Bad Choices in the Mideast

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Bad Choices in Israel & Palestine

Mind you, markets are not helped when crooks get to the top of the corporate ladder and start cooking the books. Although we are now in the third year of a bear market, a performance unseen since the 40s, we are in reality facing not so much a crash as a crisis of confidence. Those responsible must not only be punished, they must be made to return their ill-gotten gains. Remember the words of a man who knows nothing about business but has rarely got it wrong in business because of my instinct: The system isn't the problem, but individuals acting incompetently and fraudulently are. The greedy chief executives who have lied and cheated, misled investors and looted companies for their own benefit have to be jailed with the proverbial key thrown away.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The present mess shows that Bill Clinton's greatest achievement?one that he goes around trumpeting ad nauseam, the bull market?was nothing but a bubble in which huge amounts of capital were misallocated on wasteful enterprises, notably the Internet. Some go as far as calling it the greatest con of all time, rather than using Clintonian hyperbole and describing it as the longest expansion in U.S. history. As in everything Clinton has ever been involved in, even the Clinton boom turns out to be a fraud. It now looks like even the government's figures during the Clinton years are suspect. If this is so, there was no American boom and no productivity miracle.

As always, Clinton comes out smelling like a rose. A protracted bear market for which George W. Bush had no responsibility whatsoever could still make him a one-term president. Oy vey! Far from having had our economic slowdown and being ready to pull out of it, thanks to the greedy types the worst could still be to come.

And now for the bad news. I happen to agree with Bush that Arafat has to go, but not the way he went about it. Even Palestinians have a right to choose their leader; instead, they are in a bitterly resentful mood after hearing an American president lay down the law. Moderate Palestinians?and they are in the majority, unless of course one reads John Podhoretz and his ilk?are now even more careful to keep their heads down, for fear of appearing American and Israeli stooges. Arafat's time has gone, but it's the Palestinians who must vote him out. The trouble is that inside the PLO no one has emerged to challenge Old Fish Eyes. Such respected figures in the West as Mahmoud Abbas, one of the architects of the Oslo agreement, have no following among ordinary Palestinians. A possible younger successor, one who emerged from the student movement and won great popularity, Marwan Barghouti, would be perfect, except that he's in an Israeli jail.

Still, many Palestinians accept the fact that Arafat is a liability, but no Palestinian, in or out of Israeli jail, pro- or anti-Arafat, extremist or moderate, will accept Bush dictating to him who his leader should be. To Palestinian minds, America and Israel are one and the same, with Uncle Sam an avuncular figure who nevertheless always sides with his Israeli nephew. Palestinians regard Sharon in the same light as Israelis regard Arafat. Here we have two old men who are the problem and not the solution, but try to convince either of the truth. With Bibi waiting in the wings, Sharon is obviously the second worst choice, just as with Hamas sitting on the bench Arafat is the default.

As everyone in the Muslim world knows, Arafat's huge baggage of diplomatic incompetence is hard to overlook. Yet this obvious fact cannot be spelled out from the lawn of the White House. It is?and you've got to take my word on this because I do speak with moderate Palestinians?as if Sharon stood on that lawn and demanded Arafat's resignation. Arafat's months of siege by Israeli tanks have done more to restore his stature in Arab eyes than anything he has achieved throughout his bumbling career. The only victory Palestinians now are sure of is in their defiance of the American President's demand.

Mind you, it is not the leaders who are important and standing in the way of peace. The hard truth is that it's the people on both sides who no longer believe it's possible to live with each other. Israelis are in a bunker mood and think there will never be peace until the last Palestinian is ejected from the occupied territories. The Palestinians simply cannot see what peace has to offer. Never in the 35 years that I've been visiting the area have I seen the people farther apart. There is real hatred everywhere, and a change at the top will do very little. Just as Sharon's successor may well prove to be even more of a criminal, so may Arafat's inheritor prove to be a bigger bungler and more corrupt. Heaven help us.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, writing in The Washington Post, claims anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head all over Europe, particularly in Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark. He claims to be shocked and very disturbed. Foxman has cried wolf once too often. He bases his findings on polls his group conducted throughout those five countries. More than a million Jews live in these five nations, and he claims their communities are under siege. There have been attacks against synagogues and Jewish students, but the attacks have not come from just Brits, Germans, the French, Belgians or Danes. They to a great extent have come from Muslim immigrants. Foxman is making a big, big mistake if he thinks he can get away with this one. The governments of these five nations have not only made sure these incidents no longer take place by protecting Jewish schools, homes and properties, but have also instructed judges to throw the book at anyone caught attacking Jewish people or their property.

Foxman claims that European leaders have explained away anti-Semitic incidents as a fleeting response to events in the Middle East. He makes it sound as if Hitler's legions were on the march while Europe slept. Forty-five percent of the 2500 people polled in late May and early June said that they believed Jews were more loyal to Israel than to their own country. So what? European Jews took the brunt of the Holocaust, so it's only natural that they trust Israel more than their own nation. That does not make the rest of us anti-Semitic. I have French friends who are Jews and who trust and love Israel far more than they do France. Does that make me a Jew-hater? Sixty-two percent, according to Foxman's polls, think that anti-Israel sentiments led to anti-Jewish attacks in Europe. Again, what's so strange about that? Muslims reacted in Europe the way Palestinians reacted in the occupied territories. Does that make Europeans anti-Semitic?

I know Foxman's game and I don't like it. Anyone who does not agree with Israeli policies means he's deep down inside an anti-Semite. Fuck you, Foxman. Good try, but no cigar.

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