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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2001 /24 Tishrei 5762

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Mickey Kaus goes soft --
THERE has been much debate over how much the failure of the Israel-PA "peace process" has to do with the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Much of this debate is disingenuous and opportunistic, conducted by people who have always despised Israel and favored the Arabist view of history, and Norman Podhoretz and others have been efficient in demolishing this point of view.

But what to do with others who are not ill-disposed to Israel, not disingenuous, but merely ingenuous? I am thinking of Mickey Kaus, who likes to strike a hard-headed pose whenever possible, and uses his hard-headedness effectively when puncturing the sentimentalities of his fellow liberals on such questions as welfare reform.

Now, like a stopped clock, he has become hard-headed about the Israel peace process. "Stating the Obvious," the headline on his Web site read for weeks after the September 11 attack, "Israel is partly the issue." But how well does his hard-headedness stand up to scrutiny?

His argument only works if one accepts that the U.S. has refrained from "pressuring Israel to make peace with the PLO." Or to take his Slate colleague's Jacob Weisberg's formulation, "stepping up pressure on Israel to settle with the PLO."

What Weisberg and Kaus never consider is the assumption behind their oh-so-obvious goal of settling or making peace with the PLO. The assumption is that there is a settlement or a peace that the PLO would accept. And the problem with this assumption is that, repeatedly, it has been shown to be impossible. There is no "peace" or "settlement" that Arafat's PLO would accept, or could accept. As recently as the summer of 2000, the Clinton administration did just what Kaus suggests - put irresistible pressure on Barak to settle with the PLO. Barak did more than comply - he not only met Arafat's demands, but ran far ahead to anticipate what he had not yet asked for. But the problem was not Barak's willingness to settle or make peace. It is that Arafat does not want or intend to make peace. There is no settlement possible between an Israel, however weak or within whatever indefensible borders, and the PLO which would leave Israel in existence.

The obliteration of Israel is, of course, what Bin Laden demanded in the video which so impressed Mickey Kaus. Kaus quotes Bin Laden swearing to G-d that "that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Mohammad, peace be upon him," and cleverly caps him: "Hmm. It looks as if Israel might be an issue, doesn't it?"

Kaus plays with the notion that Bin Laden could have said "extinguishing the state of Israel," but instead spoke of peace in Palestine. But what Bin Laden means by Palestine includes the whole of Israel's pre-1967 borders - the whole of Israel's borders as envisioned by the UN partition of 1947. It's not the settlements. It's not the West Bank's discontinuity with Israel. It means, simply, Israel itself.

I don't think that Kaus or Slate is advocating the dismantling of Israel and the transportation of its entire population somewhere else. In fact, he is even willing to concede that Bin Laden might - hold on to your hats - secretly desire such a thing. But he tries to prove he can be wily too: " In this, doesn't Bin laden concede a key point--that a "peace" that allowed Israel to exist would indeed appeal to many of his potential supporters?"

But let me be even wilier. What if Bin Laden were merely keeping in the air the same ball that Arafat has been bouncing since 1993, to the acclaim of the bien pensant world - that there is a possible peace to be made with Israel? Kaus believes that peace between Israel and the PLO is "precisely the sort of peace that we might be able to achieve."

But this peace is the one thing that we know can't be achieved. What then? If it's not Israel that refuses to make peace, but the PLO - what on earth can be accomplished by pressuring Israel to comply with non-existent PLO demands - by pretending that there is an imaginable peace to be made?

If it could have happened, it would already have happened. Peace simply can't be made with the PLO as it is now. To persist in the fantasy that it can is not hard-headed realism, but block-headed na´vetÚ.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman