There's a way out of this Middle East mess. Bill Clinton, the highest paid host in Hollywood history, will invite Yassir, Shimon, and Ehud onto his "I'll Feel Your [Fill in the Blank] Show," and this time the price will be right: Palestine will become our 51st State, Puerto Rico our 52nd, the District of Columbia our 53rd, and the District of Little Rock our 54th. By winning on Bill's show, each new state will receive an additional 5 electoral votes. Eventually Israel will be allowed to join the new Democratic Union as well, but only after its name is cleared at The Hague, which may take a good few years, since the cases of Serbia, Saddam and Jean-Marie Le Pen will have to be heard first. In the interim, Israel will be required to transfer its location to an as yet undisclosed spot in the Mediterranean, which may turn out to be south of Antarctica.
On the brighter side, Clinton's show will still be going strong by the time Israel's plea for rehabilitation is heard. More interesting, though, is the question: who will be Bill's Ed McMahon, the greeter of greeters and in-house ha-ha man and chortler? One possibility is French cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who did a standup job lifting hands with Yassir yesterday outside the Palestinian star's Ramallah studio. Etchegaray's craven Gallic smile, talents scouts said, was the finest since the days of Maurice Chevalier during the Nazi occupation of Paris. What's more, the good cardinal's demeanor appeared to have a calming effect on the volatile Arafat, who, if he clicks in Hollywood, would be the next Sean Penn. He just wants it written into his contract that he won't ever have to marry Madonna.
For deeply personal and religious reasons, Bill's show will be the first with its own fulltime shrink. The talent search ended several days ago when Dr. Adel Sadeq, chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists Association and professor of psychiatry in Cairo, diagnosed Bill's successor in a dispassionate communiqué that had King Tut turning over in his pyramid. Addressing his remarks directly to President Bush, Dr. Sadeq declared: "You are an evil person with an ugly soul. I equate your stupidity with mercilessness and inhumanity, and swear that I knew you were stupid long before it became known to the entire world.... Your stupidity is reflected in your facial features. Your face reminds me of the face of those who frequent a clinic for the mentally retarded." Speechwriting credit is being contested by everyone from Maureen Dowd to Joe Conason to Paul Begala to Gene Lyons to Al Gore to John Walker Lindh. Insiders predict, however, that Paul Krugman will emerge the winner.
Owing to Bill's long special relationship with the U.S. military, his show will also feature its own successor to Generals John Shalikashvili and Henry Shelton. Here too the talent hunt ended the other day when Marine Lt. Gen. Gregg Newbold announced he wants to retire. In lovely Clintonite fashion, he intends to cut and run right in the middle of a war. He said he found the stress of his staff job too much to handle. He said he deserves a better "quality of life." More honorably of all, he said he wants to retire at 3-star rank even though he hasn't served long enough to qualify for it. According to Enemy Central's inspector general at the Pentagon, "He must have been hand-picked by Hillary and the girls. Chesty Puller is spinning in his grave at this one. If I were Rummy, I'd accept his resignation, and make it effective yesterday."
The Bill Show will also feature regular poetry readings. They may come in the form of tributes to Bill recited on the record by former aides and staffers. These verses may lack rhyme or reason, but because they'll be about Bill, they'll be, by definition, poetry. Or they may reflect the flip side of homages to Bill, in that they'll feature the speaker talking exclusively about himself, a preoccupation reluctantly agreed to only because there's no other way to communicate how morally and ethically superior the speaker happens to be. It may disappoint Bill that the Hon. Richard Cohen isn't likely to be a "yes" man, but Cohen will more than compensate by demonstrating what a true "I" man looks like. In one column alone this week, Richard referred to himself as "I" some fifteen times in its first five paragraphs, though some might say he cooled off a bit after a hot start that saw him employ the "I" word seven times in his the first paragraph alone.
And to what purpose did Richard apply those pronuciamentos? Why, to declare that criticizing Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic. What courage it required to come right out with it, weeks after everyone else in his profession has been pulling the same stunt; how difficult it must have been for Richard to concede that the Palestinian cause he insists on supporting has been "sullied by terrorism." He just can't face the possibility that Israel's future remains sullied by a political culture that can only agree that Israel cannot have a future. Perhaps that's a dispute that can be resolved on the Bill Show, where Cohen and Clinton would replace the old Middle East practice of "an eye for an eye" with "an I for an I," starting with Cohen explaining "how I was named Enemy of the Week for thinking the Middle East is all about me."