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August 01, 2005


I had been waiting for this. Azure, house journal the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, should be every conservative religious Zionist's home. They've got their new website up, and for one of the least-intrusive registrations I've seen, you get the current site and the archives. Their links lists are exhaustive, except that they contain no blogs.

Shalem was founded by Yoram Hazony, and he's now a contributing editor to Azure. Hazony is the author of The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul. It recounts the ideological, intellectual, and religious history of Zionism, and both Azure and Hazony are Zionists in the tradition of Herzl, Ahad Ha-Am, and ben Gurion. The state need not be religious, but the country must be Jewish.

The scholarship is impeccable, the thinking sharp, and the writing clear. Take a look.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:43 PM | TrackBack

June 06, 2005

Yom Yerushalayim

Going by the Jewish calendar, today is the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem (Yerushalayim in Hebrew), by Israeli forces in 1967's Six-Day War. As if to make Bernard Lewis's point, the only substantial victory by Arab forces in the 1948 War of Independence was won by a British general, John Glubb, commanding Jordan's Arab Legion. That victory came in the Old City of Jerusalem, and it would be 19 more years before Jews took control of our Temple Mount.

In those intervening 19 years, the Jordanian government and army would systematically demolish almost the entire Jewish Quarter, including the synagogues, one of which would be used for stabling horses.

It is my understanding that they did far worse things to the Torah scrolls there than handle them without gloves.

Jews (not Israelis, Jews) would be barred from praying at the Western Wall. Jews would be expelled from Jerusalem's Old City altogether.

The Jordanian government would allow the construction of an Intercontinental Hotel atop the Mount of Olives, a Jewish cemetery. The headstones would be used as paving stones.

Clearly, for Jews who might have to live under Palestinian rule, the question isn't whether they could tolerate it, but whether the Arabs are capable of tolerating them.

UPDATE: Anne Lieberman at Boker Tov, Boulder has some evidence that they can't,

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

The Temple Mount

This is a long, and complicated topic. Suffice it to say that the President's calling for Sharon not to expand Ma'ale Adumim suggests the same fundamendtal misunderstanding of the problem as we have seen before.

Strategically, Abbas calls is a "provocation," but the Palestinians have shown that the real provocation isn't anything Israel does, but the fact that Israel is.

Tactically, this is about Jerusalem, specifically, the Temple Mount. If the Palestinians complain that Ma'ale Adumim is about "Judaizing" a city that's been Jewish for over a hundred years, it strengthens their rhetorical claim to the city.

To those who ask Israel, "why can't you share?" I would point out that Muslims go up to the Al-Aqsa mosque every Friday for prayers, while the rabbis prohibit Jews from setting foot up there. The Waqf has dug up the ground and planted trees with deep roots and published widely in an attempt to deny even the existence of the Temple on the Temple Mount. In Hebron, the Tomb of the Patriarchs is open to everyone under Israeli rule. Under Muslim control, of course, Jews were forbidden.

Clearly, we're not the ones who need lectures about sharing.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Delegitimizing Israel

There was a point where I supported Sharon's disengagement plan on tactical and strategic grounds. Hillel Halkin put it well, describing it as a strategic pullback, designed to unilaterally draw the borders of the inevitable Palestinian state, to Israel's best advantage. On objective grounds, Israel is completely within its right to do this, the Palestinians having double-faulted away entire sets at this point. The position that the fence is a "land grab" is true only insofar as one assumes that the Palestinians have an inherent right to everything the Jordanians held onto in 1948.

I had hoped that the Palestinian reaction would be to realize the stew they were in, treat the loss of yet more territory they thought of as their own, as the loss it was, and perhaps proceed down whatever violent or non-violent path they needed to take in order to get back to sanity from their current, pathological state.

Not to be. Instead, backed by the Arab League and sadly, the US, they are treating it as a victory.

It speaks volumes that the Arab League would torpedo a Jordanian proposal on the grounds that diplomatic recognition is "something tangible." This sort of reasoning appeals primarily to the western diplomats who are the Arabs' target audience. The pursuit of diplomatic relations for their own sake is redolent of State Department and Labour policy that got us into this mess in the first place. Entire institutions dedicated to "diplomatic processes" have been dragooned into the Arab cause up in Turtle Bay. What's really tangible is disarmament and a few riyals crossing the border in the other direction, along with a couple of hundred terrorist leaders swinging from their feet for the benefit of al-Jihadi al-Jazeera.

Jews continue to farm land in Jordan as part of the peace treaty with that country. Personal ownership is different from national sovereignty. Just ask the Japanese who bought all that trophy real estate in the 1980s. Religious Jews see living in the Land of Israel as a commandment, even if it's outside the borders of the State of Israel. There's no inherent reason that Jews couldn't choose to live as either residents or citizens of a Palestinian state, except for that fact that they'd all be dead the next morning, which ought to be enough reason to hold off minting that new series of diplomatic car tags. But it also means that the term "ethnic cleansing" isn't really that far off the mark, even though it's a democratic government acquiescing to the bigotry of its external enemies.

The settlements have always been seen not as natural cities for individual Jews, but as arms of Israeli government policy. That, combined with the term "settlement," which conjures up imaginary log cabins rather than actual shopping malls and hospitals with real sliding glass doors and cement foundations, has always made them seem impermanent, without roots.

That the Arabs see Tel Aviv more or less the same way is inconveniently unrealistic for the Europeans and the American left, so it also generally isn't acknowledged by them, either. In the Arab mind, Gush Katif is just an outlying suburb, and if Jews - just for being Jews - can be removed from Gush Katif, there's no inherent reason the Arabs can't be renaming Diztengoff Street in due course.

When Oslo started, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who wholeheartedly supported the thing. He was adamant that there were certain red lines that no Israeli government could cross. "But it's not me you have to convince," I said, "it's the Arabs. They're the ones who have to believe." Silence.

I don't for a moment believe that Sharon has succumbed to the Peace Psychosis of the Left. The man spent his whole life fighting not only Arab armies in general, but terrorism in particular. Unlike Peres, he's not looking for open borders, but a defensible fortress. It may well be that forcibly relocating Jews from Gaza is better than telling them they're on their own and letting them get slaughtered. From a PR point of view, I know which one I'd rather see on the nightly news, although neither one is pretty.

But I do know that the Arabs still aren't convinced.

Posted by joshuasharf at 10:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

AP Captions

Boker Tov, Boulder points out some problems with an AP Caption:

The golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock mosque, located in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known to Jews as Temple Mount is seen inside the walled Old City in Jerusalem, Wednesday April 6, 2005

This transition has taken place quite recently, since the start of the current terrorist wave in 2000. Up until then, the site was called the Temple Mount, usually with something like "holy to both Jews and Muslims" added on.

Since the PLO, er, PA let it be known that they would call it "Haram al-Sharaf", that was usually added to the end.

Now, the AP has revered the order of priority.

Soon, they'll stop using the term "Temple Mount" altogether, and people will start wondering what's so special about the "Western Wall."

Until they go back to calling it the "Wailing Wall."

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 06, 2005

The Jordan Rules

The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Hani Mulki, is using Syria's non-pullout as a catalyst to - pressure Israel. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, he equates Syria's ongoing rape of Lebanon with Israel's occupation of the previously-uninhabited high ground between the two countries.

Never mind that Syria took the liberty of inviting itself into each country in turn, the primary difference being Israel's ability to defend itself.

In the meantime, Jordan wants back the Intecontinental Hotel on the Mount of Olives, which is on territory lost to Israel in the 1967 war. There may be a solution there, inasmuch as the Israeli-Jordanian Peace treaty permitted Israeli farmers to own and work land inside of Jordan. It may be possible to return the hotel to Jordanian control without ceding sovereignty over the Mount.

Except for the Jordanians' history in treating the cemetery there.

As usual, the existing Arab governments' first reaction to any regional change is to use it as a club against Israel. If Jordan were interested in any way in Syrian peace with Israel, it would try to build on this momentum to bring about change in Damascus.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 31, 2005

Ward of the State U - IV

Ah, it gets better. It turns out that DU has access to an extended academic database, where I can limit my searches to refereed publications. There, I did find one other pre-tenure piece, bringing the total to two, I believe. Possibly three. (Note that the stated publication date on the UCTP site is 1991, making it possibly one of the sounds, reasoned arguments that earned Mr. Churchill his tenure.)

What really caught my eye, though, was "Deconstructing the Columbus myth: was the "great discoverer" Italian or Spanish, Nazi or Jew?", which made it into Social Justice, Summer 1992 v19 n2 p39(17).

The question of Columbus' possible Jewishness nonetheless remained intriguing, not because I held it to be especially important in its own right, but because I was (and am still) mystified about why any ethnic group, especially one that has suffered genocide, might be avid to lay claim either to the man or to his legacy....

For Jews, at least those who have adopted the Zionist perspective, a "unique historical suffering" under Nazism translates into fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy that they are "the chosen," entitled by virtue of the destiny of a special persecution to assume a rarefied status among -- and to consequently enjoy preferential treatment from -- the remainder of humanity. In essence, this translates into a demand that the Jewish segment of the Holocaust's victims must now be allowed to participate equally in the very system that once victimized them and to receive an equitable share of the spoils accruing from it. To this end, Zionist scholars such as Irving Louis Horowitz and Elie Weisel have labored long and mightily, defining genocide in terms exclusively related to the forms it assumed under Nazism. In their version of "truth," one must literally see smoke pouring from the chimneys of Auschwitz to apprehend that a genocide, per se, is occurring.(1) Conversely, they have coined terms such as "ethnocide" to encompass the fates inflicted upon other peoples throughout history.(2) Such semantics have served, not as tools of understanding, but as an expedient means of arbitrarily differentiating the experience of their people -- both qualitatively and quantitatively -- from that of any other. To approach things in any other fashion would, it must be admitted, tend to undercut ideas like the "moral right" of the Israeli settler state to impose itself directly atop the Palestinian Arab homeland.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, garbage. It practically qualifies as an intellectual landfill all on its own.

There was a point in time, back when I was growing up, that certain Jews felt it necessary to try to prove Jewish connections to as many Western figures as possible. As the song says "But what kind of nut would you have to be/ To borrow a ship and put out to sea/When you don't know what's on the other side". Say what you will, it takes a special kind of courage to point your ship towards the open sea at a time when everyone else is creeping down the African coast, afraid that their ships will spontaneously combust when you get too far south. Freberg was making fun, but my guess is that we learn more from his history than from Churchill's.

As for his understanding of Jewish theology, the concept of "chosenness," and practically every event in Jewish history since 1933, he's got enough problems in his own field before venturing out into that world. I'm sure he doesn't get out much, but he might have taken in a high school version of "Fiddler on the Rez." You know, the one where Tevye looks up at God and asks, "Couldn't you choose someone else once in a while?" Chosenness isn't a virtue, it's an obligation. The hostility of the Nations is a biblical concept, and goes back just a wee bit further than even Columbus.

As for Zionism, it's an idea with many currents. But in its dominant form in the 1930s and 40s, its purpose wassn't to exempt Jews from history - we'd had quite enough of that for a few millenia, thank you very much - it was to mainstream Jews back into history.

Most Jews I know are perfectly comfortable calling Darfur a "genocide," far more comfortable than the UN is, for instance. It's the term "holocaust" that we want to preserve as evidence of a unique event. The costs of not doing so were on display in last week's London Auschwitz commemorations, as Muslim organizations variously declined to participate, objected to the whole thing, or did go based on the notion that other people died too, so it was ok to look past the Jews. Someone who's immoderately protective of ethnic identity should certainly be sensitive to others' history being stolen.

Posted by joshuasharf at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Scharansky and Freedom

Natan Scharansky pleads today in the Wall Street Journal for the West and the rest of the free world to hold Mahmoud Abbas's feet to the fire in creating a freer Palestinian society.

What Oslo's architects did not understand was that dictators need external enemies to justify the repression necessary to keep their societies under control. In contrast, democratic leaders, dependent on popular support, have a powerful incentive to deliver peace and prosperity to their citizens.

So, again, I ask, when does Abbas's term end?

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

President Abbas

With the election of Mahmoud Abbas, the first task really needs to be to get his house in order. The chances of his actually doing this are slight, though, if Palestinian spokesmen are to be believed.

One appeared on FoxNews yesterday, and while I don't have the transcript yet, he used every opportunity to continue the tactic of blaming Israel. When asked what Abbas's first job was to be, he replied, "to engage Israel to remove the occupation." Everything remains Israel's fault, and therefore Israel's responsibility.

Old hard to break, even if you're trying. Just remember, the important test for a democracy isn't the last election, it's the next one.

Posted by joshuasharf at 08:43 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 07, 2005

The AP Keeps At It

BokerTov, Boulder is pointing out both bad spelling and bad history over at the AP.

The 700,000 number comes from including grandchildren, probably great-grandchildren now, of refugees from the 1948 war. The Arab countries have refused to integrate these poor souls into their countries, preferring to use them as a club to bash Israel. And of course, the UN famously refused to let Israel build permanent, decent housing in West Bank "camps" back in the 70s, fearing that it would legitimize Israel.

According to that logic, Israel herself is home to about 4,000,000 refugees from post-WWII Europe, and America home to almost 300,000,000 refugees from various world conflicts and oppressive regimes over the centuries.

Posted by joshuasharf at 07:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

Israel and the Tsunami

It appears that the Catholic World News, along with the Vatican Observer, is now claiming that its report of the Vatican paper's report of the Vatican criticizing Israel for stinginess was based on a mistranslation. I suppose in the interests of getting along, we need to politely accept both the explanation and the implied apology.

But the correction, slipped in without comment, hardly begins to match the damage caused by the initial comments. The incorrect first report will be repeated as truth throughout the Arab world (and eventually Europe) as truth for years to come. It plays into historical stereotypes about Jews, at a time when pretty much any slander of Israel is willingly accepted by most of the world. It came just as Jan Egeland was criticizing America for not giving more generously to UN bureaucrats. And by using the passive, "a mistranslation was responsible," the CWN and the Vatican both get to avoid actual blame.

Maybe they could make some token donations through Magen David Adom. The American Red Magen David of Israel is collecting necessities and money, as well. Tactfully, the only press releases posted on their site that mention Sri Lanka talk about the aid that was sent and accepted.

The PDF on the main MDA site also makes mention of the generosity of Israeli Arabs, and of the Israeli Arab business community. The ironies abound. An Israeli organization, banned from joining the ICRC out of pure anti-semitism, provides the conduit for what is probably the most generous per-capita Arab and Muslim donation to other Muslims. Only in America.

For their part, the Sri Lankans are claiming that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, anyway. Given that Sri Lanka is mostly Hindu, not Muslim, that's a believable claim. The notion that cravenness, rather than mere hatred, was responsible for the rejection probably added to the confusion and anger to the initial mininformation.

Sri Lanka and Israel have “close diplomatic relations,” according to a statement by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington. The Sri Lanka Embassy in Tel Aviv has been functioning since October 2000; Israel’s embassy in New Delhi, India, is also accredited to Sri Lanka.

Subasinghe noted that representatives of his country and Israel attended a ceremony at a synagogue in Washington Saturday night as a “display of solidarity between the two embassies in light of the misinformation that was spread.”

There was evidently another prayer service Sunday morning, organized by one of Washington's Orthodox synagogues.

On a personal, the spirit of competitive giving is all well and good, but should be done with a certain attitude of humility. It's important that we don't allow the victims to become the Flavor of the Month.

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 12, 2004

Dog Bites Man - Arab Leaders Blame Israel

For a case-study in denial, see this Washington Post report on an Arab Forum in Morocco. Naturally, they blame Israel, and its US support, for the lack of reform. There's probably some truth to that insofar as Israel provides a convenient excuse. If that sounds like the circular logic of people who've been talking to themselves for too long, well, it probably is.

"Let us face it: Our differences are neither religious nor cultural," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal said. "We perceive no clashes of civilization or competing value systems. The real bone of contention is the longest conflict in modern history."

Bold words from a weak little man. If our differences are neither religious nor cultural, explain how every Saudi-funded madrassah ends up turning into a recruiting ground for terrorists. In fact, the "longest conflict in modern history" is nothing but a religious and cultural conflict.

Reform has nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with corrupt societies ruled by corrupt, dishonest, thieving little murderers. First, they used Israel to excuse their failures as leaders to their people. Now they've turned the argument outwards, using Israel to excuse their failures as "reformers" to us.

This is appeasement-politics in another guise: make progress in dismantling Israel, and we'll give you what you say you want. But of course, it's not what they want. They've maneuvered the discussion into purely economic matters, because what really matters to them is maintaining a death-grip on political power.

It's a transparent effort on at least three levels. First, it's an obvious attempt to talk to their own people through this conference, explaining once again that those darn Jews are the reason they can't have an uncensored newspaper.

Second, Israel would clearly find it easier to make peace with democratic, or at least pluralistic, neighbors. The US understands this, which is why it has placed the burden of proof on the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis.

Therefore, third, the Arab leaders are being stung by the fact that the US and Israel can deliver more democracy to Arabs than Arabs can. So they need to take the pressure off the Palestinians to behave, because that will only lead their own people to ask, "why not us?"

Powell didn't really give much ground, but someone needs to tell these people in no uncertain terms that their day is up.

Posted by joshuasharf at 09:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

Another Benefit of the Fence

Last week's Washington Post discussed the effects of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank on both Israelis and Palestinians. A lot of it sounds eerily familiar to the sort of thing we heard from the first Intifada: the Palestinians are just trying to live their lives, etc.

Typically, the Post, in an effort to gain sympathy for the Palestinians, mixes the trivial with the more worrisome:

As the Palestinians inch forward, armed soldiers standing behind sandbagged concrete walls shout orders to have bags opened and their contents dumped on the ground. On one recent morning, soldiers demanded that a man squirt shaving cream from an aerosol can to verify its contents. They ordered another man to rip the red-and-silver wrapping paper off a box to reveal what was inside: a doll for his granddaughter.

"You can't look at a person and know if he's good or bad," said Israeli Sgt. Nadav Efrati, a stocky, square-faced 21-year-old who recently finished his military service after spending months at the Hawara checkpoint. He said the limited Arabic that the Israeli army teaches most of its soldiers exacerbates the friction between the two peoples. "The main words they taught us were: 'Stop. If not, I will shoot you,' " Efrati said.

This is under the heading, "A Glimpse of Brutality." Demanding an aerosol be squirting? Unwrapping a present? I go through more "brutality" than that trying to get on a Frontier Airlines flight. And it's because of these guys. As it happens, when I was leaving Israel in 1993, I took back a present that a friend of mine had wrapped. The security guy unwrapped it.

As for the language difficulty, the Army could do a better job of teaching some Arabic to the soldiers. But Hebrew is the predominant language in Israel. If you were under occupation, and you wanted to make your life a little easier, wouldn't you take the trouble to learn a little of the Army's language?

In fact, the most troubling incident, one of clear abuse, came not from a Jewish soldier, but from an Arab, a Bedouin. He almost certainly was under some pressure to be "more Israeli than the Israelis," and he also understoof the taunts and insults the Palestinians were hurling at him.

Now people are people, and anyone can get to enjoying a little power a little too much, but the problem here isn't primarily that the soldiers are enjoying their power, but that they're not enjoying it. It's miserable work, not fighting, having to interrupt people's lives this way.

In fact, it's a fine argument for getting on with the fence, and finishing the disengagement.

Posted by joshuasharf at 11:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 12, 2004

Yasser "Called" a Terrorist

Knight-Ridder has a helpful graphic, showing eight of the terror organizations that Arafat was mixed up with, or founded, or competed with, during his long career. (Scroll Down to Bottom) Can you see what's missing:

Fatah: Founded by Arafat, aims to reclaim Palestinian land from Israel; military wing has attacked Israeli forces; several leaders have been assassinated by Israel.

PLO: Coalition of Palestinian nationalist groups; Fatah largest faction; Arafat was named chairman in 1968; national council is highest decision-making body of PLO, represents Palestinians worldwide.

Force 17: Security force for Arafat, other PLO leaders, Palestinian Authority; Israel says it has attacked Jewish settlers.

Palestinian Authority: Self government for Gaza Strip, West Bank set up by Palestinian-Israeli peace accord; Arafat served as president; 12-member cabinet; 88-member legislative council; most are PLO members

Tanzim: Armed grassroots militia born in refugee camps, connected to Fatah; Israel says it has major role in latest uprising, which began in September 2000

Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade: Israel links it to Tanzim and says its terrorist attacks have killed more than 100, injured 400.

It also lists the following "Rivals to Arafat":

Islamic Jihad: Began in Gaza Strip; loose group of factions that support Islamic Palestinian state, destruction of Israel; opposes Western secular influence; has carried out suicide bombing against Israel

Hamas: Radical Islamic fundamentalists; wants Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel; provides social services to thousands of supporters; militant wing has conducted terrorist attacks against Israel, Palestinian rivals.

First of all, note the contrast between Arafat and his rivals. Arafat and his buddies are "accused," "Israel says," bad things about them, and "assassinates" their leaders. The rivals are unvarnished in their hatred for Israel. Even dead, Arafat is supposed to represent a better alternative to those really murderous groups.

A nice touch, by the way, that the "radical" Hamas has a "militant wing." As opposed to what, the radical sewing-circle they've set up to knit kaffiyahs for their brave boys? Spare me the hair-splitting. The social services act as intelligence and recruitment for the military wing. They're part of an organic whole, not separate business units.

As for Arafat's groups, how can an organization founded in 1957 aim to "reclaim Palestinian land from Israel?" Its military wing has attacked far more than just military targets, and it's not even clear that "assassination" is the right word here. Personally, "killed" is fine with me, but don't we usually reserve "assassinations" for government or religions officials?

Does the PLO represent "Palestinians worldwide?" I thought that the Palestinian Authority did that now. See the not-so-subtle merging of the Party and State.

Force 17 has been not a "security force," like the Secret Service, but a secret police, actively killing Palestinians whom Arafat or those in his organization didn't like. The fact that Hanan Ashrawi could say, as she did yesterday, that she could walk away from Arafat after disagreeing with him is a testament more to her stature than to his openness and tolerance of dissent.

It's not just Israel that claims the Tanzim and the Al Aqsa Martyrs have a major role - it's the groups themselves. There's no mention of the suicide bombings, shootings, or bus attacks carried out by these groups, either.

In an uprising that has claimed over 1000 Israeli lives, only 100 are accounted for. One needn't dispute Arafat's role in starting the thing to realize that he tried to ride it for all it was worth. Hey, either you're a leader or you're not, but the "Who, me?" game was over long ago.

Much becomes clear when you look at the sourcing: "Permanent Observor Mission of Palestine to the UN, Federation of American Scientists, BBC, Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau." Exempting Knight-Ridder from double-condemnation, at least two of the three remaining bodies there are of outright hostility at best. (The FAS maintains an interest in tracking terrorists organizations, but most of their information seems not to have been updated in a while.)

Cross-Posted at Oh, That Liberal Media!

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Terrorist Psycho-Babble

One of the less-attractive features of modern liberalism is the need to understand and sympathize with pretty much any form of evil. That this urge for understanding doesn't extend to conservatives should be instructive.

So it's interesting to see how the death of Arafat is being dealt with in the press. Aside from the Kofi Annan/Jimmy Carter/Jacques Chirac triumphirate, the most common observation seems to be of Arafat's weakness. Poor man, he just couldn't help himself.

Consider this Denver Post editorial:

History will have its hands full reaching a verdict on Yasser Arafat, who died Thursday at 75. During a long and complicated tenure as the face and the soul of Palestinian leadership, he was a hero to so many, and to others a bloody-handed terrorist.

In recent years he was an obstacle to peace and to statehood both. Whether out of weakness in his will or in his political position, he was unable to conclude the promise of his revolutionary goals.

Or E.J. Dionne, lamenting Lost Chances:

Yet Arafat was a failure. He could not make the leap from terrorist to national leader. He could not accept the cost of acknowledging the existence of the state of Israel. He put factional politics, the rhetoric of revolution and his control of the money coming into the Palestinian Authority over the less-glamorous goal of a normal Palestinian state with workaday politics.

The tragedy for the Middle East, for Palestinians and for Israel is that Arafat could never decide who he really was. His beginnings as a revolutionary and a terrorist were understandable, if despicable in so many ways. He had a cause and a people whose interests were not being attended to -- not by his fellow Arabs any more than by the rest of the world. He would bomb and kill and assassinate -- even young Israeli athletes -- so that attention would be paid.

He won recognition and a place at the table. He won visits to the White House and Camp David and a Nobel Peace Prize. He was on the verge of achieving the Palestinians' dream, a state of their own with passports of their own and a government of their own. A place to call home, an entity that would allow them to be referred to not as refugees but as citizens.

But he walked away.

Please. Spare me. When Arafat began his "career," Israeli Arabs weren't rebelling against the state, and the West Bank and Gaza, not to mention to Temple Mount, were in Arab hands. But Arafat set about killing Jews, not Jordanians or Egyptians. The Jordanians put up with him until 1970 when his predations became destabilizing to the East bank of the river, and they sent him to Lebanon.

As for the Post and their "weakness of will," is there nothing that can't be reduced to an international version of Weight Watchers? The west and Israel, under urging from Israel's "best friend," Bill Clinton did everything possible to prop him up, make concessions under the pretense that this would strengthen him internally. Dictators are always worried about their political positions. That's why they have things like Force 17, to make sure their enemies stay quiet.

If there's anything that Arafat didn't suffer from it was "weakness of will." Arafat had one of the strongest will around, outlasting Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Secretaries of State. When he famously walked out of three-way talks with the US and Israel, Madeline Albright went chasing him down the hallway, heel clicking, then calling to have the gates close. "Please, just tell us what you want."

What he wanted, what he never stopped wanting was dictatorial power over all of Mandatory Palestine, the end of Israel, and a chance to be treated and feted like Nasser.

It is in no way sad that he couldn't seize the moment, that he "wasn't able" to control himself just a little longer. The forces of Good have frequently benefitted from the impatience of Evil. Had Arafat signed the accord, had he been able to restrain himself just a little, how far would Clinton and the Europeans have pressed Israel to accomodate then?

The Jimmy Carters and Kofi Annans of the world gave him the latter. Thank God the Israelis were stopped from giving him the former.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2004

A New Jewish Holiday

So it's afternoon, and I can finally have a drink.

Look, this was a horrible excuse for a human being. He began his career by trying to start a war, and he ended it at war. Along the way he murdered children in Maalot, American Diplomats in Sudan, American tourists at sea, and accomplished virtually nothing.

Virtually nothing. Yes, his people have a sense of identity. But is it an identity you'd wish on anyone? It's one of perpetual victim, whose most creative means of complaint is to use their children as living bombs. Despite all the carping, probably the only real injustice the Israelis inflicted on the Palestinians was bringing Arafat back from exile.

Everywhere he went, destruction followed. Jordan kicked him out after he created a mini terrorist state-within-a-state. Lebanon tried to do the same, but he was so deeply entrenched in southern Lebanon that the Israelis had to do the job. Cornered in Beirut, Arafat arranged to be sent to Tunis, under the watchful eye of the Tunisian authorities.

The only people who didn't kick him out where the Israelis, who weren't allowed to, and the French, who didn't have him that long. I'm sure that if he had recovered, within a couple of years he would have been smuggling arms into Marseilles and agitating for an independent Muslim state in the south of France.

The culture of death that has evolved on the West Bank and in Gaza won't dissipate with the passing of one man. And the BBC and AP seem determined to hold him up as a man that the Palestinians not only do revere, but should revere.

While Abbas and Qurei may indeed turn out to be men we can deal with, let's wait a little while and make sure they're actually in power in a year or so. Hamas still has its eye on power, and the various non-Islamic factions have been arming their members in anticipation of this day, too.

If the only unifying forces in Palestinian society remain hatred of Israel or Islamofascism, Israel would be ill-advised to make a deal right now. And they'd be particularly foolish make a deal with Abbas, only to find that Hamas was using land they had ceded to launch more attacks.

Certainly one argument sure to be made, if it hasn't already, is that Israel should make concessions to Abbas and Qurei to strengthen them internally. Note that it was only when Israel abandoned exactly that strategy that it managed to make any progress in its own war.

In the meantime, the speed with which the Europeans want to resume the dismemberment of Israel is a little - unseemly - don't you think? The abject faliure of European and Western meddling over the last 30 years has been a result, in no small part, of trying to force a settlement before one of the parties was ready for it. Let's have a little patience, see how it all plays out, and then see what to do next.

Posted by joshuasharf at 01:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive Performance

The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud