One of the ongoing desiderata in American foreign policy is stability, and the more of it, the better. By this definition, the current dustup between Israel and the Palestinians ought to be reckoned a major policy success, since the status quo seems to be eternal: they're always pissed off at each other. Unfortunately, things have escalated well beyond mutual exchanges of urine or even gunfire, and every applecart between Turkey and Ethiopia is likely to be upset in the near future.

In some ways, this is the next step beyond 9/11. Radical Islamists, having discovered to their surprise that one does not get away with poking a sharp stick at Uncle Sam, have decided, "Well, we still hate Israel, let's screw with them instead." The various Palestinian factions, still demanding a state of their own so they can presumably fight among themselves in peace, have cranked up the violence level in recent days. Questions about this state persist:

"Now where exactly is this state supposed to be?"

"Are you the Judean People's Front?"

"How much of a national economy do you expect to have if your only growth industry is suicide bombers?"

Yasser Arafat, erstwhile head of the Palestinian Authority, never did come up with plausible answers to these questions, and whoever winds up playing spokesman for the Palestinians is not likely to do much better, since their single biggest ideological influence seems to be Saudi Arabia, which is happy to help them hate Israel but is at least partially occupied with the question of how to keep the oil dollars flowing if the Americans decide to extend the geometry of the Axis of Evil far enough to declare a pivot point at Riyadh. Contrary to popular Saudi belief, threatening to turn off the petroleum spigot is not likely to impress Washington these days; the only other major products of the Arabian peninsula are sand and terrorists, neither of which command prices high enough to keep Prince Abdullah and company in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed.

The United States, on occasion, has attempted to steer a middle course. The present Administration, though, will note that (1) Israel has the only semblance of an actual democracy in the region and (2) a substantial amount of the current turmoil emanates from groups who hate the U.S. almost as much as they hate Israel. Under these conditions, taking sides becomes much simpler, and Americans and their allies in the post-9/11 world aren't at all inclined to look kindly upon suicide bombers. Under the circumstances, Israel could actually descend into the hellish practice of ethnic cleansing and draw actual applause from some and a resigned "Get it over with" from others.

I don't think there's much question here: if all-out war breaks out, Israel will win. Decisively. Harshly, even. Israel will control Gaza, the West Bank, and points beyond, and that will be the end of any notions of a Palestinian state. Surely the Palestinians must realize that. And if they don't realize that, they probably don't have enough sense to run their own country, and their marginalization will be permanent. Stable, even.

The Vent

1 April 2002

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