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Jewish World Review / December 28, 1997 / 29 Kislev, 5758

JWR's Josh Pollack responds to Jeff Jacoby's Dec. 26 column on the vocabulary of the Palestinian Authority.

Josh Pollack Arabic lessons are no substitute for Poli Sci

COLUMNIST BEWARE. In his Jan. 26 JWR article, the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby gave the activities of David Bedein, propagandist of the Israeli Right, an unfortunately uncritical write-up.

"Media analyst" Bedein, Jacoby tells us, operates the benignly named "Institute for Peace Education" in order to monitor the public comments of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. So far, he has discovered that Arafat and other PA figures do not echo in Arabic the beatific statements they sometimes make in English, and he is shocked, shocked!

Jacoby shouldn't let himself be taken unawares about either the nature of Bedein's work or his less-than-earthshattering revelation. Arafat probably hasn't invoked peacemaking to an Arab audience since the January turnover of Hebron, exactly the last time the peace process brought anything tangible to the Palestinians. That, after all, is their side of the deal: peace for Israel, land for Palestine. Not peace but self-determination is what the Palestinians, absorbed into neighboring countries or occupied by Israel lo these many years, are after. Peace is what Israel wants.

Or most of Israel, anyway. Some Israelis are convinced that peace is impossible, or, to the extent it will require yielding up captured land, undesirable. They prefer to believe in a demonic caricature of The Arabs, a many-headed hydra whose sole dream is the destruction of Israel. According to this school of thought, Palestine and Israel are antitheses; its vision of towering, Hitler-like evil finds embodiment in the unlikely figure of Yasser Arafat and his corrupt and ineffectual flunkies.

To support this view, they dwell on any and all statements that might confirm it, dismissing any and all statements that might contradict it as mere deception. Arafat and his underlings, whose power is wholly dependent on a deal with Israel, oblige them each time they shore up their nationalist credentials by trotting out the old confrontationalist cliches.

Arafat, following the "Phased Plan" for the destruction of Israel, only wants the territories as a base of operations against Israel, the reasoning goes. Therefore, he shouldn't be allowed to have them; the deal should be scrapped. What is more, Arafat is showing his true colors by violating many of the terms of the Oslo Accords, and the deal should therefore be scrapped.

I have yet to have it explained to me how Arafat hopes to secure the territories as a base against Israel by not honoring the terms of the Oslo Accords, but never mind. The point is not to study what Arafat says to whom without any sense of the political outlook -- why should we assume that one body of PA propaganda is more meaningful or reliable than another? -- it's to grasp the broader situation. Bedein and his colleagues could assemble Palestinian "Death to Israel" quotes until the red heifer comes home, and they'd never have but the smallest fraction of the antisemitic drivel that pours daily out of the Egyptian press. But neither Egypt nor the Palestinian Authority has anything to gain from a showdown with Israel, and they know it. Much less do the Palestinians have the capability.

Arabs in general, over the years, have made it easy for Israelis to feel paranoid about them. But the Palestinian obsession in some quarters of the Israeli Right becomes downright unseemly in light of the serious, even deepening threat to Israeli well-being presented by Syria, Iraq and Iran. At a time when Israel has an opportunity to deepen the division of the Arab world in its own favor by making peace with the Palestinians, thereby opening doors in North Africa and the Gulf and isolating the anti-Zionist hardliners, an unwillingness to part with a reasonable chunk of the occupied territories more than verges on the self-destructive.

Two main ideological tendencies underlie the demonization of the hapless, venal, and dependent Arafat, who today is at worst recalcitrant in the face of Israeli demands. One on hand is the rigidity of Revisionist Zionism, formulated in the 1920s and 30s and obsessed with territory in the classic arch-nationalist mode of the day. Reflexively confrontational, Revisionists traditionally view the Judean Hills as an "Iron Wall" against an essentially homogeneous Arab world, permanently united in its hatred of Israel. On the other hand are the more recently concocted vagaries of religious Zionism, the theocratic movement nurtured in the same territories whose possession it considers an absolute prerequisite for the coming of the Messiah.

Revisionist thought has failed to assimilate fully the permanence of the Palestinian Arabs, to differentiate between one Arab and another, to appreciate any possibility of peace, or to recognize that assuming permanent hostility makes for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most damningly of all, most Revisionists do not consider worthy of their attention the very disputes, divisions, rivalries, and contests for power in the Arab world that allowed Israel to come into being and have kept it strong ever since. (Menachem Begin was an obvious exception.) They are left insisting that Palestinian rifles are more threatening than Syrian tanks and missiles with chemical warheads, now in range of Tel Aviv. Religious Zionists, for their part, have the Almighty on their side and don't have to care about any of this.

Whatever its sources, the territorial fixation is no basis for serious analysis or planning. Or, as Stalin might have put it, how many divisions does the mufti have?


©1997, Jewish World Review