What They Are Saying Week of Dec. 8, 2005

Excerpts from international writers with commentary on issues relating to the Middle East, Israel and world Jewry:


Can Centrist Party Bring New Sobriety to Israeli Politics?

Shalem Center fellow Yossi Klein Halevi writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com) on Dec. 2 about whether Israeli centrists have a chance:

"With Sharon's new party, Israel's centrist majority has finally found a political home. That majority, which emerged after the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, rejected as utopian both the right's dream of 'greater Israel' and the left's dream of 'peace now.'

"While centrists found a leader in Sharon, they lacked a party. The political system was then caught in a time warp. The Likud remained tied to the settlements project of the 1970s and 1980s, and Labor to its 1990s peace process with the PLO. National unity governments of Likud and Labor have always been popular. Yet centrist parties have fared poorly, rarely lasting a term in the Knesset. Absurdly, with 15 parties in the current Knesset, not one represents centrist Israelis, who, in principle, are prepared to make concessions that would end the conflict but who, in practice, doubt that any concession will win Israel peace.

"With Kadima, centrists have a party ready to unilaterally impose consensus borders that most Israelis would defend, ending the demographic and moral dangers of occupation while extricating Israel from a negotiating process that lacks a trustworthy Palestinian partner. This election is above all a referendum on the new Israeli center. Is it a passing phase – a discontent and not a worldview – as critics from left and right insist? Or can it replace the politics of wishful thinking with a sobriety that accepts the limits of Israel's reach in conquest and in peacemaking?

"The outcome of this referendum on the center remains far from certain. This is because Sharon appears hesitant to convey the message that he is a unilateralist alternative to right and left. At Sharon's press conference announcing the formation of Kadima, Israeli journalists pressed the prime minister to declare that, should he win the March 28 elections, he planned additional unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank. Instead, Sharon blandly insisted that he remained committed to the 'road map' about which, two years after its release, negotiations haven't even begun.

"Few Israelis believe the road map has any chance of working. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hasn't begun implementing its first clause, which requires disarming terrorists – even as Sharon has already implemented, at least in Gaza, the road map's final clauses, which require dismantling settlements and creating a Palestinian state.

"Sharon's reticence on unilateralism is understandable: He's wary of provoking a diplomatic crisis with the Bush administration, which is committed to the road map, and of being seen as undermining Abbas. He's also leaving it to unnamed sources to tell Israeli journalists that he has no intention of spending the next four years in office waiting for a nonexistent partner to appear.

"As the former finance minister whose reforms deepened Israel's income gap, [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu is an inviting target for [Labor leader Amir] Peretz's populism. As for Sharon, he can hope for nothing better than a catfight between Peretz and Netanyahu – one a dogmatic socialist, the other a dogmatic capitalist, both of whom oppose unilateral withdrawal. In that case, even if Sharon fails to articulate a clear centrist message, he can allow his presence to convey the steadiness and maturity that Israeli voters crave and the referendum Sharon really wants: a referendum on himself."


If You Can't Define Terrorism, You Won't Be Able to Defeat It

Columnist Diana West writes on www.Townhall.com on Dec. 5 about confusion over the meaning of terrorism:

"Two international conferences last month wrangled over definitions of terrorism. The conference in Europe, the Barcelona Euro-Mediterranean Summit, promised to fight terrorism, but couldn't agree on what 'terrorism' was.

"This somehow added up to 'an unprecedented feat,' according to Spanish prime minister Jose Zapatero, who fatuously ballyhooed the 'unmitigated, energetic,' but literally meaningless condemnation of terrorism offered by European and Middle Eastern nations.

"The other conference was in the Middle East. The Iraqi reconciliation talks, sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo, agreed on a definition of terrorism, all right, but it was one that seemed to legitimize the blowing up of American soldiers, even as they fight terrorism.

"For starters, this Iraqi communique – hammered out by 200 Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders – called 'resistance' a 'legitimate right.' You know, 'resistance': the killers who blast soldiers on patrol or kids getting candy to bits.

"The communique went on to note that 'terrorism does not represent resistance,' which sounded a little more promising. Then it said: 'Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeted Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worship.' Notice who's missing from the Iraqi convention's protection list: our own fantastic soldiers of the U.S. military.

"What did Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have to say about this unacceptable omission? 'I think what they were trying to do was to get a sense of political inclusion while recognizing that violence and terrorism should not be part of resistance,' she told CNN.

"Trying to get a sense of 'political inclusion' – by signaling open 'resistance' season on U.S. soldiers? This is happy, Oprah spin, the doctrine of Feelpolitik – not superpower strategy. … Yes, the document specifically protects the Iraqi child, and maybe the Iraqi recruits. It's the Americans risking their lives 24-7 to protect that child and those recruits who may have become 'legitimate' targets …

"Days later, at the Barcelona conference, the attempt to reach a Euro-Arab consensus on terrorism practically blew up the conference – metaphorically speaking, of course. That's because European Union leaders refused to sign onto an Arab-Muslim definition of terrorism similar to the one in the Iraqi communique, one that would have legitimized the Arab-Muslim notion of 'resistance' to 'occupation' – as in 'resistance' (suicide bombing) to 'occupation' (Israeli buses and supermarkets, not to mention coalition troops in Iraq). Perhaps having lately suffered enough 'resistance' in their own backyards, the E.U. countries – miracle of miracles – felt spinally enhanced enough to stick to their stated conviction that terrorism is never justified.

"Conversely, this was a moral statement the Arab-Muslim countries refused to endorse.

"But it was the Europeans who were apologetic about failing to reach a Euro-Arab consensus. 'It's been difficult to find that perfect word to explain the concept shared by everybody,' said E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, sounding a little absurd. 'We all know what we mean by terrorism,' he said in another, sounding desperate. 'In reality, there is total cooperation between the countries north and south of the Mediterranean against terrorism.'

"Come on. One place there is not total cooperation is in reality. More than a language barrier separates the Western and Islamic definitions of terrorism, and no amount of happy talk about 'inclusion' or conferences about 'cooperation' changes that." u



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