I know I have said it before but the times bear repeating it, sometimes it feels like we’ve all become Alice, the character in the Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Events these days are so bizarre, it’s as if we have fallen into that story’s "rabbit hole" and ended up in "Wonderland" where everything is upside down.
Ten years after we gathered on the White House Lawn to witness the historic Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and the Arafat-Rabin handshake, Rabin has been murdered by an Israeli assassin and Arafat is in his compound threatened with expulsion or death.
Ten years ago, while the majority of Israelis and Palestinians celebrated the promise of peace, they were joined by Arab Americans and American Jews who shared the same hope. Extremists, on all sides, however, were resolved to bring the process down and, it appears, they are close to accomplishing their goal.
The decade of "peace" has brought disaster to the Palestinians: Israeli settlements have doubled and Israeli roads and other construction projects (including the insidious "wall") have carved the territories into prison-like reservations seething with despair and anger. The occupation’s brutality and repression have come to define the Palestinian’s daily life, as has their poverty. Palestinians are poorer and less employed today than they were before Oslo. This "peace process" has given peace a bad name. It has, instead, sucked the very hope and life out of those who pinned their hope to it. And all of this was true even before the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000.
And yet in the bizarre upside-down political discourse of the United States the brutal provocateur Sharon is "a man of peace" and Arafat, the head of a dismembered and dispossessed people and a dismantled authority is "an obstacle to peace". Israel continues to receive compassion, as victims of terror, while Palestinian suffering is largely ignored and almost never condemned.
At best, Israeli assassinations and acts of repression and collective punishment are met with timidly worded caution or silence, while pressure is reserved for the Palestinians who, in their fragmented and weakened state, are publicly prodded to "reform", "crack down" and perform. The weakest party is asked to do the most difficult work, while the powerful occupier is given what amounts to a pass.
Palestinians are denounced for incitement, while an Israeli newspaper editorial entitled "Kill Arafat" is prominently featured on an important U.S. right-wing website and endorsed by some political commentators as wise and thoughtful.
To get a sense of the bizarre logic and evil intent of this editorial you only need to look at three paragraphs:
"The world will not help us; we must help ourselves. We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly possible, while minimizing collateral damage, but not letting that damage stop us. And we must kill Yasser Arafat, because the world leaves us no alternative….
"Arafat’s death at Israel’s hands would not radicalize Arab opposition to Israel; just the opposite. The current jihad against us is being fueled by the perception that Israel is blocked from taking decisive action to defend itself.
"Arafat’s survival and power are a test of the proposition that it is possible to pursue a cause through terror and not have that cause rejected by the international community. Killing Arafat, more than any other act, would demonstrate that the tool of terror is unacceptable, even against Israel, even in the name of a Palestinian state."
One can only imagine the outcry if an Arab newspaper had written the same in reverse.
To add insult to the already injured U.S. political discourse look at what happened last week to a U.S. presidential candidate, Howard Dean.
Dean is the former Vermont Governor who has been running an insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination to challenge President George W. Bush in November 2004. Like all new candidates for national office he has not established a record of involvement on a range of foreign policy issues-not unlike Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And so, in many ways, he is still finding his way through the minefields of "Wonderland".
Last week he ventured into a discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In an interview he noted that in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians "It’s not our place to take sides". The U.S., he said, should be "evenhanded".
Fair enough, you might say, but within days, Dean’s opponents were attempting to push him into the "rabbit hole". Senator Joseph Lieberman accused Dean of advocating a "major break" in U.S. policy saying, "If this is a well-thought-out position, it’s a mistake, and a major break from a half a century of American foreign policy. If it’s not, it’s very important for Howard Dean, as a candidate for president, to think before he talks."
Joining the fray, Senator John Kerry stated, "It is either because he lacks the foreign policy experience or simply because he is wrong that governor Dean has proposed a radical shift in United States policy towards the Middle East. If the president were to make a remark such as this it would throw an already volatile region into even more turmoil."
A group of Democratic Congressmen followed by sending a letter of their own that was critical of Dean. And the campaign was on to beat the insurgent into submission. TV analysts observed that "Dean wasn’t ready for prime time" calling him a "cowboy who shoots from the hip".
When forced to respond Dean maintained his support for Israel, acknowledged a lack of sensitivity in his choice of words but reasserted that if the U.S. was to have a role in negotiations it must be as an "honest broker" "trusted by both sides".
How maddening, how detached from reality and how disturbing that ten years after Oslo and in the face of all that is happening that "evenhanded" has become a "buzz word", that Sharon is a "man of peace" and peace is dying before our very eyes.
In ten years the world has been turned upside down.
Despite all of this, polls continue to show that 73 percent of the American people want U.S. policy to be "evenhanded" and want Israel to be pressured and support a two-state solution. A group of Arab American and American Jews have come together to assert their shared vision, to mobilize the three-fourths of our country who want to turn the world right-side up and close that crazy rabbit hole once and for all.