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Jewish World Review April 9, 2002/28 Nisan, 5762

Mark Steyn

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Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising |
On September 19, when everyone was making Pearl Harbor comparisons, I stood at Ground Zero and thought instead of August 1914, and the Archduke's assassination - another terrorist act by a 'non-state actor', as they say, that wound up shattering four of the great empires. On the edge of that strange dustscape in Lower Manhattan, I wondered what this latest thread of history would unravel.

We're about to find out. The first stage of the war - Afghanistan - was easy. But, en route to stage two, Washington got tripped up, and tangled in a cross-thread of unfinished business from the Great War: the failure of post-Ottoman Arabia and the settlement of the Palestine Mandate.

The other week, Dick Cheney was released from his 'secure location' and dispatched to Araby to shore up support for toppling Saddam from our 'friends' in the region. As it happens, the axis of evil - Iraq, Iran - is causing far less trouble at the moment than the axis of pals - Saudi Arabia, Egypt - but such are the mysterious ways of the Orient and, indeed, of Washington that it was deemed a priority to kiss up to the 'good' bad guys and attempt to bring them onside. Saddam had nothing to do with September 11; the House of Saud had everything to do with it. But for some reason the administration thought it would appeal to that famous Saudi sense of humor if the old Butcher of Baghdad got stiffed for their mess. In order to establish his bona fides with these 'moderate' regimes, President Bush slapped Israel around a little, declaring military action against Palestinian terrorists 'not helpful', while the vice-president talked up Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's 'peace plan' for the region and made sympathetic murmurings about the 'desperation' of the suicide bombers.

You can see why the Bush crowd are wary of interventionist diplomacy. The 'moderates' told Cheney to get lost, and went off to the Arab League summit to shower the Iraqi delegation in more kisses than Halle Berry got on Oscar night. Prince Abdullah himself planted a smacker on the lips of the Iraqi vice-president, the first tongue sarnie between the two parties since the Gulf war. Speaking of which, Baghdad promised not to invade Kuwait for the foreseeable future. And the League as a whole signed on to some Natoesque collective security deal, declaring that an attack on Iraq would be regarded as an attack on them all.

Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon did as he was told, exercised 'restraint' and put away his stick, and the carrot of a meeting with Cheney was dangled in front of Chairman Arafat, Israel's eternal 'partner for peace'. The upshot was an explosion of multiple suicide bombings culminating in the Passover massacre in a ballroom in Netanya. If this is interventionist diplomacy, the sooner they take Cheney back to his 'secure location' and throw away the key, the better.

Aside from the grim body-count, the whole period was a deranged exercise in unrealpolitik, with all parties negotiating fictions. The vice-president wanted Saudi Arabia to pretend to be his friend, the Arab League to pretend that the peace plan is for real, Ariel Sharon to pretend that Yasser Arafat is cracking down on terrorism, and Arafat to pretend that he wants to crack down on terrorism. Why? What's the point? Where's it get you? The only consolation is that Saddam's rapprochements with his neighbors are also illusory. The Arab armies make Belgium look butch: when the Marines go into Iraq, they won't be running into any Egyptian or Syrian units. Nor is it worth fretting over Saddam's call to use the oil supply as a weapon: right now, those guys need to sell the stuff more than the West needs to buy it. On the other hand, if the old monster's wheeze was to postpone the US invasion by whipping up the West Bank into full-scale war, everything's going to plan.

The only useful contribution in recent days has been made by Brigadier Sultan Abul-Aynayn, Arafat's head honcho in Lebanon, who's now threatening to extend his differences with the Zionists to the Great Satan itself. 'If one hair on the head of Arafat is harmed, the US had better protect its interests around the world. I mean what I am saying,' he said. 'We are not like Osama bin Laden, but we have our own style of response.' No doubt. The Brigadier reminds us that, if you've declared war on terrorism, you can't pick and choose. A suicide bomber detonating himself in a restaurant and a suicide pilot detonating his plane in a skyscraper are differences merely of degree. Bush can't claim the right to root out the perpetrators of anti-American terrorism in a lawless Taleban state like Afghanistan and deny others the right to root out the perpetrators of anti-Israeli terrorism in a lawless Arafat statelet.

Just to emphasize the point, here's some of the things the Israelis have found in Arafat's compound since the tanks rolled in last Friday: 40 pistols, 19 sniper rifles, 200 MK 47 Kalashnikovs....

Well, so far, nothing unusual. If I cleared out my basement in New Hampshire, I could probably muster a similar tally. But that's not all they turned up: 43 RPG missiles, four pipe bombs, an unspecified number of empty suicide-bomber belts, hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Israeli bills in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 shekels, printing plates for counterfeiting millions more, $100,000 in counterfeit US bills....

Hmm. Under the terms of that Oslo 'peace process' that the EU's so keen on, the 'Palestinian Authority' is meant to be not the West Bank mob concession but an internally autonomous embryo state. The Chairman is supposed to be busy with health, education, employment, international trade, public works ...oh, and tourism, if you're interested in a weekend break in Ramallah. He has more responsibilities than the first minister of Scotland or the governor of Texas, or the early prime ministers of Canada and Australia. Alas, the Chairman has no interest in governing - and, by 'governing', I don't mean in, say, the Al Gore sense but in the Robert Mugabe sense: all Arafat had to do was meet the minimal standards of the reformed-terrorist category of world leader. Instead, barely had the ink dried on those Oslo 'peace accords' than the ink was drying on the first of those 50-shekel bills.

So, after almost a decade under his administration, the big career opportunities in the Palestinian Authority lie in strapping on one of those Yasser souvenir belts, filling it with Semtex, wandering into a shopping mall and blowing the legs off Jews. That's the way to set your family up for life, especially now that Saddam has upped the martyr jackpot to 25,000 bucks per successful self-detonation. The 'plight of the Palestinian people' is that, after a quarter-century of living under Israeli occupation, they were transferred to living under Arafat occupation, and he wasn't up to the job.

That's not how the rest of the world sees it, of course, no matter how many suicide-bomber belts and printing plates in assorted currencies are stacked in the counterfeit king's corridors of power. The UN has long treated Arafat as the leader of a sovereign nation, as if to underline his inevitability: he's already a head of state; all he needs is for those 'intransigent' Israelis to give him a state to be head of. The Australians and Canadians still deplore the violence 'on both sides', but the EU has pretty much given up on Israel: the famously 'shitty little country' is more trouble than it's worth. Even in America, the airwaves are clogged with experts urging a withdrawal by Israel, as that will encourage Arafat to get 'Oslo' back on track, not to mention 'Tenet' and 'Mitchell', as if this Beltway-speak means anything when you're all wired up and ready to blow.

It's very difficult to negotiate a 'two-state solution' when one side sees the two-state solution as an intermediate stage to a one-state solution: ending the 'Israeli occupation' of the West Bank is a tactical prelude to ending the Israeli occupation of Israel. The divide among the Palestinians isn't between those who want to make peace with Israel and those who want to destroy her, but between those who want to destroy Israel one suicide bomb at a time and those who want to destroy her through artful 'peace processes'. Ayat Mohammed al-Akhras, the straight-A high-school student who blew herself up in a supermarket last week, devoted her farewell video to castigating the Arab League big shots for pussying around with peace plans and leaving the real work to Palestinian schoolgirl bombers. Her view would appear, from the polls, to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority. It's useless to pretend there's anything to negotiate.

Miss al-Akhras, in her incendiary finale, underlined one curious aspect of this war. On 11 September, commentators warned us of the explosive nature of 'the Arab street'. Why? Because the collapse of the twin towers was greeted by delirious joy and dancing in the streets of ...Ramallah! The only thing the average American knows about Ramallah is that it's where Muslims celebrated the murder of thousands of New Yorkers. Otherwise, 'the Arab street' is as sleepy as a cul-de-sac in Pinner on a weekday afternoon. The patrons of terror - Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran - have figured out that the only block of the Arab street that's rousable is in the West Bank, and they're pouring their resources in accordingly.

That's why America needs to be equally focused. The stability junkies in the EU, UN and elsewhere have, as usual, missed the point. The Middle East is too stable. In Africa and Latin America and Eastern Europe, rare is the dictator who dies in harness. But, in the Arab world, they get to pass their fetid crowns on to their designated heirs: old Assad bequeathed Syria to his son, Saddam hopes to do the same with Iraq. There has been 'stability' for three decades, longer than anywhere else in the non-democratic world. Yet, when a dysfunctional regime stays in power, that's not stability, but a cesspit. Yasser Arafat and his PLO were anointed the 'sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people' in 1974, and after 28 years he's anything but legit: he's printing up foreign currency in the basement.

So if you were Washington and you wanted to destabilize the Middle East, where would you choose? Where's your Ramallah? Read Neil Clark's love letter to Saddam in last week's London Spectator. Most of Neil's analysis was spot-on, apart from the canard that Western sanctions are responsible for the deaths of a gazillion Iraqi moppets. Saddam has a personal fortune of $7 billion, which seems a mite excessive for a man who's spent his entire life in selfless public service, and the $25,000 he ponies up to families of suicide bombers suggests that the Iraqi treasury can find the dough when it wants to. But, aside from that, Neil was right: the Iraqi people are secular, tolerant, literate, the antithesis of those wacky fundamentalists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The only problem is that their leader is a Kurd-gassing, Scud-lobbing, terror-funding nutjob. So, if you had to pick only one regime to topple, why not Iraq? Once you've got rid of the ruling gang, it's the West's best shot at incubating a reasonably non-insane polity. In Iraq and Iran, there's a sporting chance that regime change would bring about improvement. In Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, it's far more problematic. The best way to destabilize the Islamist regimes is by destabilizing the non-Islamist one first. Sorry, Saddam. Them's the breaks.

In the end, the Middle East has to be fixed. A few more synagogue burnings in France and Belgium might wake up even the Europeans, though I doubt it. At best, the large unassimilated Muslim populations will paralyze the Continent, at worst destabilize it. As for the Palestinians, they're a wrecked people. It's tragic, and, if you want to argue about who's to blame, we can bat dates around back to the Great War. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter whether you regard, as the Europeans appear to, the Palestinians' descent into depravity as confirmation of their victim status: as Palestinian Authority spokesman Hasan Abdul Rahman said on CNN after a new pile of Jewish corpses, it's the fault of Israel for 'turning our children into suicide bombers'. Might be true, might be rubbish. Makes no difference. They can't be allowed to succeed, because otherwise the next generation of suicide bombers will be in Bloomingdale's and Macy's. That's why Arafat will never be president of a Palestinian state, and has begun his countdown to oblivion. The unravelling of the Middle East has just begun.

JWR contributor Mark Steyn is is North American Editor of The London Spectator. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Mark Steyn