Monday, April 26, 2004

I suppose it's not surprising that a respected international relations guru would propose an original idea about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that two prominent bloggers would pronounce it brilliantly correct--despite its being one of the stupidest ideas proposed on the subject in a long time.

The guru in question, Walter Russell Mead, argues that "the greatest single cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East today is not the war in Iraq; more surprisingly, it is not even American support for Israel, per se. Rather, it is a widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or needs of the Palestinian people." He proposes that the US organize an effort to compensate Palestinian refugees financially for their losses in 1948, and help them (again financially) to integrate into their current countries of residence, or else into a future Palestinian state.

Mead claims to have come to his conclusions after "meeting diplomats, officials, policy experts, military leaders, students and ordinary citizens" throughout the Arab world. It's hard to imagine, though, where he might have met these people. In Kuwait, where Palestinian transient workers were expelled en masse in 1991 for supporting Saddam Hussein's invasion? Iraq, where Palestinians have been similarly reviled after the liberation, because of their alliance with the hated Saddam? Lebanon, where Palestinians are denied citizenship, confined to refugee camps, and widely blamed for the disruption that led to the civil war that began in 1975? Egypt, which controlled the Gaza strip for nineteen years, yet did nothing to help Palestinian refugees during that time, leaving it to a UN organization (UNRWA) to provide them with day-to-day help?

Today, the entire Arab world contributes less than four percent of the annual budget of UNRWA, . The US provides thirty percent. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is a major financial supporter of Palestinians--provided that they're terrorists. The facts simply don't support the claim that Arab sympathy for the Palestinian cause is anything more than a vehicle for venting hatred against Americans and Israel (or, more accurately, Jews).

Why, then, would Mead and his supportive bloggers embrace such a nonsensical idea? Most likely, it's because they want to. After all, the thesis has several attractive qualities: it offers a simple solution to a problem (Arab hatred of America) that seems otherwise intractable; it requires neither an ugly, possibly violent confrontation with hate-filled opponents nor an embarrassing public capitulation to them; and it allows for American relations with both Palestinians in particular and Arab nations in general to be improved without jeopardizing America's friendship with Israel.

In fact, if it had the merest shred of a connection to reality, it would no doubt be a truly brilliant idea.

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