STANDARDS ISSUE:During his trip to Washington, the once and future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel is probably the only country in the world held to triple standards. Nondemocracies, of which not much is expected, are held to the first set, industrial democracies like the U.S., of whom better is expected, to the second, and then there is Israel -- whose every gesture is by definition understood to be a violation of Palestinian human rights.
By contrast, one could argue, Yassir Arafat is held to no standards at all. Last Saturday, to secure a meeting with Colin Powell jeopardized by still another suicide bombing, he issued his famous statement, in Arabic, mind you, that supposedly condemned terrorism. That's how it was reported, at least in the non-Arabic language U.S. media. "Arafat Rejects Terrorism," ABC News declared on its website. While the accompanying AP story on its website noted that Arafat in his statement also "lashed out at Israel's West Bank operation," viewers of ABC's Saturday evening news with Carole Simpson weren't told anything like that, only that Arafat had rejected terrorism. TV reports only what it wants to hear, even if that means perpetuating what everyone knows is a sham.
On closer inspection, the statement insults the Arabic it's written in -- or at least the English of the AP's translation available on the Washington Post's website. The key sentence, for peace-in-our-time purposes, comes at the very beginning: "The Palestinian leadership and His Excellency President Arafat express their deep condemnation for all terrorist activities, whether it is state terrorism, terrorism by a group or individual terrorism." (Love that "His Excellency.") At best, it's a very general "rejection" of terrorism. No hint yet that maybe Arafat & Co. practice it. In any event, just so there'll be no misunderstanding on that score, the very second sentence of the statement is a model of cynical defiance: "This position comes from our steady principle that rejects using violence and terror against civilians as a way to achieve political goals." That's followed by a lengthier declaration of high purpose on the Palestinian end and a strong condemnation of Israeli policies.
Then a second key sentence, probably the closest thing to eating crow: "We strongly condemn all the attacks targeting civilians from both sides, and especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens yesterday in Jerusalem." When in doubt, say both sides. Then nothing can be used against you in a court of law.
So far, Arafat has expended 140 words: 52 on his "rejection," 88 on rejecting any rejection. The remaining 318 words of the 458 word statement all advance Palestinian grievances against Israel and recommit Arafat to a peace process that will end massacres and terrorism and bring "freedom and security" to both peoples. We've heard this talk before, unless maybe Arafat's cry for help from the U.N., international sympathizers, and the Saudis is his most desperate yet. For all his cynicism, he must still believe that he'll find a way to subject Israel to quadruple standards.
Incidentally, as if to reinforce her husband's noble intentions, Mrs. Suha Arafat resurfaced last Friday and from the comforts of Paris declared her solidarity with adolescent suicide bombers. Should win her a UNESCO prize, if not a smile from Colin Powell.
UTTER CONFUSION: My son yesterday left school early to attend the Israel Solidarity Rally near the U.S. Capitol, and came away puzzled and miffed that the one official he heard booed was Bush Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz while the likes of Rep. Richard Gephardt or Sen. Harry Reid received a uniformly warm reception.
I can sympathize with his confusion. For some time, President Bush's war on terrorism flip-flop at Israel's expense has threatened to revive memories of his father's turnaround on "no new taxes." Meanwhile, the main attacks on Israel's West Bank incursion have seemed to come from a liberal media otherwise more than eager to back a Gephardt or Harry Reid on most things. Similarly, such well-regarded liberals as Charles Schumer and Joseph Lieberman haven't suffered at all in the press for the staunch defense they've mounted of Israel and its right to defend itself, even if the very policies they defend are otherwise blasted by a soft-on-Arafat media. Maybe that's because the senators' unqualified defense of Israel has brought into focus Bush's uncharacteristic wobbliness, which in turn calls into question the staying power of commitments he made last September 20. Of course, even if Bush has come around to the media's view on the need for Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank, he'll get no credit it for it from a press that's convinced it had to drag him kicking and screaming to that position.
To add insult to injury, we now have Paul Wolfowitz, an unflinching hawk in the war on terrorism, taking the rap for his boss's recent shakiness. At least someone remains honorable.
LEWIS'S NEW LINE: Could it be that retired New York Times anti-Likudnik Anthony Lewis has moved a bit to the rightl? True, he still thinks the Saudi plan might be the way to go. And he still thinks Israel has a pretty sorry record vis-à-vis the Palestinians and he likes to cite Kofi Annan approvingly. But in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, he also writes that after the collapse of the Oslo process, "Palestinians carried out appalling acts of terrorism." Without rebutting their arguments, he writes that "the Israeli right wing, and influential American conservative supporters of Israel ...contend that Yasser Arafat has not really accepted Israel's right to exist. They argue that Palestinians, most of them, want not just to reclaim the occupied territories but to destroy Israel." As if to buttress this argument, he mentions the recent "conversion" of Israeli historian Benny Morris, a long-time critic of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians who now believes that the Palestinian leadership openly denies Israel's legitimacy. In describing a recent Morris op-ed, Lewis writes:
"Morris called Arafat 'an inveterate liar.' For a few years through Oslo in 1993, he said, Arafat and the PLO 'seemed to have acquiesced in the idea of a compromise. But since 2000 the dominant vision of a "Greater Palestine" has surged back to the fore.' Lately, he noted, Arafat has taken to questioning whether there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He thus refuses, Morris said, 'to recognize the history and reality of the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to the land of Israel.'"
Lewis essentially endorses this view: "I can agree with some of what Morris says. Yasser Arafat is not the leader Palestinians deserve; he has not been able to make the transition from guerrilla chieftain to statesman, to bring his people with him, to inspire the trust of his one-time enemies. His Palestinian Authority is undemocratic and corrupt. His denial of the existence of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is despicable."
If he keeps this up, Anthony Lewis could qualify to speak at the next Israel Solidarity Rally.
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