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Jewish World Review July 16, 2002/ 7 Menachem-Av, 5762

Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn
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Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world? |
Last time I checked, the French were hailing down contempt on cowboy Bush for the simplisme of his Palestinian speech. The Greek foreign ministry insists Chairman Yasser Arafat remains ''our friend.'' In London, the BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson was anonymously briefed by ''senior civil servants'' who described Bush as "a bear of very little brain" and his Middle East speech as "puerile," "absurdly ignorant" and "ludicrous."

I'll bet Sir Hugh Sless-Auld-twitt or whoever it was had been polishing that "bear of little brain" crack (that's a Winnie the Pooh allusion, for you non-intellectuals) before Simpson showed up. But, frankly, the Bush moron gags have all been done. Sir Hugh cracking Dubya dummy jokes is like your grampa putting on a Travolta suit and doing ''Saturday Night Fever'': Even if he could pull it off, it's still squaresville.

But that's Europe's problem all over, isn't it? There's a terrible reluctance to change the script: The old jokes are the best, and so are the old policies. Obviously, a "senior civil servant" would find Bush's Middle East speech "puerile." The president gets up and announces that the present Palestinian leadership is worthless and he'd like to see a new constitution, independent judiciary, autonomous legislature . . . How "absurdly ignorant." Why, all Bush's "ludicrous" speech will do is ensure that the Palestinians vote Arafat in by an even huger majority than he would already get.

For the benefit of any senior civil servants who read JWR, a short recap may be helpful:

Dec. 6, 2001: In the Chicago Sun-Times, puerile, ludicrous, absurdly ignorant columnist Mark Steyn writes that "Arafatism is a crisis for the Palestinians: If their cause remains mortgaged to the chairman, their prospects of any kind of viable future are precisely zero," and concludes: "I see the New York Times is warning the Israelis not to try getting rid of Arafat. They have a point. It's time the Palestinians got rid of him."

June 24: In a speech in Washington, President Bush says much the same thing.

June 30: Arafat offers to meet Bush "anytime, anywhere," but Colin Powell says he's not interested, no time, nowhere, no how. The Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reports: "It appeared yesterday that U.S. efforts to replace President Arafat are gaining momentum. Some well-informed Palestinian sources revealed to Al-Hayat that some U.S. parties 'offered' several Palestinian personalities the post of 'prime minister' during the last few days."

July 1: Arafat flunky Saeb Erekat criticizes Arabs for "their strange silence on Bush's speech." President Hosni Mubarak, asked whether Egypt is working with Washington on replacing Arafat, says only that he has not "discussed that with U.S. officials." Four thousand demonstrators storm Arafat's Gaza headquarters chanting, "We want jobs! We want food!"

July 3: Two officials fired by Arafat refuse to accept their dismissals.

July 4: Oman's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper runs a story headlined, "Is Arafat The Weakest Link?"

July 6: In the latest Arafat order to be ignored by his subordinates, Palestinian security officers tell the chairman that the man he's appointed as their new leader is unacceptable.

July 7: A source within the Israeli general staff says it's concluded that "Arafat's stature is dropping so precipitously that there is no need for Israel to push him out of the territories." He will, they say, "be displaced within six months."

July 8: The Jordanian magazine Al-Majd reports that Yasser Arafat is "expected to step down in the coming weeks."

July 10: Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi figures are said to be urging the chairman to settle for a "ceremonial role," as the alternative position might well involve lying down in a plywood box.

Arafat isn't just toast, he's buttered and dripping marmalade. Israel knows it, the Arabs know it, Hamas knows it, his Fatah cronies know it, and ol' man Yasser knows it. The only folks who haven't figured it out are senior British civil servants, European foreign ministers, and the Danish prime minister, who has requested an urgent meeting with the United States to get "the peace process" "back on track."

By "peace process," our Danish friend means "Oslo." Sorry, pal. That show's been canceled. For the last 2-1/2 weeks we've been in the post-Oslo era, and the only thing that's "puerile" is those snooty civil servants who can manage no more insightful reaction to an extraordinary moment in Middle Eastern affairs than to make Winnie the Pooh cracks. The ground is shifting under your feet: If you want to wind up in the heffalump pit of history while the world passes you by, carry on. The continentals are in danger of being the only guys in Yasser's Rolodex who still return his calls.

Best-case scenario: Arafat runs in 2003 and is elected to a Palestinian presidency stripped of all power--like President Vossname of Germany or President O'Itllcometome of Ireland. Worst-case scenario: carried out by the handles. To Bush, either solution will do. True, some toxic Hamas honcho might carry the day. Doesn't matter: An unashamed terrorist would be easier to deal with than a frontman for terrorists. On the other hand, if the Palestinians opt for plausible legislators, Bush will have re-established an important principle: that when the Americans sign on to nation-building, they do so only to bring into being functioning democratic, civilized states--as happened, against the odds, with postwar Germany and Japan.

But a question worth asking is: Why couldn't a European leader give a speech like that? How come they reflexively stuck with the aging, out-of-touch terrorist? Which bear is really the one with the little brain? The one who in under three weeks has changed the entire dynamic of the Palestinian question? Or the one whose gags are as stale as his worldview?

Europeans expend an awful lot of energy explaining why nothing can change: It's "absurdly ignorant" even to suggest getting rid of Arafat; it's preposterous to pursue "crackpot" plans for missile defense because it would "humiliate" the Russians. But Bush went ahead, and the Russians are fine about it, and Yasser's packing, and behind the scenes quite a few economic ministries around the planet are hugely relieved Washington's killed Kyoto. If America's Coke, the world could use a Pepsi, a plausible challenger. If the EU doesn't have the will to fulfill that role militarily, it could at least try to do it intellectually, with a bit of fresh thinking about some of these issues. But instead Europe west clings to 1970s terrorists, 1970s missile treaties and 1970s environmental doom-mongering. Never mind walking the walk, they can't even talk the talk.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post. Comment by clicking here.

07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2002, Mark Steyn