Jewish World Review May 19, 2003 / 17 Iyar, 5763


Excuse me, Prof. Powell, but I'm a bit confused



By Michael Freund

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | With his soft and steady voice, and unwaveringly calm demeanor, US Secretary of State Colin Powell often comes across more like a college professor than America's highest-ranking diplomat.

Switch that navy-blue suit of his for a tweed jacket, and get him a pair of John Lennon-style glasses, and it is not too hard to imagine Powell leading a seminar on, say, the role of France and Germany in resolving international disputes.

Indeed, after the fiasco that resulted from his insistence on seeking UN approval for the war in Iraq, Powell might very well have wondered whether he should have chosen the route of academia over statecraft. Many Americans, undoubtedly, would have been grateful for such a choice.

If Powell were to don the garb of a teacher, his first order of business might be to hold "office hours," where students could come to clarify points raised in some of his public statements.

In light of his recent travels in the Middle East, here are the five questions I would ask him if given the opportunity:

Prof. Powell, I'm confused about a number of issues. First, let's talk about monitoring crackdowns on terror.

On your recent lecture tour in Damascus, you said that Syria had closed the offices of various terrorist groups, even though Syria and the terrorists deny it. This means that either you are wrong, in which case your reliability as an arbitrator is of dubious value, or they are wrong and can not be counted on to tell the truth.

My first question, then, Professor Powell, is: how can you expect Israel to have confidence in your assessment of Palestinian compliance, when you are so quick to praise the Syrians for something they may not even have done?

And while we are on the subject of Palestinians, Professor Powell, I wanted to ask you something else.

In Jerusalem this month, you said, "We welcome the positive political steps already taken by Palestinian officials toward reform and toward peace." Yet, that very same day, gunmen from Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen's Fatah movement sprayed bullets at an Israeli civilian vehicle near Ofra, killing 54-year old Zion David and leaving his six children without a father.

Further south, in Gaza's Beit Hanoun, Palestinian terrorists fired three Kassam rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, operating right under the nose of the Palestinians' new Interior Minister, Muhammad Dahlan.

Moreover, just two weeks ago, while Israel was commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, the Palestinian Authority decided to publish a statement on its website comparing Israel to the Nazis (see: http://www.palestine-pmc.com/details.asp?cat=1&id=758).

Hence, Prof. Powell, my second question is: How can you speak of Palestinian steps "toward reform and toward peace" when the Palestinians continue to shower Israel with the same old bile and bullets?

Even more confusing, my dear professor, was your announcement in Jericho that the United States will give an additional $50 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority. In the past decade, America has sent over $700 million to the Palestinian-controlled areas, despite persistent reports of chronic PA corruption and misuse of funds.

After Operation Defensive Shield last year, Israel discovered mountains of documents proving that the PA had financed terror attacks against innocent Jewish men, women and children, thanks in no small measure to the aid it receives from abroad.

And, as we all know, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat continues to control five of the seven Palestinian security services, many of whom have been involved in terror against Israel over the past two years.

Since even you acknowledge that Palestinian reforms still have a long way to go, Prof. Powell, my third question is: Why would you funnel more money to the PA?

The fourth question that comes to mind, professor, regards the behavior of your deputy, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns.

As the Jerusalem Post reported on May 12, Burns met with the left-wing extremist group Peace Now, though he refused to meet with representatives of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. And, according to the minutes of the meeting, Burns made disparaging remarks about Israel's supporters in the US, saying that "common sense" would prevail over them, clearly implying they had no such sense.

Burns also reportedly discussed Peace Now's ad campaign to persuade Israelis to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state.

As an expert in international relations, Prof. Powell, don't you think that Burns' behavior constitutes direct interference in the domestic affairs of another sovereign state? How would the Bush Administration react, for example, if Israeli diplomats started lobbying American voters to oppose the President's tax cut?

My fifth and final question, Prof. Powell, is more personal, yet equally relevant. In your Sunday interview with Israel's Channel 2 television, you took pride in the fact that you grew up in a Jewish neighborhood "and learned a lot about the Jewish culture and Hebrew faith."

With a hint of nostalgia, you recalled the Russian Jewish employer who hired you to work in his toy store.

And yet, despite the fondness you proclaim for Jews, you seem to have no compunction about coming to the Jewish state and telling thousands of its residents they should leave their homes because the Arab world considers them "illegal Jewish settlers".

You repeatedly stress the need to end "settlement activity," as though Jewish housing construction, rather than Arab intolerance, lies at the root of the Middle East dispute.

But, Professor Powell, this is where it gets really confusing. In another time, and another context, it was considered unacceptable to tell people where to live because of their racial or religious identity. Such an approach was known as racism and segregation, and was rightfully done away with.

Why, then, Prof. Powell, is calling for the expulsion of Jews from Judea, Samaria and Gaza — simply because they are Jews — any different? Isn't that, too, a form of racism?

Sorry if all these questions are a bit of a nuisance, Prof. Powell, but the people of Israel deserve some clear answers.

And if you wanted to avoid dealing with such thorny issues, you should probably have remained in diplomacy.

That is one field, after all, where the truth hardly seems to matter.

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JWR contributor Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. Comment by clicking here.


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