“In a better world, the PLO chief would have met his end on a gallows, hanged for mass murder much as the Nazi chiefs were hanged at Nuremberg. … In a better world, George Bush would not have said, on hearing the first reports that Arafat had died, ‘God bless his soul.’
”God bless his soul? What a grotesque idea! … God, I am quite sure, will damn him for eternity.”
So writes Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe. And we are surely fortunate to have columnists who know the mind of God.
In defense of President Bush, if that was his first reaction to Arafat’s death, it bespeaks a Christian heart. As a boy in World War II, I was taught by Catholic nuns that while permissible to pray for the death of Hitler or Tojo, it was impermissible to pray for their damnation. That was hatred, and hatred is a sin.
That Arafat’s PLO harbored terrorists and his Fatah committed acts of terror is undeniable. And some of those acts were done with Arafat’s approval. But if, as Jacoby writes, Arafat “inculcated the vilest culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich,” why did Ehud Barak offer him 95 percent of the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem? Why did “Bibi” Netanyahu give him Hebron?
Why did Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin share a Nobel Prize with him? Why did Bill Clinton invite him to the White House more times than any other leader? Were they all enablers of terrorism?
No. All realized something that neoconservatives reject. For better or worse, as the explosion of grief at his death demonstrated, Arafat came to personify and symbolize the just cause of Palestinian nationhood. And if one desires peace for Israel, that cause must be accommodated.
With Arafat dead, the excuse Sharon had for not negotiating, as he planted new settlements on Palestinian land, is gone. The excuse Bush had for suspending America’s role as honest broker is gone.
Already, however, Sharon’s propagandists are laying down new markers before talks can begin. Palestinian elections must be held, and new leaders acceptable to Sharon produced. All acts of terror must cease indefinitely. All militias must be disarmed.
As the Palestinians attempt to surmount each hurdle, new ones will be raised, for the unacknowledged elephant in the room is that Sharon does not want negotiations. He got all he wants last April. In a formal letter, Bush agreed that the Palestinians have no right of return to Israel, that the Sharon Wall can be extended, that the big Israeli settlements we used to call illegal belong to Israel forever, that Jerusalem need not be shared with the Palestinians.
”Sharon Got It All!” was the banner headline in Ha’aretz.
Sharon’s negotiator, Dov Weinglass, told the paper that the scheme, from the beginning, was that Sharon would pull his 8,000 settlers out of Gaza, an enclave Israel does not want. Then, the peace process would be “embalmed.” Bush was had.
The ball is now in Bush’s court, and he has been maneuvered into a hellish position by his own neoconservatives, who cut the sweetheart contract with Sharon. Should the Palestinians choose leaders willing to renounce terror and negotiate a peace along the lines of the Camp David and Taba deals brokered by Clinton, and the Saudi Plan hailed by Bush himself, the president will have to insist that Sharon negotiate.
But then he will learn that Sharon thinks he already has Bush’s backing for retention of all major settlements and against any right of return or sharing of Jerusalem.
Should Bush demand that Sharon negotiate, the cry of “Munich!” will be raised and echoed by the Israeli lobby, Congress, evangelical Christians, and neocons. At which point, we will learn whether we have a tough or a timorous Texan in the White House.
We need a tough Texan. For not only are U.S. interests entwined with justice for the Palestinians, so, too, are our values.
While a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, midwifed by America, would not mean an end to all terror, it would end an injustice. It would drain off resentment of America in a part of the world where we were once admired. It would erase a glaring anomaly that has been morally crippling to America among our remaining friends in the world. And it would accord with our national interests – and our values.
For in the Middle East we do not practice the values we preach to the world. Were Russians doing to Latvians or Germans to Czechs what Israelis are doing to Palestinians, we would never be countenancing such repression and thievery with $3 billion in aid every year. Time to end the double standard that has erased so much of the goodwill won by America in the Cold War.
Is George Bush up to it? We shall see.