By George Brewer
In the immediate aftermath of the destruction of September 11, several voices were raised that attempted to link the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to Greater Israel's ongoing problems with its subject Palestinian population. Indeed, the former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a stunning display of cynicism, at first proclaimed the attacks "very good" for Israel. According to news reports, some Israelis seemed to be quite eager to express their solidarity with such loaded comments as "Now you understand what we have to deal with every day" or "Now you [Americans] are real Israelis."
Opinion mongers were not far behind; David Gelernter, a columnist for the National Review, flatly stated that the Twin Towers were attacked largely because of America's "decency" in standing up for little Israel. Michael Ledeen, from the same source, proclaimed that America's first reaction to the attack should be to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although the usefulness of that gesture would be hard to interpret. (Pundit watchers know that Ledeen's demand that the US move its embassy is a rhetorical ritual reminiscent of Cato's calls for Carthage's destruction.)
In any case, these voices, public and private, seemed to assume that by proclaiming a connection, Israel would be given a green light to wreak violence on the Palestinians without further protest from Washington weaklings. To a certain extent, this was even true, as in the first few days after the attacks Sharon's trophy hunters killed some two dozen Palestinians.
We must confess that it was our fear of such opportunistic destruction that led us, in our first evaluation of the matter on September 15, to expose the false bottom to the argument. That is, we took pains to show that the linkage of the terrorist attacks on America with Israel's policies was not only false, but even dangerous to Jewish interests. Our reasoning was twofold. First, that Arabs hate the US for many reasons, more of them having to do with oil and their own societies than with Israel. Second, we argued that pro-Israel commentators, by insinuating Israel into the discussion, were actually inviting the American people to take a long hard look at how the "Middle East's only democracy" actually treats its subjects.
The SwitchImagine our surprise, when, over the past few weeks, Israel's connection to the 911 Terror Attacks has disappeared off the radar screens of polite punditry. Now, it is routinely argued that Israel's persecution of the Palestinian people has absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic terrorism that destroyed the Twin Towers. The new posture has gone to such absurd lengths that the mayor of New York, Rudolf Giuliani, rejected a $10 million dollar donation from a Saudi prince simply because the check came accompanied by a rather gentle reminder that the inequities of the Palestinian situation aggravated an already volatile climate of despair. Hence, almost 20% of the fund set aside for the victims and families of the World Trade Center collapse was thrown away by the Mayor in order to be politically correct.
This reversal of attitudes concerning Israel's linkage to the attacks has not been the only switch in the landscape. Far from allowing Greater Israel a free hand with its Arabs, the Bush White House, after a few days of distraction, has made it very clear that it will no longer tolerate Israeli foot dragging in terms of achieving a political solution in Palestine. These promptings have been accompanied by a great deal of talk about the forthcoming Palestinian state. Evidently, the Bush White House has also made it clear to Israel that it will no longer be able to engage in such flagrant practices as using American attack helicopters and fighter jets against the Palestinians as before. There have been some bizarre actions on Israel's part in response to these pressures, including a memorable and typically self-centered press conference by Sharon.
Two New ExcusesAs a last redoubt against the winds of change, the defenders of Israel have fallen back on two new arguments. One is that any talk of the Palestinian situation at this time, either as regards a Palestinian state or an alleviation of the miserable conditions under which Israel forces them to live, is ill timed. The first argument variously claims either that such gestures "encourage" terrorism, or that they "distract" the anti-Osama coalition from the military operations at hand. The second rather hoary argument, given full expression by Bob Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, is that the roots of Islamic terrorism as well as Palestinian unrest are the same: envy at Israel's "success."
Taking the second argument first, it is certainly somewhat questionable to discuss Israel as a "success." Most "successful" states, say, Germany or Japan, don't require $2 billion in economic and humanitarian aid, something which Israel requires every year (in addition to another $2 billion in weapons.) Further, no state can be counted a "success" when nearly 40% of its population lives in under severe conditions of economic deprivation, as has the Palestinian population for over 30 years under Israel's effectual control. True, Israelis may feel that they are unjustly held accountable for the miserable lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In that case, however, there is a simple solution. They can leave.
But there is a more malicious dimension to Bartley's self-satisfied argument. It is hard to see how the Palestinians can achieve any kind of economic success when their water is rationed by the Israelis, and when their houses, orchards, and fields are routinely bulldozed. In fact, such practices would seem to condemn the Palestinians to perpetual poverty and Bartleyan "envy." Maybe the people over at the Wall Street Journal don't understand that capital cannot accumulate when it is continually being destroyed.
The first argument, in all of its variants, contends that addressing the human rights of the Palestinians is "dangerous." Since, however, the "war against terrorism" will supposedly last for many years, we are now supposed to accept the idea that any resolution of the Palestinian situation will have to wait until a victorious conclusion is achieved. In effect, this argument is nothing more than a plea to go on doing nothing.
ConclusionTo its credit, the Bush White House has made it clear that it is not going to be dissuaded from the path of fairness by the manufactured casuistry of those who sound like they were raised on Ariel Sharon's ostrich farm. This administration recognizes that there is no more room for temporizing, and, if in fact the plight of the Palestinians is frequently, and wrongly, invoked by Bin Laden and his ilk for demagogic purposes, that does not mean that the Palestinian cause is irrelevant for achieving peace and stability in the Middle East.
For as long as the Palestian problem is allowed to fester, the more Israel undercuts its own security, and its own Jewishness in the long run; and as the televised discrimination and killing goes on, the more disaffected and ill-placed young men, throughout the Arab world, will continue to flock to the banner of terrorism. Hence a just and equitable settlement in the Middle East is necessary, not only to thwart terrorism, but because it is right, and because we lose our humanity and our sense of justice if we keep our heads buried in the sand, pretending that the problem is not there.
Installed: 07/27/98, 1: 00 AM, PST