of suicide bombing, the U.S. presence in Iraq now demands more and more assets that might have been otherwise deployed against various dimensions of the global terrorist threat." So none of us is safer.

By suggesting, as the Bush campaign often does, that the Iraq war is good for the Jews, it gratuitously implicates Israelis and the U.S. voters it wants in an unpopular war costing hundreds of billions of dollars as well as rivers of American and Iraqi blood. Stranger still, some Bush campaign advisers think American Jews should be grateful. One recently confided to the Israeli daily Haaretz that to date he’s been “disappointed” when he looks at the polls. Ronald Reagan got almost 40 per cent of the Jewish vote. Bush is not expected to get more than 30 (although that’s up 10 points on the 2000 result).

It seems a long time ago now, but there were some people in the Bush administration who actually argued before the insurgency began that the road to peace in the Middle East—which is the only way to bring real, long-lasting security to Israelis and Palestinians—led not through Jerusalem or Ramallah, but through Baghdad.

This was always an implausible academic conceit. Now it seems delusional. But it was given credibility by the seeming absence of other alternatives. And for that, the blame always went to Arafat. His maddening, mercurial rule had exhausted every option, it was said. And anyone looking for fresh options would soon be exhausted, too. As Kerry foreign-policy adviser Wendy Sherman recently told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “the burden of the current mess in the Middle East, the collapse of the last serious peacemaking effort under President Clinton, the wave of terror that has followed, and the failure to end terrorist violence today rest primarily with the Palestinian leadership and Yasir Arafat, in particular.”

What happens if suddenly he’s out of the picture? Where does the peace process stand today? The usual, candid answer off the record from U.S. officials directly concerned is “what peace process?” But that’s too simple. Both Bush and Kerry advocate the creation of a Palestinian state that would be viable and “contiguous”—that is, something more than a collection of little Bantustans like the pseudo-sovereign states set up by the old apartheid regime in South Africa.

Yet Sharon’s current plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, which both candidates also support, is very much the beginning of a Bantustan design. There’s no direct consultation or coordination with Arafat or his security forces. The Palestinians will get what the Sharon government is willing to give them, no more, no less—and, in the end, not much.

The proposal to take 8,000 settlers and the troops who protect them out of the midst of 1.3 million Palestinians does little more than lay the groundwork for an enormous prison. Israel will control the fences, and little children—who are the majority of Gaza’s population—will be left to grow up with no sense of freedom or a future. Any withdrawal from the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, is nothing more than a token gesture. This is not a blueprint for peace, really, or even a roadmap pointing the way there. It is simply and explicitly a way to divest Israel of Arabs in the demographic struggle to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority inside its current borders and, eventually, the West Bank.

Put to a vote in the Knesset this week, Sharon’s plan won an overwhelming majority. But for the radical settlers who believe God gave them every inch of Gaza and the West Bank, it’s still too much. Which is why Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, at a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, warned that more assassinations could be in the works. Haaretz quoted Mofaz saying, “We do not know if there is another loaded revolver waiting to strike Israeli democracy again.

It’s an ugly picture. And I’m among those who believe only the United States has the power to begin to change it at this late date. The Bush administration has simply dropped the ball. Searching for a fantasy solution in Baghdad, it turned its back on the realities in Jerusalem.

“Some might say that the parties need to grow up and that some benign neglect is in order,” says Kerry adviser Sherman. “They would have you believe that American engagement is a euphemism for pressuring Israel. But as events on the ground demonstrate, there is no such thing as benign neglect. And, indeed, the lack of involvement is what imperils Israel, not American engagement—as the current state of affairs with respect to Gaza disengagement demonstrates.”

If “the old man” goes, then it truly is time for the United States to fight again, with all its diplomatic and economic power, for a just and lasting peace that ends the key conflict in the Middle East. In fact, it’s long past time.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc."

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