The envelope, please....
By Douglas M. Bloomfield
The Board of Governors of the Academy of Political Arts and Sciences has announced its achievement awards for 1997, recognizing those who have made unique contributions to personkind.
May I have the envelope, please?
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR -- Ariel Sharon, for yet another return from the wilderness. He helped craft Benjamin Netanyahu's winning coalition and then almost got left out of the cabinet; in 1997 he was promised and then passed over for finance minister, and now is in the exclusive Security Cabinet. Once banned by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Sharon was recently welcomed at the White House, where he is viewed as a force for stability and pragmatism in a shaky government.
COMEBACK, RUNNER-UP -- Technically, he never really left, but Speaker Newt Gingrich survived - for now - a blundered coup by his own lieutenants in the House leadership, and when it was all over one plotter was forced to walk the plank while the rest denied any role in the affair as they lined up to kiss the speaker's ring.
STUPID HUMAN TRICKS -- This is a two-fer for Prime Minister Netanyahu. The bungled assassination attempt against a Hamas leader in Amman that seriously damaged the PM's relations with one of his few remaining friends in the Arab world, King Hussein, resulted in the release of the real head of Hamas, who got a hero's welcome in Gaza.
With the support of over two thirds of Israelis and praise around the world for signing the Hebron disengagement agreement, Netanyahu did not bother waiting to reap the benefits before taking a giant step in the opposite direction by approving the Har Homa housing project in southern Jerusalem. That may have appeased his right-wing critics, but it effectively derailed the peace process and badly damaged relations with Washington.
CHUTZPA -- Saddam Hussein could retire this award. He got international inspectors to leave for three weeks while he moved his chemical and biological weapons to safer hiding places. Then, the brazen butcher claimed victory and flaunted it by showing off his opulent palaces to a compliant international media while he locked out the UN inspectors who might find what he'd hidden there. Hint to the inspectors: don't look for Saddam to spend the night at any of those palaces where he's hidden his pet poisons. He gets a special oak leaf on this award for continuing the live in obscene luxury while his people suffer and everyone else worries about them and gets the blame.
CHUTZPA, RUNNER-UP -- Bill Clinton gets this one for letting his State Department blame Israel for fractures in the anti-Iraq coalition, for declaring victory just for getting UN inspectors back inside Iraq and for letting Saddam's old buddy, Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian foreign minister, negotiate the deal. He abuses the concept of "contracting out."
TARNISHED SWASTIKA -- Swiss bankers and government officials, still protesting "we were just neutrals," have been stirring up anti-semitism to help them keep their blood-soaked Nazi loot, warning Holocaust survivors and the victims' heirs who want to get their money back that the Jews are "recreating anti-Semitism" by demanding restitution.
SORE LOSER -- Shimon Peres, five-time loser in the race for the brass ring, doesn't know when to leave the stage and assume the well-deserved role of elder statesman. Humiliatingly rejected by his own party, he nonetheless still harbors delusions of a comeback. Forget it, Shimon.
TARNISHED IMAGE -- This is another tie. The once awesome Mossad gets this one for a spate of self-inflicted wounds and blundered missions. Now, instead of being feared and respected, they are regarded as the Keystone Kops of the intelligence world.
And remember the slick, media-savvy Bibi Netanyahu, who was more American than Seinfeld? In 1997 he found himself locked out of the Clinton White House, shunned by the State Department and in growing disfavor with American Jewry -- to say nothing of his own Cabinet.
HIS OWN WORST ENEMY -- Yasir Arafat gets this one for life. Once again he proved the truth of Abba Eban's dictum about never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He consistently rescued Netanyahu from his own blunders with even dumber moves; this year he played his violence card, flashed green lights to terrorists, jetted around the world begging everyone to pressure Israel into bowing to his demands and again refused to reach out the only people who can really help him: Israeli voters.
REVERTING TO FORM -- When the going gets tough, the Arab lobby in Washington goes back to its old Israel-bashing, destroying the good will built up since Oslo by calling for a return of the secondary Arab boycott against Israel, rationalizing Palestinian terrorism and accusing Israel of "ethnic cleaning" against Palestinians.
FICKLE FRIENDS -- The dynamic duo of Republican Congressmen Robert Livingston (Louisiana) and Sonny Callahan (Alabama), chairs of the House Appropriations committee and its foreign operations subcommittee, respectively, at the first opportunity moved to block aid to Israel on indefensible grounds. Livingston's excuse: Israel's refusal to forego due process of law and immediately extradite an accused criminal just because pompous politicians demand it. So much for years of political contributions, courtship and testimonials for the unenlightened pair by AIPAC bigwigs.
SHAFT YOUR FRIENDS -- With the enthusiastic encouragement and urging of several Israeli governments, AIPAC led the fight for enactment of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, and worked hard to assure its tough enforcement. Now it turns out that while AIPAC was working to keep American firms from doing certain types of business with Iran, some Israeli companies were doing just that. The Netanyahu government said it opposes such trade and denies any is going on... now.
THE ENEMY WITHIN -- Yasir Arafat may top the enemies list of Morton Klein, but the headline-hungry president of the Zionist Organization of America holds a special scorn for Jews who don't share his right-wing views. Favorite targets are Martin Indyk, whose appointment as Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs he tried to block because Indyk had the temerity as ambassador to Israel not only to reflect the policies of the administration that hired him but to do what Israeli ambassadors in Washington have done for half a century -- go over the heads of the government leaders and speak directly to lawmakers. Klein's other top target is New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; it seems the two-time Pulitzer prize winner is disinclined to toe Klein's pro-Likud line and has the temerity to criticize Israeli policy, making him a self-hating Jew.
PEDICIDE -- This award for shooting himself in the foot -- repeatedly -- goes to Vice President Albert Gore, for claiming he didn't know that fundraiser at the Buddhist temple was a fundraiser, for introducing to the political lexicon that new excuse, "no controlling legal authority," and for suggesting he was the model for the hero of the sappy novel Love Story.
THE WOODY -- This award is inspired by the old axiom "If a tree fell in the woods and there was no one around, would it still make a sound?" It goes to Newt Gingrich, the politician with the lowest approval rating in the country, for his announcement that he plans to run for president in 2000.
THE KISSINGER -- The winner is Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who recently surpassed the previous record held by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for the most threats to resign in a single government.
REALTOR OF THE YEAR -- Bingo big shot Irving Moskowitz gets the trophy for being the private citizen who almost created a war by buying up property in Jerusalem's volatile Arab neighborhoods so he could move in religious nationalists to stake Israeli claims there and create confrontations that could destroy the peace process he despises.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is JWR's Washington correspondent.