In early January veteran foreign correspondent Bob Simon, reporting for CBS' "60 Minutes," demonstrated how any talk of a Palestinian state in the West Bank is empty rhetoric. The documentary illuminated the Israeli-occupied territory with dramatic aerial footage of modern, white stone Israeli villages that are built in descending circles from the tops of the most prominent hills and that now house a quarter of a million angry settlers.
They made clear they had no intention of leaving sacred Jewish soil. The West Bank, they said, has been part of the Jewish homeland for thousands of years. An independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, according to conventional settler wisdom, would bring Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport within range of made-in-Iran rockets and missiles. And Israel, deprived of international air traffic, would wither away.
The grim flipside of the gleaming settlements was the Palestinian home where Israeli soldiers, uninvited, barged in without ringing or knocking and spent the night for visual observation of activity in surrounding streets.
Middle East peacemaker George Mitchell was back in motion for the first time since the turn of the century when he said Israeli settlements must be frozen -- not dismantled. They've been expanding ever since, albeit illegally, with government collusion. Settlements are connected by hard surfaced roads Palestinians are not allowed to use, and hundreds of checkpoints throughout the West Bank make travel by Palestinians an ordeal that keeps them homebound.
President Barack Obama stressed the importance of engaging Iran and extending a hand of peace to all Muslims. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was undertaking a wide-ranging and comprehensive assessment of foreign policy options toward Iran. But for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "Change means giving up support for the rootless, uncivilized, fabricated, murdering Zionists and letting the Palestinian nation decide its own destiny."
The three-week Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza has had far more impact than Washington seems to realize. Arab media were present in Gaza throughout the campaign of bombs, artillery shells and automatic weapons; al-Jazeera, a global Arabic network with 100 million viewers from Marrakesh to Muscat and countless more Muslims from Iran to Pakistan to the Philippines, had several reporters in the 21-mile strip from the northern border with Israel to the southern border with Egypt.
Gaza was to al-Jazeera what the Gulf War in 1991 was to CNN. This time CNN had no reporters in Gaza. Israeli censorship kept Western media out of Gaza behind Israeli borders. But for al-Jazeera, it was a 24/7 horror news channel watched round the clock for three weeks -- kids crying next to their dead relatives, many of the 1,300 killed (including 400 children) and some 4,000 wounded, mosques reduced to rubble, schools destroyed, collapsed apartment buildings, so many recruitment posters for suicide bombers.
Even media in Arab countries run by pro-Western governments used analogies in their commentaries about the Holocaust and Israeli war crimes. Some Arab networks reminded their viewers Hamas had triggered the carnage by shooting rockets into Israeli towns, but still they pulled no punches showing devastation and family dislocation brought about by Israeli retaliation.
The coverage had a devastating psychological impact on the vast majority of Arab masses. In fact, where there was apathy about Hamas vs. Israel before the latest war, the majority are now pro-Hamas. The extremist organization that refuses to recognize Israel is now weaker militarily, but stronger politically. It weathered withering Israeli firepower -- and emerged still in power. Hamas, not the moderate Fatah section of the Palestinian movement, is now the larger political reality.
The net result is that Israel has moved to the right and Arabs to the left. There is no upside to Gaza. It was a tragic, idiotic mistake.
For mediator Mitchell, it is now a question of making virtue out of necessity. He must engage and give Obama the political space and time he needs while nursing the country out of its near-death disease at the hands of Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe.
As the world's top poobahs in government, industry and banking gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for their annual global stocktaking, pessimism, even despair, was de rigueur. China, the world's third-largest economy, blamed the U.S. recession, triggered by the subprime mortgage scandal, for the world's deepening economic slump.
As heads were still shaking in disbelief at the magnitude of the global meltdown, Israel's election front-runner, Binyamin Netanyahu, took Davos' center stage to announce something worse than a world on the verge of depression -- Iran's nuclear weapons program. He left little doubt that if sanctions were tightened against Iran and the mullahs still went ahead with uranium enrichment, action would have to be taken. If not U.S. airstrikes, then clearly Israel would have to act alone.
And then where would we all be? Obama would find himself on the sharp horns of a painful dilemma. The Arabs and the larger Muslim world would automatically assume the United States had given Israel the nod.
Or Obama could disassociate himself from Israel's action, much the way President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the United Kingdom, France and Israel out of Egypt in 1956 after their secret invasion and occupation of the recently nationalized Suez Canal Zone. But this would strain credulity, as Obama is on record that Iran's nuclear weaponization is unacceptable. Israeli bombers also would have to fly over U.S.-controlled airspace to reach their targets in Iran, going and returning -- further proof for the Muslim world of U.S. complicity.
Saudi intelligence chief for a quarter of a century, Prince Turki al-Faisal revealed that Iran has just called on Saudi Arabia to lead a jihad against Israel. "So far," said Turki, "the kingdom has resisted these calls, but eventually the kingdom will not be able to prevent its citizens from joining the worldwide revolt against Israel."
Obama, said Turki, should embrace the 2002 peace plan of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which offers full Arab recognition of Israel for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land and the creation of a Palestinian state, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. Failure to respond favorably will push Saudi Arabia and Iran into an anti-American entente. The clock is ticking.
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