By Robert F. Seibert


What The World Knows That We Don’t

This little essay is prompted by listening to President George Bush chastise Yassir Arafat for "not doing enough" to control terrorism, specifically the suicide bombings that have occurred with increasing frequency and effect over the last few weeks. The tendency of America’s politicians and media to accept this notion of Arafat’s power is not supported by the facts. The rest of the world, with the possible exception of Great Britain, knows differently. These are just some of the facts that the world "knows" and that we Americans, in ignorance compounded by hubris, refuse to acknowledge.

First, Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are not powerful. At the very best, they are institutions in development. They most definitely are not a state, in any generally accepted notion of the term. In this regard, they lack the most fundamental of governmental powers, including sovereignty in their territory, the ability to levy and collect taxes, the right to raise an army, the right to direct their own foreign policy and relations, the ability to protect their populations from outside danger. The Palestinian Authority is denied the legitimacy that comes from the exercise of such powers over time. And every time the Israeli army destroys a home, a police station, or seizes Authority property, they contribute to the weakness of Arafat and the Authority.

In these circumstances, it is ridiculous to expect the P.A. to exercise effective police or intelligence functions over its physically fragmented populations. The Palestinian Authority has less direct control and influence over Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and the rest than the U.S. government had over the Branch Davidians or the Aryan Nation. To expect Arafat and his cronies to control these organizations, many of them funded from the, is to ask the impossible. Most of the world knows this, but it is only beginning to trickle into the consciousness of America’s media and our public. Our leadership hasn’t a clue.

The reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is thus a conflict between a modern nation state (Israel) and an organization (the Palestinian Authority). In this conflict the state is able to mobilize much greater levels of violence than the organization. Our own media footage shows the consequences.

High tech weapons, including attack helicopters, fighter jets, main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, ground to ground rockets, and highly trained shock troops are deployed against Palestinian police armed with shoulder weapons (AK 47s and their clones, children throwing rocks, burning tires, and suicide bombers that have strapped themselves with explosives.

There is a terrible lack of balance here, a total lack of symmetry in the conflict. It is no wonder that the Palestinians have incurred most of the casualties. The big question is why they continue to resist and fight, when even their leadership wishes they would cool it for a while. Arafat could use some breathing room, but he’s not being given the opportunity.

Here’s another belief that most of the world shares and that we deny. Israel is being led in this repressive venture by a war criminal. Most of the world believes this to be true, based on P.M. Sharon’s own history; and on his conviction by an Israeli court for his role in the slaughter of innocent civilians in Lebanon in 1982. The names of the camps — Sabra and Shatila — are burned into the minds of much of the world, although in the U.S. their mention usually produces looks of puzzlement. The images of the children, old men and women, slaughtered by the South Lebanon Army while their Israeli allies provided logistics and security for their acts, still circulate widely abroad.

Sharon’s military career is replete with multiple instances of exceeding his authority and engaging in excessive violence — in the Sinai, in Gaza, in the Galilee, in Lebanon, and now in the territories of the Palestinian Authority. As I write this Israeli tanks are massing on the borders of Bethlehem, preparing for yet another incursion into Palestinian territory. People around the world believe that this is just the opening salvo in Ariel Sharon’s final solution to the Palestinian problem. They expect Israel to apply unprecedented military pressure to the Palestinians, enough to destroy their fledgling political organization and eliminate their activist leadership, by any means: asassination or incarceration or expulsion. The peace process is dead, by the intent and design of P.M. General Ariel Sharon.

Sharon’s international standing as a war criminal is well enough established that he is at risk for arrest and trial should he travel to certain countries. The arrest and trial of Slobodan Milosevic demonstrates that the half-life of military dictators is shorter than it used to be. And the legal problems of ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet demonstrates that a determined opposition can gain legal legitimacy in third countries. All of this has limited the number of countries to which the prime minister can travel without legal risk.

These facts are well-known abroad and discussed openly in the popular Israeli press. It is only in the United States that these facts are widely ignored. One wonders why?

Finally, much of the world believes that Zionism is a form of racism. A U.N.. conference scheduled to meet in Durban, South Africa, late this month, has such a notion on its agenda. Significantly, the U.S. tried and failed to expunge this item from the conference agenda. And in failing, has decided, along with Israel, not to attend.

The U.S. in the past has had to cast its veto many times to keep the U.N. Security Council from passing similar resolutions. There is considerable world political opinion in favor of this resolution and it or something similar is likely to emerge from the Durban conference. Keep your eyes and ears open, we haven’t heard the last of this.

But let us be careful here. I am most definitely not alleging that Judaism is a form of racism. I am referring instead to the political movement known as Zionism, a movement with roots in the 18th, 19th and 20th century Jewish experience in Eastern Europe. And in fact, I would personally keep the focus on that branch of the Zionist movement led by the followers of Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the most militant leaders of 20th century Zionism.

One can make a pretty good argument that Israel has been the focus of an ongoing contest between two concepts of Zionism, one theoretically democratic, multicultural and liberal; the other militant, violent and racially exclusive. Since the rise of the Likud Party in the 1970’s and the leadership of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, Israel’s government has become more and more influenced by the doctrines and leadership of the Jabotinsky faction. In this movement, the legitimacy of violence is combined with very narrow notions of who is Jewish and who is not. There is a very disturbing alliance between this political movement and the radical settler movements that have disproportionate standing and influence in Israeli politics. The result is an ideology with racist potential, at the least.

P.M. Sharon’s management of the conflict with the Palestinians will provide the best evidence for or against the idea of Zionism as a form of racism. Many observers around the world are already of the opinion that this allegation is true. But the evidence is still in development and judgment should be deferred as the policies of the current government are implemented. Certainly, the behavior of the Sharon government over the next year or two will provide a definitive answer.

Stay tuned.