Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What a Difference the Years Make

(this op-ed is up at Arutz 7 )

What a difference 16 years can make.

On May 22, 1989, United States Secretary of State James A. Baker III, then in a confrontational mood with Israel and towards its prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, delivered a speech at the annual AIPAC conference entitled, "Principles and Pragmatism: American Policy toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict".

Couched in diplomatic terminology - unlike another remark, one using the f-word, he was later to make about what could be done to Jews in general - this speech nevertheless contained one very memorable line in which Baker demanded that Israelis needed "to lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel." As observers noted, Baker squarely had placed the blame on Israel for the Arab-Israel conflict, and seemed to repeat Arab propaganda claims for control of portions of the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Israel's Leftists, those who referred to themselves as the "peace camp", were ecstatic. Palestinian spokespersons also couldn't find enough microphones to talk into. Finally, in public, America had made it quite clear that the retention of the administered territories was an issue now high on the agenda. Hanan Ashrawi and Sa'eb Erekat were to become frequent visitors at America's Jerusalem Consulate, funds going to Palestinian volunteers were to be increased, and spying on the growth of Judea, Samaria and Gaza communities was a professional accomplishment for which at least one political officer of the consulate won a State Department prize.

Sixteen years later, for some unfathomable reason, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech at the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting on February 8 included the sentence: "We in Israel have had to painfully wake up from our dreams." Somehow, I feel this was not unintentional. Sharon saw fit to echo a concept of American diplomacy, that Israel would have to withdraw not only from actual land mass, but, in doing so, would have to express a mea culpa, an acknowledgement of guilt. This would take the form of a confessional act by which Israel would admit it was wrong in presuming that the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza belonged to her because of Arab aggression, and moreover, that Israel was wrong to assume that the territories belonged to her by historical, legal and natural right.

Baker's speech was made in a certain political context. Yasser Arafat had met US conditions for a dialogue by accepting the 'land-for-peace' formula, renouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel's right to exist. When Arafat complained that the US seemed to be looking for new concessions from the Palestinians, rather than insisting that Israel make the same pledges, Baker used the AIPAC forum to placate the Palestinians.

Of course, Arafat never really intended to fulfill any commitment he had made and, in fact, violated all the obligations and responsibilities to which he had agreed. But Israel was consistently reminded and pressured to adopt capitulationist policies, one worse and more enfeebling than the other. Palestinians were not to be tested by their deeds, or lack thereof, and were not even held to their words. Israel, though, was whittled down. That process continues to this day.

If sixteen years makes quite a difference, what are we to make of the Jerusalem Post's revelation that only ten years ago, then-Likud Minister Ariel Sharon approached the Shas mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the day after the Oslo Accords were signed on September 13th, 1993?

The paper informed its readers that Sharon asked the rabbi to support a referendum on Oslo. In seeking a reaction, the Post reported this past Wednesday that Sharon said he is now is of the opinion that "it doesn't matter what happened over ten years ago. Things have changed since then."

Is it things or people?

What is apparent is that what was good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Sharon's stage-managed Sharm show may not be more than a repeat of the long string of failures that Israel has been forced to endure, at the expense of hundreds and hundreds of civilian casualties. Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped President George Bush to remove the Iraqi terrorist regime, but is now lending a hand, and millions of American dollars, to facilitate what could become a most dangerous terror state, supported by Iran through the Hizbullah.

Once again, Israel is required to hand over prisoners, eventually expected to include those who have murdered. Given the fact that America has been quite lax in getting the Palestinians to hand over the killers of three Americans murdered in Gaza last September, maybe the moral values of this administration are different, too.

Sharon's disengagement policy has now evolved into a mutant. The Arabs know that their Kassam missile terror has worked. The IDF had no adequate military response and it was not allowed to repeat a Defensive Shield-like operation in Gaza. No security wall or fence will stop them, as these missiles are improved to reach Sharon's own farm spread and beyond.

Mahmoud Abbas knows well that terror aided his negotiations. Egypt, which did not intervene to halt the smuggling of armaments via the tunnels in Sinai, is now supervising the Palestinian security forces.

Sharon once had a dream. That dream and vision was a strong, resolute Israel. Sharon has now become our nightmare.

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