What's All This Then?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It was only a few days ago when I was comparing Bill Clinton unfavorably with the other living ex-presidents because they weren’t spending their time giving speeches and raking in millions. Now I have to reverse myself - at least partially. Compared to Jimmy Carter, Clinton is the epitome of how an ex-president should conduct himself - except when he’s campaigning on behalf of hi wife of course.

Carter has just pulled of a miraculous feat. He has solved the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He has persuaded Hamas to recognize Israel. He said so. I saw it on television so it must be true. This will surely go down in history alongside such other historic moments as Neville Chamberlain standing outside 10 Downing Street on September 30, 1938 after his meeting in Munich with Adolph Hitler and declaring that he had achieved "peace for our time" - and President George W Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 declaring that "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

Of course there was a small difference between the Chamberlain and Bush statements and that of Mr. Carter. It took almost a whole year - until September 3, 1939 before England went to war against Germany and "peace for our time" got put on hold until 1945. And five years after "mission accomplished" was declared to the world by the backdrop to the Bush speech on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, we are still stuck in Iraq. In Carter’s case , I think that Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal took only hours to make it clear that the meddling ex-president’s version of "peace for our time" was a bunch of hooey. Maybe it wasn’t even hours. For all I know, it might have been at the very moment when Carter was announcing his astounding break through when Meshaal was assuring the Arab media that Hamas would never recognize Israel. And of course - as is the Arab custom - the "breakthrough" was celebrated with a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on Carter. He’s just one of a long line of outsider do-gooders who seem to think that they can persuade madmen to abandon their madness. Some of Carter’s comments were particularly revealing of his naiveté. For example, he said he found the Hamas leadership, including Khalid Meshaal, to be "clear-thinking, educated people who gave no sign of fanaticism." Think about that. Carter sees people who, after 60 years, believe that their proper role is to fight a never ending war with Israel which will end with the destruction of that nation -who they refuse to acknowledge actually exists - as "clear thinking" who "give no sign of fanaticism!!"

And as further evidence of the clarity of their thinking, they propose a ten year "truce" - a pause to refresh before they continue their endless war - and in the meantime insist that any Arabs who left Israel in 1948 - and their descendants - be permitted to return and reclaim their original homes, if they exist - and presumably, if they don’t, to occupy whatever exists in their place. And, as has been the case for this demand over six decades, no mention was made to Mr. Carter of the suggested status of those who would be returning to their former homes. As petitioning Israeli citizens? As resident aliens? As a Hamas fifth column? Clear thinking indeed.

I have written here many times about this endless conflict. I have proposed solutions that would work to everyone’s advantage if sanity prevailed. I have corresponded with those on both sides of the conflict who have proposed solutions of their own. These have been sane people who are sincere in what they proposed. Unfortunately, the people representing the Palestinian Arabs who could ratify and honor such solutions are totally insane. There is some degree of insanity on the Israeli side to be sure. There are Israelis who believe that their borders should be expanded to encompass the Biblical land of Israel. There are Israelis who think that all Arabs should be expelled from Israel. But such people - even those who may be elected to the Knesset - are not leaders of the nation and will never be national leaders. Israeli prime ministers have been from the extreme left and from the extreme right - but all have been sane and all have been capable of agreeing to and enforcing a solution that Israelis and Palestinian Arabs could live with and ultimately benefit from. The same cannot be said of Palestinian leaders and neither can it be said of large segments of the Palestinian Arab population. The impossible dream is at the center of their demands. UN resolution181 and Israel’s declaration of independence remains for Palestinian Arabs as "Catastrophe Day" and continues to be "celebrated" as such to this day. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been quoted as saying "We will never forget our identity and we won't forget the refugees" and "We have a homeland called Palestine that belongs to our forefathers... Today is the day of the crime of the expulsion of our nation all over the world."

And Abbas is the moderate Palestinian Arab leader.

I believe that there will one day be a resolution to the conflict. It will happen when Arab leaders emerge who pursue only what is practical and possible and in so doing win the support of a majority of Palestinian Arabs and the ability to suppress the independent jihad groups. I do not believe it will happen in my lifetime. And I certainly don’t believe that anyone from outside of the Middle East will be the catalyst for an ultimate resolution. That’s not to say that Jimmy Carter couldn’t make a useful contribution to the conflict. He could do so simply by staying home, growing peanuts and posing for an occasional Habitat for Humanity photo-op.