Monday, June 17, 2002

MORAL EQUIVALENCY WATCH: Now this really galls me: This afternoon, Reuters carries the following story with this headline:

U.S. Critical of Israel's West Bank Fence:
The United States on Monday criticized Israel's construction of a fence to keep out West Bank Palestinians and said it opposed unilateral attempts to demarcate borders without negotiations....

What especially galls me is the way Reuters (and pretty nearly other mainstream news organization) routinely continues to paint this monolithic portrait of "The United States" in every such lede, as though we-the-citizenry all got together and came to a consensus agreement on the wording of some press release.

I didn't actually have to read another paragraph to know for certain that this pronouncement was yet another in a long line of State Department positions designed to mollify the "Arab Street" and maintain plausible deniability with our friends in the House of Saud.

But I couldn't resist taking the bet. Sure enough, speaking on behalf of "The United States" was State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, speaking at a daily briefing:
Boucher said the United States is worried the fence could make life harder for ordinary Palestinians, when Israel should be removing the barriers restricting their movements. ... "To the extent that it affects ordinary Palestinians, I think we do remind the Israelis that offering hope to Palestinians, offering them a decent life, an end to the barriers is an important part of achieving security and peace and that remains on our agenda," he added.

No, sir. What you, Mr. Boucher -- and your boss Colin Powell -- must understand is that you do not speak for "The United States" when you attempt to draw a picture of moral equivalency between the delays endured by Palestinian commuters during a time of war, and the inconveniences faced by Israeli civilians when metal shrapnel becomes embedded in their eyes and brains.

Tell you what, Mr. Boucher. The next time we all have one of those consensus get-togethers, here's what I propose that you say on behalf of "The United States":

While it's sad and tragic that they must now resort to physical barriers, The United States supports the right of the people of Israel to defend its borders any way they see fit. The unrelenting terrorist attacks on innocent Israeli civilians must come to an end, and the Palestinian Authority must be purged and reformed of corruption at the highest levels, before The United States can even begin to discuss its role in mediating a permanent, peaceful solution to the conflict."

And as for you, Reuters -- it's up to you to make clear that "The United States" does not monolitically subscribe to every little sniveling, cowardly, appeasing remark that eminates from Foggy Bottom. Would it have been so difficult to amend your headline to read State Department Toady Critical of Israel's West Bank Fence?

REALITY CHECK: Justin Weitz brings to my attention this piece in the Jerusalem Post, which lays out in plain, dispassionate language why a Palestinian state would not be economically viable at this time:

If created, there is a strong possibility of serious civil strife and an over-reliance on international aid from Arab and EU countries. Much of what was promised in the past never arrived.

The business sector has not developed as hoped back in 1993. The majority of successful Palestinian entrepreneurs live outside the boundaries of the proposed state, and have shown little inclination to invest in the PA, preferring markets where there is a stronger chance of financial return. Put simply, they continue to invest in the global markets for business and not nationalist reasons, and there is little sign that this would change with the creation of a state.

Consequently, many Palestinian families would become increasingly reliant on one or more members of the family working in Israel or Kuwait. In these circumstances it is difficult to see how a state could raise enough taxes to pay for even the most basic services for its citizens.

When the PA is ready to address these points in plain, dispassionate language, there may be a basis on which to elevate the discussion to level of negotiated implementation. But for now, as they remain fixated on tearing down instead of building up, there hardly seems any point in giving them so much as the time of day.

Adds Justin, for good measure:
I've heard some people say that if the PA is entrusted with the day-to-day upkeep of a state (schools, hospitals, waste management, and other boring stuff), the Palestinians will settle down, start nation-building, forget about explosive belts, and start to live in peace. The PA has had such control since 1994, when Israel withdrew from Jericho and Gaza. Nothing has changed and nothing has been developed. Guys, lend me some of whatever fabulous hallucinatory drug you're using. Life's too depressing for sobriety.