Not since the dispute over Israel's place in the bipolar geopolitical struggle of the 1950s - a dispute that split kibbutzim, families and friendships - has there been such a polarizing issue as the current management of the conflict with the Palestinians. The difference between the two periods lies in the attitude toward the Americans on the part of the Israeli political left - Mapam and Maki in the early 1950s, and now the two Yossis, Sarid and Beilin. The old left regarded the Americans and their army as the embodiment of evil. The new left prays for their arrival, to impose an agreement on Israel and Palestine and to separate them.
Some might believe that this position, like others so close to that of Yasser Arafat, indicates that Beilin wrote Arafat's articles in The New York Times. The opposite is true: Arafat sounds like Beilin's ghost writer. The demand is similar, but the tone is different. The Palestinians, who chose a one-sided solution in November 1947, rejecting the UN partition plan, changed their minds after a series of Arab defeats and are now seeking internationalization of the conflict. Internationalization, they believe, is not a fair process of arbitration, in which two parties go into mediation with mutual complaints. Instead, they regard it as a military tribunal, which could end with the vindication of the accused - Israel - but with a good chance for the Palestinian plaintiff to convince the referee. It's not the balance of justice the Palestinians are seeking, but rather an outside agent on their side to help them outweigh the other.
Israeli proponents of internationalization sound a little different - like children calling in a nursery school teacher to enforce discipline on those who won't take responsibility, instead blaming the other kid. In the spirit of this week's slogan, "Protective Wall," they are inviting Joe, Bob, and Tom - Giuseppe and Franz can also join in - to put their bodies in place as a protective wall between the suicide bombers of Hamas and the restaurants in Israeli cities.
In essence, it's an excellent idea. Tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have already spilled their blood over the Holy Land, and it's now time for others, who have not done so since the the time of the Crusaders (and General Allenby). The trouble is that overseas, the idea has little appeal. There aren't Four Mothers in America and Europe and those Asian countries that send troops in for the UN and other peacekeeping missions. There are 400 million mothers who would start a protest movement when their sons, like the two observers from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron last week, are sent home in body bags from places with names that their mothers can't even pronounce.
And they will be killed, in the absence of a Palestinian Authority that can halt Hamas and Tanzim, just as U.S. Marines and French soldiers were killed in Lebanon in a series of Hezbollah suicide attacks in 1983. The multinational force arrived in Beirut to supervise the departure of Yasser Arafat and the PLO, and left with them, returning after the massacre at Sabra and Chatila. The force, and the American embassy, were attacked, and after the Sixth Fleet clashed with the Syrian army and its proxies, 243 soldiers were killed in an instant. The force left Beirut, tail between its legs.
Nobody remembers that lesson better than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was then Ronald Reagan's emissary to the area. As the commander of the war on terror, he has no extra troops for marginal, non-military purposes. It took a lot of work to convince him not to pull out the American troops stationed in Sinai as part of the Multinational Force there. Instead, a standing army battalion, backed up by an entire brigade, was replaced with a reduced regiment of volunteer reservists - clerks and police from Virginia and North Carolina, who suntan in the desert, drink beer, take note of quiet Egyptian complaints about Israeli armor slipping over the border at Rafah, flanking Palestinian attacks there. This enables more combat-oriented forces to head for Afghanistan and get ready for Iraq.
Foreign involvement, in the form of guards and inspectors, will only work as a forgotten footnote in the context of a agreement and in its wake, not as an introduction to an agreement, or to replace one.
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