April 18, 2002
It's one of the oddities of world affairs that the worse things get in the Middle East, the more various countries, international bodies and individuals want a piece of the diplomatic action. The region could use some help, but sadly, recent offers by a number of hopeful mediators are likely only to confuse matters and make U.S. diplomacy more difficult.
The Europeans, the United Nations, even Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan all want to lend a hand.
But part of the problem in the region is that they all may want to be involved for reasons having nothing to do with a desire for a fair peace or with the survival of the Jewish state. And for all their handwringing over the Palestinians, there's little real interest in easing their plight, either.
Here's a brief guide to the mediator wannabes:
Europe wants Israel to just go away. OK, they don't actually come out and say this, but that's the gist of the double standard they apply to the region: The Palestinians can do no wrong. The Europeans show a sympathy for them that is absent in their feelings about the rest of the world, where self-absorbed apathy is the rule, not compassion. And Israel can do no right. Even when Israel was poised to give up almost all of the land taken in 1967, the Europeans found ample reasons to carp and complain.
This imbalance is the result of a pungent stew of factors, including their dependence on Arab oil and concern about their own burgeoning Muslim minorities. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that there's also a strong thread of anti-Semitism, something with which the Europeans have lots of cultural experience. There is opposition to current Israeli policies around the world, but Europe is the only non-Islamic region where anti-Semitic violence is surging.
Islamic States want the 54-year Arab-Israel conflict to go on forever. Many talk a good talk when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. But none of these nations has been willing to actually help suffering Palestinians. None has lent a hand to peacemakers in the region or offered significant economic aid.
Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt would rather keep the Arab-Israeli conflict at a low boil than help solve it -- largely because whipping up anti-Israel animus helps deflect their own people from rebelling after generations of political and economic oppression.
The recent Saudi peace proposal seemed like a signal that some prominent Muslim countries were ready to help, not hinder the search for peace. Washington reacted hopefully -- but changes in the plan may render that hope premature.
The United Nations
The United Nations is churning out the usual blizzard of indignant resolutions on the region, but the one-sided outpouring guarantees that once again, the international body has disqualified itself from playing a useful role. The United Nations partition plan in 1947 was the pivotal event in the creation of Israel, and U.N. bodies have acted ever since as if it was a big blunder.
Some of that is a proxy for rampant hostility to the United States, Israel's only friend. Some of it has to do with Palestinians' success in portraying Israel as the last colonial power, a charge that still resonates powerfully in the Third World, helped along by European guilt.
And much of it has to do with inept leaders, including Secretary General Kofi Annan and outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, who has legitimately criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians -- but who, by posing this as one of the worst human rights abuses in the world, has displayed an absence of perspective that would be funny, if it wasn't so destructive to any helpful U.N. role.
Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan shouldn't really be lumped together -- Jackson may not be an anti-Semite, while Farrakhan leaves little room for doubt -- but they both seem motivated by the same thing: a lust for attention. Does Jackson, a longtime Yasser Arafat ally, somehow dream that Israel can see him as an impartial mediator? Forget about Farrakhan.
The Middle East is the world's greatest international stage, and it's hardly surprising that people who long for the spotlight -- including washed-up politicians and religious leaders -- want to be front and center, even when there's no conceivable possibility they could help, and a lot of opportunity for them to hurt.
Mainstream Protestant groups in this country don't support terrorists, but they end up encouraging the suicide bombers when they ooze sympathy for the man who gave them the green light. Treating Arafat like a misunderstood pacifist and Ariel Sharon like a war criminal suggests motives and biases that have little to do with a fair, stable peace, and it encourages Arafat to continue believing he can speak peace to gullible outsiders, while preaching war to his own people.