Innocent President Abroad

It’s like the classic gag about the funeral where the rabbi is going on and on about the deceased, how he was a man of high character, unlimited generosity and impeccable morals. Suddenly he pauses and through the ensuing silence the widow can be heard in a stage whisper: “Children, take a quick look and make sure that really is your father in the coffin.”

To hear President Bush speak about all those swell Arab statesmen he ran into in the Middle East makes you wonder why we are always the last to know. With such geniuses and nice guys as leaders over there, the conflicts must certainly be on the brink of resolution. Yep, says President Bush, he sees it all getting smoothed out before he heads home to Crawford. Is that a form of optimism, do you think, or does some saltier word come to mind?

To facilitate his vision, the President chose to employ a term on this trip never before used by an American official of any kind. He referred to some of the land Israel holds on the West Bank of the Jordan River as being under “occupation”. That is a nasty, loaded phrase, one designed only for use in punitive formats. Its application to the post-1967 situation in Israel was heretofore restricted to bellicose regional potentates like Saddam Hussein or weasely Palestinian negotiators. The President would like to believe that saying this sort of thing will enhance Arab confidence in American objectivity, but in real terms, all this does is show weakness.

You remember that other old joke? The mother angrily calls the school principal. “What are you teaching those kids? My son brought a towel to gym class and he came home without it. It must have been stolen.”

“Ma’am, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes a child will leave an item in the classroom by accident. In fact, tell me what it looks like and I will take a look around the school grounds myself.”

“It is white terry cloth, and it has Hilton stamped on it in red.”

This notion that somehow Israel has usurped Palestinian territories to feed its own nefarious greed is absurd. First of all, the land Israel captured in 1967 was the result of a defensive war; the Arabs attacked en masse, Israel fought back and drove them back. Secondly, that land belonged to Jordan before being conquered, not to Palestinians at all.

When the late King Hussein of Jordan pulled a fast one in 1990 and relinquished his country’s claim to the West Bank, that was intended to force Israel to negotiate directly with the Palestinians. But in moral terms that actually reinforced Israel’s right to keep the extra turf, since the country they wrested it from had withdrawn its sovereignty. You will never hear anyone make this argument, because our minds have settled into the rut plowed by the media (and the UN types), but I believe that this is God’s truth.

If you travel to the areas captured by Israel in 1967 and then heavily populated by Israeli citizens, such as Maalei Adumim or Kiryat Arba, you notice one thing immediately. These areas are not surrounded by residential or agricultural zones which had been in place beforehand. There are no Palestinian structures inhabited by Israelis, no fields paved over to make shopping malls. This was neglected, undeveloped or underdeveloped land, now beautifully sprouted into proud cities with full modern streets and services.

In the early 80s, Ronald Reagan once said something to Menachem Begin about Palestinian land rights, and Begin acidly retorted that he doesn’t see the United States giving the Hudson River back to the Indians anytime soon. Reagan was displeased by the confrontational rhetoric, but Begin was more right than wrong. He was trying to anchor the utilitarian negotiations with the Palestinians in a recognition of the ultimate truth that they have no case. They were not a nation, they had no sovereign land, and what individual holdings they had were not maximized into a working civilization.

President Bush, like many well-intentioned chief executives before him, is rowing into the deep mud of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a paddle; even the paddle is not much help in that swamp. To go from there to Saudi Arabia expecting the royals to be impressed with his clout seems kind of naïve from where we sit. More likely they think he is eating out of their hand. He is no pushover, our President, but those are the top con men in the world. It says Hilton on their towels, and the coffin they have built is not for their father, it’s for us.