Well, here's the news from Israel and its wonderful neighbors, some of it via Washington.
President Bush reassured visiting Palestinian Authorities president Mahmoud Abbas that by the time there's a new tenant in the White House, Israel and the P.A. will have agreed on a "definition" for the new Arab state in the Holy Land. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said yes to a "definition" but that it is inconceivable that there will be anything more. King Abdullah of Jordan wanted Bush to cancel his trip next month to Israel on the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Jewish state. Bush won't, and Hussein knew that he wouldn't. But even looking like you're trying to impede good cheer between Americans and Israelis buys you kudos from fellow Arabs. Still, kudos is not an asset you can bank.
In the meantime, the P.A. sets up new conditions for serious negotiations all the time. The last was that one of the results of an agreement with Israel would be that no Palestinian refugees would be left in Lebanon. The prior one, antecedent even to negotiations, was that all Palestinian prisoners be released. Both of these are fantasies that fuel other Arab fantasies.
Hamas will agree to a six month cease-fire with Israel, even if its terms include only Gaza and not the West Bank. Or maybe it won't. But, in trying to show that it is amenable to a hudna, Hamas is admitting that it cannot tolerate the embargo on fuel to the Strip put in place by the I.D.F. On the other hand, Hamas and its other terrorist allies have continued to rain rockets and missiles on Israeli communities and also shot up Israeli gas and oil caravans without which Gaza cannot function. Every other day, some hysterical U.N. official, applauded by some hysterical E.U. official, demands that Israel resume the power supplies. Israel usually complies, as it is now doing. I say: to hell with them. When they'll guarantee the safety and security of Israeli delivery vehicles the vehicles will move. Otherwise, why don't they get their fuel ordinance from Egypt? Anyway, since when is a country on which war is declared every hour responsible for keeping the power lines of its enemies operative?
And now we go to Syria to which Israel appears to be pleading to take the Golan Heights back. This is an especially treacherous step. The border with Syria, north and east of the Golan Heights, has been Israel's most peaceable frontier since the 1967 war. There is no Arab population pining for a return to a place from which no one was ever expelled. It is not so simple to "return" the Golan. It provides Israel with strategic depth so that, in case of war, it will not have to rely only on air power. And, in any case, for forty years, the settlement of the Golan has been one of Israel's most successful civilian projects...and the settlements don't impede, as they do in the West Bank, on anyone.
Now, it is true that Israel has set conditions, although no Israeli has admitted to any of this. Syria must sever its ideological and practical ties to Iran and its support of Hezbollah. Oh yes, and its support of Hamas and its mischief in Lebanon, besides. These are big conditions. But already people are anticipating Syrian tanks on the Sea of Galilee. Frankly, this is insane
The most important new fact about Syria is recognition that it was completing a nuclear reactor deep in its eastern territory when Israel destroyed it in a bombing mission last September. This has now been confirmed by both U.S. and Israeli intelligence. We know that Damascus was not doing this high-powered atomic science by itself. You might speculate that Iran was helping the Syrians in this venture. But the evidence points directly to North Korea which two articles in Ha'aretz confirm is the culprit. Alas, Josh Patashnik this afternoon in the Plank reduces that proof to some U.S. official noticing "people of Korean descent" in photos of the targeted facility. "Really? 'Appeared to be people of Korean descent'? I hope we're scuttling talks with the North Koreans based on at least something a little firmer than that."
But Patashnik knows better than that. In fact, if he has read the available news coverage and I assumed he has, the North Koreans are now dickering with the Americans about what exactly they are prepared to admit. Certainly, he knows that people who look Asian care about saving face.