(Washington, D.C.): For many Americans, Bill Clinton's latest foray into Middle East diplomacy may amount to little more than a distraction from the crisis enveloping his presidency at home. For the United States' most reliable friends and most important allies in the region -- the Israelis -- however, Mr. Clinton's conduct in the Gaza Strip today casts an ominous shadow over their security and the prospects for a real and durable peace.
A Fraud By Any Other Name
That state of affairs is ironic, even surreal, given the day's carefully choreographed effort to conjure up the appearance of peace. Yasser Arafat talked of peace incessantly during his address to the Palestinian National Council and representatives of other organizations (including, among the audience, known murderers of American citizens). Those present even stood on his command and raised their arms in what was interpreted -- in accordance with the script -- by President Clinton, by the press and even by the Israeli government as, in Mr. Clinton's words, "fully, finally and forever" disposing of the thorny problem of the Palestinian Charter.
In fact, this amounts to one of the greatest diplomatic frauds in history. Without striking one word, without adopting a single phrase of alternative text, the Palestinians have "reaffirmed" earlier, equally vacuous declarations that the provisions of their 1964 Covenant that call for the destruction of Israel have been "revoked." Since 30 out of the 33 provisions of this Charter espouse the elimination of the Jewish State and/or attacks on its people, such a step would, if genuine, seem to necessitate that a new Covenant be drafted and formally adopted to take its place.
Now, imagine if Hitler's National Socialist Party had, part way through the Holocaust, proclaimed that unspecified sections of Mein Kampf that blamed the Jews for Germany's troubles no longer represented its guiding philosophy. Would people of the Jewish faith or extraction living in Nazi-controlled Germany have been wise to accept this pronouncement at face value -- without the promulgation of any revised text or statutes, to say nothing of a wholesale redirection of Hitler's policies?
Is it reasonable to ask a people who have repeatedly been the victims of state-sponsored genocide and who are confronted with much evidence aside from the Covenant that the new Palestinian state will be equally committed to the destruction of the Jews and their nation, to settle for less than a clear-cut, formal and unbegrudging rejection of the PLO's hateful Charter? Obviously not.
Yet, Israel's American allies insist that much less is needed. And so, we have the spectacle of President Clinton lending the moral authority of the United States with his presence and his words to a subterfuge. There was no roll call vote, there were no concrete measures taken to strike offending passages or to replace them with commitments to peaceful coexistence with Israel. Worse yet, as the Associated Press reported before the event, "Palestinian negotiator Hassan Asfour said, 'We will raise our hands and stand up and applaud'....Despite the show of hands, this should not be considered a formal vote, he added."
The U.S. role in perpetrating this fraud is made no less reprehensible by the fact that the Israeli government felt it must accept what the President has legitimated. The unalterable reality, however, is that irrespective of what Prime Minister Netanyahu chooses to say about today's version of Palestinian theater-of-the-absurd, the PLO has not amended -- let alone stricken -- the offensive passages.
This takes on particular import when there is so much evidence that the reason is not Palestinian sensibilities about being tutored on parliamentary procedures. Rather, it is an abiding determination on the part of both Arafat's faction and most of his opponents to achieve the goal defined by the 1964 Covenant: the destruction of the State of Israel.(1)
Encouraging a Palestinian State
Mr. Clinton's trip to Gaza and the West Bank also is regrettable in that it amounts to the first state visit by a foreign leader to the incipient Palestinian nation. Despite Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's absurd efforts to dismiss the unmistakable symbolic import of the President's itinerary, the flames of Palestinian nationalism are being enormously fanned by: his arrival and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly opened "Gaza International Airport"; the photo opportunity during his meeting with Arafat in his headquarters under a picture of the city the Palestinians claim will be their capital, Jerusalem; and his address to the proto-legislature in the Gaza Strip.
Even Mr. Clinton's public rhetoric is deliberately inflating Palestinian aspirations. Today, Mr. Clinton actually announced that "the Palestinian people now have a chance to determine their own destiny on their own land." He has complained with approximately the same fervor about Israeli and Palestinian failures to fulfill their commitments -- declaring that "neither has a monopoly on pain or virtue."
Such expressions amount to acts of moral equivalence that are not only unjustified on their face; they serve further to distance the United States from its most reliable friend and important ally in the region. Steps like these can only embolden Israel's enemies.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton is doing a fair amount of damage in her own right. At this writing, the First Lady is still scheduled to visit a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, an action in keeping with -- though even more incendiary than -- her earlier public call for a Palestinian state. After all, it will not only serve as a propaganda field-day for those who blame Israel for the deplorable condition of the residents of such camps throughout the Arab world. It will also directly insert the United States into the explosive issue of what the Palestinians call the "right of return of refugees," the millions of people (many of whom have never set foot in "Palestine") who may be interested in populating a new Palestinian state and willing to help liberate what they see as the rest of its territory, namely Israel.
The Bottom Line
This is not the path of a genuine and durable peace. It may produce "progress," all right, but the movement is in a direction that will not result in security for Israel or serve U.S. interests in the region. In the words of a preeminent analyst of Middle East affairs, Douglas J. Feith, in the January 1999 issue of Commentary Magazine: "The Administration's current policy -- increasing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority while winking at its violations of Oslo and its human rights abuses -- simply reinforces the [Palestinian] regime's most dangerous traits. Down that road lies further misery for the Palestinians and, for Israel, war."(2)
1. See Center Decision Briefs entitled Bibi's Choice: Allow The Palestinians To Acquire A Real -- And Threatening -- State Or Just A 'State Of Mind' (No. 98-D 126, 9 July 1998); and Clinton Legacy Watch #24: An Odious Ultimatum To Israel (No. 98-D 78, 6 May 1998).
2. For additional excerpts from Mr. Feith's essay, see Center Decision Brief entitled Clinton, Stay Home! President's Ill-Advised Trip To Mideast Will Contribute To Conflict -- Not A Durable Peace (No. 98-D 198, 11 December 1998)
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