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Wanted: Palestinian leadership
There will never be peace in the Middle East until Yasser Arafat is gone. Plus, Hillary Clinton is our national Rorschach test.

ONCE AGAIN, the Palestinian leadership is throwing away a chance for peace.

Last week, at the Aqaba summit in Jordan, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and newly installed Palestinian Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) pledged to move toward peace. Sharon promised to dismantle unauthorized settlements on the West Bank and pledged his support for a Palestinian state. Abbas promised an end to "violence and terrorism."

This week, Sharon — who has recently angered his conservative political allies and startled nearly everyone else by referring to the Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank (most Israelis do not view themselves as "occupiers" and many in Israel say that dominion over the territory is "disputed") — ordered that certain settlements be dismantled. At least five of the illegal outposts have already been taken down. None were occupied by settlers; nevertheless the move drew fierce protest. Hundreds of settlers demonstrated against the Israeli army’s removal of a watchtower in Ofra, the New York Times reported this week.

Within the Palestinian Authority, however, it’s business as usual. Chairman Yasser Arafat, who reluctantly installed Abbas as prime minister in April after being pressured to do so by the Bush administration, denounced the Aqaba summit. Shortly after its conclusion, Arafat said publicly that Abbas had given away too much and had not won enough concessions from Sharon. Meanwhile, Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has reiterated its goal of eliminating Israel and has refused to negotiate a ceasefire. Just days after Aqaba ended, Hamas, along with two other groups, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack inside Israel that killed five Israeli soldiers.

It’s clear that real power within the Palestinian Authority still lies with Arafat. According to a poll on global attitudes released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Arafat enjoys the confidence of 69 percent of Palestinians, who see him as a "world figure" who will "do the right thing." (Arafat was second only to Osama bin Laden, who has the confidence of 71 percent of Palestinians.) If it wasn’t already clear, it should be by now that Arafat, who authorized the start of the current 32-month-long intifada after the failed peace negotiations at Camp David in 2000, has no interest in negotiating an end to the bloody violence.

Few observers believed that the militant Sharon could be brought to the peace table, much less that he’d offer concessions to end the violence. That’s the only bit of good news out of the Middle East in the last two years. But who will lead the Palestinians to peace, given that 80 percent of them, according to the Pew poll, don’t believe it’s possible for Israel and the Palestinians to co-exist? (By contrast, 67 percent of Israelis believe peace is possible.) Arafat won’t. And Abbas can’t.

Editor’s note: As we go to press, Palestinian terrorists unleashed another suicide attack in Jerusalem. Most probably, it’s in response to Israel’s attack on Hamas leader Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi earlier this week, which in turn was a response to the attack mentioned above that killed five Israeli soldiers. We’ve been extremely critical of Sharon and Arafat in past. But this time Sharon has made a good-faith step toward peace. Arafat, however, is willfully obstructing it.

MORE THAN any other public figure, including her husband, New York senator Hillary Rodham Clinton acts as a national Rorschach test. How we respond to the former first lady tells us quite a bit about how our society feels about accomplished, smart women. The short answer? Not too comfortable.

You would have thought Clinton had committed a capital offense given the outcry following her interview with Barbara Walters, which aired on ABC Sunday night. The Washington Post’s Tom Shales unloaded on Clinton in a vitriolic column that described her as "chillingly chilly."

"She may have emotions like normal people, but she doesn’t like to admit it and she’s scarily proficient at suppressing them," Shales wrote. Closer to home, the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan summed up Clinton’s performance with Walters as "classless, graceless, demented and sick."

Actually, the assignation of base motives to Clinton’s decision finally to talk about her role in a scandal that riveted the country for two years seems more demented than Clinton’s going public about it. And the description of Clinton as "chillingly chilly" — not-so-subtle code for "frigid" — seems more sick than Clinton’s quite understandable desire to maintain her self-control while discussing a humiliating incident over which she had zero control.

There’s a certain lack of sophistication in the knee-jerk criticism of Clinton — which can be heard in the opinions of many callers to local talk shows — for not leaving her husband. Why can’t a marriage survive casual philandering? Even of the serial variety? Why shouldn’t it? If Hillary and Bill have come to terms with Bill’s behavior and have concluded that their marriage can survive, what of it? You’d think that cultural conservatives would value the sanctity of privacy in marriage.

More disturbing than any of this, though, is the presumption among so many observers that all Clinton’s decisions — to stay married, to write an autobiography, to talk about her husband’s sexual infidelities — are calculated moves designed to bring her back to the Oval Office, this time as its primary occupant. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. The real question is why the prospect of the former first lady’s presidential candidacy causes so many Hillary bashers to break out in hives. Clinton’s politics reflect middle-of-the-road Democratic views. Not so different from those of US Senators John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Congressman Dick Gephardt, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

Of course, what distinguishes Clinton from these other presidential candidates is her gender. She is the most powerful woman in America today. A combination of hard work and good luck might get her into the White House in 2008 on her own terms. That this scares so many of us says troubling things about our attitudes toward women who are smarter and more successful than most of the men we know.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: June 13 - 19, 2003
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