Peace in the Middle East for Dummies

Will Saletan and Timothy Ireland

Peace in the Middle East for Dummies

Will Saletan and Timothy Ireland

Peace in the Middle East for Dummies
An email conversation about the news of the day.
July 27 2000 11:20 AM

Will Saletan and Timothy Ireland

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Dear Will,

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That's damning with faint praise: "Don't bust on the UK; at least it's not France." But you do have a point--France sucks.

As for Bush, he can't be an aristocrat. That sort of thing is forbidden by the Texas Constitution, Article XXVII, Section Two, paragraph 2: "There will be no arist'crats or fancy strangers in the Republic of Texas. We don't care if y'all're the Aga Khan. Soon as you cross the border, you jus' another one of the Khan boys." (At this point, the Texas Constitution directs the reader to spit in the dirt.)

Statutory egalitarianism is a grand thing, brother.

I have a tough time understanding Middle Eastern politics. More to the point, I have a tough time finding the Middle East. My Inner Camel gets lost about 400 miles east of Ankara. But I'll try to work my way through it. Here goes:

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Israel is a great melting pot, and for years, Syrian President Assad tried to melt it into a solid mass of twisted steel and powdered concrete. He tried, and tried, and tried--but failed. So Assad extended an olive branch (etymological note: the Arabic word for "olive branch" is synonymous with the Arabic word for "uncle") to the Israelis in the hope that they would climb down from their Golan Heights and make peace. He failed. Then he died.

Today, Syrian President Assad--that's Assad the Ophthalmologist, not Assad the Homicidal Maniac--is just as eager to reach his Golans. He's willing to trade land for peace, and he's willing to throw in a free eye exam for children under 16. Seniors get the same deal at half-price, but only during regular office hours.

That's a tough offer for an Israeli to resist. The Middle East, after all, is a place of Byzantine intrigue and Levantine complexity. Discounts are hard to come by. Unfortunately, Assad is not a closer, and the two nations remain far from a peaceful settlement of their differences. The main sticking point is still the fate of the Golan Heights. Syria wants the strategic bluffs back, but Israeli settlers live and ski there. The Golan is kind of like Switzerland--only really, really dangerous. Who could resist annexing that?

The Middle East's other weeping geopolitical sore is the fate of the Palestinians. For years, the Israelis have tried to explain to the Palestinians--calmly, patiently, and at gunpoint--that they're really Jordanians, and therefore don't have any problems. The glass is half-full, the Israelis said. Be happy, or we'll bulldoze your house!

You can't fool us, the Palestinians replied, we're Arabs! So they hired the stylish Yasir Arafat to slaughter the innocent, disrupt the Olympics, and scurry for 30 years like a hounded dog from one Mediterranean hideout to another. Arafat's felonious high jinks prompted Israel to offer the Palestinian people an olive branch (etymological note: the Modern Hebrew word for "olive branch" is synonymous with the Modern Hebrew word for "Enough with the terrorism, already." Isn't that uncanny?). Today, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak are laying the foundation for a new Palestinian homeland. Peace is almost at hand.

Not so fast, Ali. Both sides want Jerusalem to be their capital, while the United States--an honest broker with a lot full of creampuffs--doesn't want Jerusalem to be anybody's capital. What's a statesman to do? Fly to Camp David, eat some traif, declare a deadlock, and threaten to leave.

Personally, I would look for common ground--not Lebanon, but something else. How about this: The Israelis are a richly diverse people bound by a great common purpose--the urgent desire to stick a knife in the back of any other Israeli who tries to govern the country. As it happens, Palestinians everywhere share the same aspiration.

Can't that serve as the basis for a diplomatic breakthrough? Can't we all just get along? (Note to editors: Paste the "Kumbaya" wave file here.)

Timothy Ireland is a media consultant and former political reporter for the New York Daily News. Will Saletan writes Slate's "Frame Game" and "Damned Spot" columns.