Another Tack: Masters and donkeys

Consciously or otherwise, the carrot-or-stick motif conjures images of masters and the dumb donkeys they try to prod and move along. Those lucky enough to be in position to choose between inducing or punishing are obviously the power-wielding honchos.

Those to be tempted or whacked into submission are clearly the brutish troublesome beasts which must be disciplined – one way or another.

Therefore, when US President Barack Obama’s special Mideast envoy fails to object to carrot-and-stick speak – and even bothers to specify one stick’s characteristics – he implies that he’s in charge, while we, threatened with a severe whack on the rump, are his asses.

So forget the nitty-gritty of George Mitchell’s January 7 gibber-jabber in the PBS interview with Charlie Rose about withdrawing loan guarantees if we Israelis don’t obey pronto. Plenty of ink has been spilled on whether this constituted a serious signal. The point has been honed that we don’t desperately depend on said guarantees, that Israel repays all its debts dutifully and that it can get along just fine, thank you, without Washington’s grudging favor.

That’s almost the lesser issue.

What ought to get our goat is Mitchell’s attitude – and by extension that of the White House resident who appointed him. It wasn’t the reference to a possible anti-Israel stick which made Rose’s interview with Mitchell outrageous. It was the hubris and presumptuousness it exuded. Both interviewer and interviewee radiated supercilious smugness and ostensible omniscience. Both the professed honest broker and the opinionated talking head haughtily, almost frivolously, reduced us to the lowly status of obdurate pack animals.

To be sure, it was Rose, patronizingly sounding the voice of impatient reason – intermittently even chiding Mitchell for not getting the pesky chore of contracting a Mideast peace out of the way quickly and imperiously enough – who first mentioned carrots and sticks. But Mitchell could have refused to resort to the offensive terminology. The fact that he didn’t – and that he went so far as to hypothesize about the likely stick with which he might smack Israel, but conspicuously noting nothing with which the Palestinians might be thumped – speaks volumes in itself.

SO DID the air of lighthearted camaraderie and lightweight banter throughout the one-on-one. At some points it became surreal. Clued-in viewers had to wonder whether the mutually ego-massaging chums actually believed what escaped their lips or whether they merely pretended to.

Take Mitchell’s portrayal of the PA’s PM: “an impressive person, Salam Fayyad, who is trying to build, from the ground up, the institutions of governance that will be able to govern effectively on day-one of the Palestinian state.” Rose cheerfully chimed in: “They also call that bottom up.” On cue, an agreeable Mitchell contentedly poured on more syrup: “Bottom up, top down.” Yep, we get it, the Ramallah bunch is on the side of the angels.

Mitchell then proceeded to lay it on even thicker: “Now, obviously, we have great respect for President [Mahmoud] Abbas. We think he and Prime Minister Fayyad represent strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people and are the ones that we think are going to produce a Palestinian state.”

Who is Mitchell kidding? If he doesn’t understand that Abbas is a virtual leader and that both he and his clique are neither respected nor trusted by anyone in the Middle East, then we are dealing with willful delusion.

Mitchell gets lots more cloyingly sweet: The Palestinian “security forces are outstanding by any measure… Palestinians have taken very significant steps. Until the last couple of years, the principle problem from their side was the absence of security… that was the Israelis’ angle: ‘We don’t have a partner; they’re not doing anything about the terrorists and the violence.’ Now you have a government that is doing something, very actively, aggressively, successfully, as even the Israelis acknowledge.”

That upbeat assessment doubtlessly impresses Avshalom Meir Chai’s bereaved widow and seven children. He was shot in the head on Route 57 near Shavei Shomron, after Israel obligingly removed a checkpoint close to Tulkarm as a “goodwill gesture” to appease Mitchell. Later IDF troops clashed with and killed three of the murderers during an attempt to detain them. Abbas’s “outstanding” forces never tried to apprehend these snipers. Moreover, Abbas soon shamelessly glorified them on PATV as “martyrs executed cold-bloodedly by Israeli forces in Nablus.” So much for promoting the spirit of peace and coexistence.

By ignoring this, Mitchell doesn’t just innocuously look on the bright side. He masks reality and abets falsehood. Mitchell boosts an inciter who exalts drive-by shooters. They hailed from Abbas’s Fatah faction. If Abbas can’t even control his own splinter, what can rationally be expected of him? To distort the truth that Judea and Samaria’s relative calm is the IDF’s handiwork is to disseminate lies. To demand the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints which curtail attacks is to undermine security, not enhance it.

GET A load of the following exchange. It begins with Mitchell waxing ecstatic over Obama’s alacrity to rid mankind of our conflict once and for all: “This president began 48 hours after taking office. He appointed me to this position two days after he was sworn in as president. You know what he said to me? He said, I want you to go over there tonight. I said, Mr. President, I’ve got a wife and kids, I don’t have any clothes with me. I have to go home and tell them I’m going to leave. I had to go home for a day just to get ready to go. He was anxious from the first to get into it.”

Rose: Okay, but tell me, do you think things – since the moment he said that to you and the moment that you prepare next week to be back there – things are better or worse?

Mitchell: Oh, they’re much better.

Well, you could have fooled us. Mitchell’s assertion, though, fits snugly into the interview’s clipped judgmentalisms, worthy of a righteous 1930s Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick. Mitchell, for instance, noted that Israel annexed east Jerusalem and treats it as an integral part of the state. To this Rose retorted: “So you’re going to let them go ahead even though no one recognized the annexation.”

Our complex context, the genocide plotted against us for over a century, are all simplistically condensed and superficially redefined as an irksome kink that requires a quick-fix. At best equal blame is artificially apportioned to both sides. Our tribulations are boiled down to tiresome bellyaching that must with great urgency be overcome.

Israel’s very inability to risk the Jewish state’s continued existence for the sake of facile cliches paradoxically facilitates its demonization. When our struggle for survival ends up trivialized and kitschified, the remedy is clear: Get the darned donkey under control with one stick or another.

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