Saturday, February 12, 2005

Column: Sharm al Sheikh

It is difficult to make sense of the expectations for the upcoming Sharm al Sheikh talks and the visit of Condoleeza Rice that preceded it. The primary principle and benefit accruable to Israel from the Bush Doctrine -- that further negotiations be preconditioned on dismantling terrorist organizations -- seems to have vanished before our very eyes. The press is praising what is being called a "renewal of the peace process" -- which means a return to negotiations without conditions.

As disturbing as Condoleeza Rice's remarks about a contiguous and viable state for the "Palestinians" are, the eagerness of the press to read the upcoming talks as a return to the old days of "land for terror" is almost certainly misleading. The media simply has a leftist predisposition to speak in this way and of a change in George W. Bush's approach to Israel. It is important to understand and identify that predisposition and discount it.

Furthermore, Ariel Sharon's policies should not be seen as emanating from Washington or Jerusalem, even if Bush cautiously praises the effort and invites Sharon and Abbas to visit Washington, and Sharon draws support from the many times rejected at the polls, Israeli Left . More importantly, Sharon will hopefully be out of power soon as support for a referendum on disengagement grows amongst the Hareidim who are propping up Sharon's government.

Why do I discount the press? The answer comes from a lesson I learned in November and grew out of a situation I found myself in while visiting in Yerushalayim post election day. I was visiting my mother, Helen, who was in Israel on her biannual Chizuk tour with Americans For a Safe Israel and the ZOA -- the group was in Yerushalayim after touring through the communities of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and speakers and meetings were scheduled for the stay in the capitol.

I must preface by saying that prior to the election I spent many an evening listening to talk radio over the Internet. Besides listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, I was reading Victor Davis Hanson and almost everything else on National Review Online. My sense of media bias in America was keen to say the least, heightened by Rathergate to mention only one thing.

And so it happened that one evening Moshe Feiglin came to speak to the group. Moshe is the head of the "Jewish Leadership" faction of the Likud that seeks to restore the Likud to the ideology of Zev Jabotinsky and give it further depth and direction through the teachings of the Torah.

While Moshe was speaking about Jewish Leadership and the crisis that faces Israel, one of the members of the group received a phone call on their cell and asked to share the message with everyone there. It was during the question and answer session and so the message became a question that Moshe was asked to answer. The message was that the press was reporting that newly reelected President Bush was preparing to pay back his political debt to Tony Blair for his support in the War on Terror and more specifically the offensive in Iraq by forcing Israel back into negotiations with the "Palestinians" with no preconditions.

Everyone in the room was visibly upset by the news and Moshe Feiglin was asked for his reaction. Feiglin, taking the news at face value accepted it as fact and took the fact as a confirmation that Israel is truly friendless and returned to his theme of the vision of Jewish Leadership, now stressing the importance of taking the long view and the seeing the great sweep of Jewish history and destiny. His response was well received by everyone except me. I was squirming in my seat at the sight of a roomful of disheartened people trying to take heart.

I didn't get an opportunity to say to the group what I was thinking so I went up to Moshe after his talk and I told him how he should have answered the question. I told him that he should have told the group to discount the news because of the bias of the press and wait for a clarification and verification of the story. He looked at me a little curiously. Later I was proved right when Blair was to endorse Bush and the Bush Doctrine with regard to Israel. The story that had upset everyone so turned out as I suspected to be completely bogus.

Does the current flurry of coverage, slanted to the left and supported by Sharon's latest jig to Sharm el Sheik and Rice's recent comments call for an immediate abandonment of my skepticism and swallowing of the talk of a change in Bush's approach towards Israel? Why should it?

President Bush has made only the most cautious of comments of support for the talks and while Condi Rice made some scary remarks, the Bush Doctrine as far as I can tell still stands -- no matter how much the press and the once thought to be right wing Sharon and his negotiating partners would have us believe otherwise.


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