- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

The Israelis have a slang word to describe Bill Clinton: "frier." It translates to "sucker."Inelegant as the Hebrew word may be, the Jerusalem Post, no doubt speaking for swelling Israeli sentiment against embracing a phony "peace process," insists that "there is no other way to describe the way Yasser Arafat is treating Clinton in the final days of his presidency."

Many Israelis say the inelegant word applies to Ehud Barak, too. They can't otherwise explain why their prime minister would accept even as a negotiating point the division of Jerusalem, giving full Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The last time the Arabs controlled Jerusalem they prevented Jews from praying at the Wailing Wall.

Until Israel became a state in 1947, the stereotype of the Jew was a man with a brain but no physical toughness. He was the wimp/nerd summa cum laude. The Israeli soldier was no dummy, either, and his battlefield exploits soon added strength to the smarts, courage to the cunning, grit to the guile.But Mr. Barak, under Clinton tutelage, has shown himself to be both naive and weak despite his earlier heroism as a general. Ariel Sharon, a maverick warrior, has soared far ahead in the public opinion polls. In two recent surveys, Mr. Sharon has 50 percent against only 22 percent for Mr. Barak in the one, and 50 percent to 32 percent in the other. Israel votes on Feb. 6.

When Ariel Sharon cries "Shalom," the Hebrew greeting for "peace," Israeli voters hear him saying he will negotiate peace from strength, which means that any deal signed by Ehud Barak and backed by Bill Clinton is no deal.

In a demonstration on Monday in the walled Old City in east Jerusalem, a crowd of more than 100,000 noisily protested division of the Holy City. The fliers and handbills advertising the demonstration quoted from the Book of Psalms: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning." The pamphleteer added a rebuke: "EHUD BARAK FORGOT!"
The biggest gripe among many against Mr. Barak is that he continued to negotiate when Palestinians raised ante after ante, backed by an ever-growing Intifada. The Palestinians buy time, win sympathy and fill their plates with Israeli concessions pushed by the American president.
In the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton is described as a beaver gnawing away at the established order with executive orders, appointing judges by recess nomination and above all tying up air traffic between Washington and the Middle East. Beavers are dangerous when they start nibbling at saplings with undeveloped roots, and there's nothing more fragile than a sapling trying to survive in the thin, parched soil of a desert. There's rarely even a bush to burn.
The president, who has a reputation for mastering complex details, seems to have lost sight of all this, seeing forests where there are no trees. He has forgotten the famous parable of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion begs for a ride across the river aboard the frog. "Never," the frog replies. "If I let you ride my back you'll sting me." The scorpion smiles and says: "But if I do that we'll both drown." The frog is persuaded by this, and invites the scorpion to crawl aboard. Once in midstream, the scorpion, being a scorpion, drives his stinger deep into the frog's back. "Why did you do that?" the dying frog asks. "Now we'll both drown." Replies the scorpion: "Welcome to the Middle East."
The Palestinian negotiating strategy is described by one analyst as "getting to 'no' while saying 'maybe.' " President Clinton only adds to the incoherence of this peace process, so called, by force feeding both Israelis and the Palestinians at a time when the Palestinians aren't hungry and the Israelis suffer acute indigestion.
George W. has correctly refrained from criticizing the president's proposals, as awful as they are, because he can't afford to send misleading mixed messages from Washington, further corrupting the process. He can't become a player in this mess until after Jan. 20. But after Jan. 20, arriving with no obsession with carving a legacy out of the Middle East muddle, he can look with a clear focus to see what can be salvaged. Isaiah offers the promise he must take on faith: "O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up that voice with strength."


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