Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Briefing for the President

Yoram Ettinger

You've done what an outsider can do for Palestinian statehood; you've gone every extra mile. Your June 24, 2002 address was a magnificent gesture - offering the Palestinians a seat at the table of civilization despite the brutality of the war against Israel that was called the "second intifada," The lynching in Ramallah, the Dolphinarium bombing, the murder of infant Shalhevet Pass, the Passover Massacre, Matza Café and Sbarro Pizzeria bombings all came before your speech. But you - and the Israelis - were willing to let the past be past if only the future could be clean, transparent and peaceful. June 24th should have become a Palestinian national holiday. It was, however, just one more day in the life of Israel.

After your address came more attacks including a string of massive bus bombings - #841 at Karkur Junction, Jerusalem #20, Haifa #37, Jerusalem #14a, Jerusalem #18 and seven children on Jerusalem #2 - the bombing of the Maxim Restaurant, the point-blank execution of Tali Hatuel and her four young daughters, the Ashdod port bombing, the murder of bride-to-be Nava Applebaum and her father.

But the Israeli people did not allow themselves or their country to be defined by those who would murder them. Despite the war in Lebanon and the increasing number and range of Palestinian rockets rained into Israel from Gaza (something we sincerely hope you would never tolerate over an American border), Israelis have been busy building.

There was a baby boomlet nine months after the Lebanon war. Israel's GDP is close to par with Western Europe. Buffet, Gates and Trump are invested. Israel has free trade agreements with the EU, the United States, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Jordan and Egypt. At the end of 2007, Israel became the first non-Latin American country to sign a free trade agreement with Mercosur, the regional organization of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. There are 90 Israel-related companies on NASDAQ. Israeli films won honors at the Sundance, Cannes and Shanghai festivals. Israel has taken in Darfur refugees and provided aid to earthquake victims in Peru and typhoon survivors in Bangladesh. Israel's very first UN General Assembly Resolution was to call on all members to share agricultural technology with developing countries. It passed 118 in favor with none opposed. Twenty-nine abstained including Egypt.**

In 2007, Palestinians killed 13 Israelis, down from 24 in 2006 and 50 in 2005. The "second intifada" is over, NOT because of your political, economic and military support of Palestinian independence. And NOT because of any change in the Palestinian determination to erase Israel; Hamas and Fatah are identical twins on the goal if not the means. It is over because of Israel's security fence, excellent intelligence and freedom of action in the West Bank.*

Israeli accomplishments under extreme duress should fill you with respect and the fact that Israelis are still willing to talk to you about Palestinian statehood should awe you.

So when you get to Israel, talk about Iran, talk about Iraq, talk about Venezuela. Talk about the violence in Pakistan as a result of our investment in a single leader and what that might mean to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, as well as Abu Mazen. Talk about how you plan to encourage the deepening of civil society in the Muslim world.

But if you think you want to talk about what Israel can do to help the Palestinians achieve statehood, don't.

* Where the IDF recently seized 6.5 tons of potassium nitrate from a Palestinian truck at a security checkpoint. The truck's destination was in Gaza. The chemicals can be used to make explosives and to power Kassam rockets. The chemicals were in bags marked as humanitarian aid from the European Commission.

** Thank you HDS Greenway in The Boston Globe for some of this material.

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