Recently I visited my brother’s home and met his sister-in-law for the first time in more than a decade. “You know,” she said, “when you close your eyes you sound just like your brother.” “Yes,” I responded. “That’s why I always keep my eyes open.” Sometimes you have to believe your eyes more than your ears.
The New York Times editorialized in a huffing tone this weekend on Israel’s raid to “free” prisoners from the Palestinian prison in Jericho. These men, who numbered among them the assassin of an Israeli Cabinet Minister, were terribly humiliated, snapped the shirty Times editorialist, by being marched out in their underwear. This “trampled the dignity of any Palestinian watching that spectacle.” Well, for once I agree. And do you know why? Because they were all fat.
Yep, fat. Portly. Stout. Chubby. These killers and terrorists, ostensibly being held in maximum security, all look like Firestone execs advertising their spare tires. On second thought, nothing spare about these fellows. Full and fulsome. Not having to impress any women until they arrive in Paradise has really gone to their heads, or more accurately, to their hips. So this is certainly a diplomatic embarrassment for the Palestinians, as their prisoners are shown to be eating better than the populace. Luncheon in the dungeon turns out to be double portions in the oubliette.
Sure enough, the Times of London reveals, it turns out that these boys had been sitting pretty in those erstwhile jails. They were keeping exotic birds, communicating with their cronies by cell phone, and smoking Cuban cigars. One piece is notably missing from this story about the “country club” prison: where is the deluxe weight room? The only weight those fellers were lifting was just some of that “settling by volume” they warn about on the cereal box. That’s really putting the ham back into Hamas.
Which brings us to the Palestinian leadership, if that’s not an oxymoron. Clearly, they were not running a jail in any penal sense. Either they were trying to, in which case they’re inept, or they were not, which makes them corrupt. Howbeit, their job they were certainly not doing. And what good are a bunch of fascists if they can’t even make the trains run on time?
This answers the complaint of Israeli disrespect; the other side doesn’t deserve respect. The problem still remains: what about tomorrow? Israel retaking those areas is not an option, nor has democratization produced a really viable government. What is the answer? Is there an answer? Allowing the situation to slide into anarchy is rife with the greatest danger of all, namely a combustible tinderbox in Israel’s backyard.
And to be very honest, no one has a real solution short of importing a million old schoolmarms to civilize the heathens. Neither Sharon nor Olmert nor Netanyahu nor Peretz nor Peres knows how to turn these guys into mensches. Sharon used to think he could beat it out of them and Peres used to think that the chance to make a buck would turn them all into be-bopping yuppies. All of those illusions have long since sunk deep into the human quicksand that is “the Palestinian people.”
The only sliver of hope is that they will somehow take control of their own destiny and conclude that violence, to use a phrase from twelve-step programs, “avails them naught.” That they had ought do aught more productive. It’s just that they don’t want to hear it from us. No amount of lecturing or posturing by Israelis or Americans will penetrate their hauteur. Olmert (extending Sharon’s policy) is gambling that if he parks them behind a wall and lets them do their own thing, they just might defy all odds and get a grip. It’s an awfully slender reed to build a future upon.
One thing is clear. For that to happen, they must get as disgusted with the bloodthirsty Hamas guys as they are with the sleazy and social-drinker-bloodthirsty Fatah fellas. The last election was a very sharp step in the wrong direction. They bought the image of the lean, mean fighting machine, Bruce Dern playing Cassius or some such thing. Elect Hamas and watch these grim inexorable proto-Zarqawis send the Jews back to Europe.
So Israel decided it was time to make them take their shirts off. In a nation of skinny people, the great warriors turned out to be a bunch of paunchy couch potatoes smoking Cuban cigars. The Times wrings its hands about the Palestinians feeling humiliated because their great civilian-killers are down to their drawers instead of drawing down. But they miss the populist anger that will register when they see their swashbucklers with more avoirdupois than savoir-faire.
The emperor has no clothes: a sallow and adipose specimen is he. He needs to put his palate on a stricter regimen, then who knows? Maybe he’ll produce a more palatable regime.