The Spine

Not Since Never Have the Palestinians Had a More Sympathetic American President

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No, not Dwight Eisenhower (and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles), who thought of his Arabs as the Egyptians. Frankly, in 1956, nobody thought of Palestinians, including especially the Palestinians.

And, no, not even Jimmy Carter, who, while now especially entranced with the Palestinians, including Hamas, was beginning his macabre infatuation with Hafez Assad.

Then there was George Herbert Walker Bush and his sidekick James Baker, who didn't much like the Jews but wanted especially to please the Saudis. The U.S. provided arms to Saddam Hussein, who made the mistake of using them against Kuwait, which, of course, frightened "the kingdom." Hence the first Gulf war. A little simplified? Not much. Oh, yes, Baker gave Tom Friedman the White House telephone number and told him to give it to Yitzhak Shamir, who spoke only to himself. He's still alive and still mute. He once wagged his stubby little finger at me in Blair House.

That's more or less the presidential narrative except for Bill Clinton, who loved the Israelis so much that they loved him back and gave him what he wanted, even color-coding the Old City between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Arafat told him and them to go shove it. Apparently, Bill still loves Israel. (Apparently, he still speaks for the Jews as long as the price is right.) But it's hard to imagine that Hillary loves anyone. Anyway, she's been busy in Ireland (where "the troubles" are beginning again) and in Africa (where the troubles never end) and in China (to whose leaders she said nothing about human rights) and in Russia, where she had a low-level host and visited a low-level state in the Federation and unveiled a statue to Walt Whitman but didn't know he was gay and got into trouble with gay activists who were being beaten up by the present-day version of the Cheka.

And so, back to President Obama, who's been reciting the Palestinian narrative so much that he's got it memorized by heart. Which gives rise to the suspicion that it really comes from his heart. This is difficult for me since I gave a lot of energy (and the maximum amount of money allowed) to his campaign.

Still, my disappointments are nothing compared to those of the Palestinians and, for that matter, the other Arabs who don't care a fig for their Holy Land brethren (although they do like despising Israelis).

A Boston Globe headline over an Associated Press dispatch tells us that "Fatah says faith in Obama is gone." This was not about some hoodlum from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade shooting off his mouth. It was an internal memo from Fatah itself, going exactly to the heart of the matter: "All hopes placed in the new US administration and President Obama have evaporated." Poof! Vanished.

A far more important story, this one by Charles Levinson, appeared in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. It was headlined "Palestinian Support Wanes for American-Trained Forces." These forces, called the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF), have been being trained under the command of Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, a much-bemedalled military intellectual and infantry-division head who has served in Russia, Germany, and Iraq. I met him about a year and a half ago in a Tel Aviv hotel. With him was one of his aides, Dov Schwartz, presumably Jewish.

Let's face it: The PASF is the only proper military force the Palestinians have. Previously, and especially under the rais, Yasir Arafat, there were 13 independent Fatah security branches made up of undisciplined, corrupt, and brutal men, each of them what my mother would call a bulvan. (This is an onomatopoeic word. Yes, you've got its meaning.) Then there were the hoodlums of the other armed gangs--some ideological, none honest. Of course, Hamas is one of them. And Hamas is the sworn foe of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

How could the PASF not be an incredible improvement? They were trained by the Jordanian army, a disciplined fighting force going back to the British. They are under the supervision of British, Canadian, and American officers. In the beginning, there was broad support for the forces. The reason is that they brought public order. Day-to-day cooperation with the Israelis "has improved dramatically." And there is no way that the IDF can be out of the loop. There are a quarter of a million Israelis in the amorphously divided West Bank. Much of the operational intelligence comes from Israel. Without it, the PASF would be lost.

In a way, this is a model, the model for the future of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. It has to be an orderly state. But order among the Palestinians has always been a dicey matter. Then, too, it's not clear just how much strength Hamas has in the area. More and more, I suspect.

Still, there are accomplishments. Schwartz says "the Palestinians have undertaken a serious and sustained effort to return the rule of law to the West Bank. People now feel safe."

But safety may not be what the Palestinians really want. They may want the éclat of a Palestinian defeat of Israel. The Journal reports that there is much Hamas agitation in the West Bank. "Dayton's army serves the Jews," shouts a law student at a force officer. "There are growing signs that the local population are increasingly losing respect for the PASF." So reads an internal memo in General Dayton's headquarters.

Not a word about Obama in this news report. He may love the Palestinians. But not even they care.

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