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Bashir's Willing Accomplices

There are so many more important issues in the world today than Palestine that I wonder why I am so obsessed with it. Well, of course, what I am obsessed with is Israel, and it's a personal obsession relating to the catastrophe that befell my people in a way that no catastrophe had previously befallen any other people. This fact alone brings the fate of the Jews into the consciousness and conscience of others. It also provokes in a demonic way a wish for the end of the insistent Jewish problem, even if that means the end of the Jewish nation, a goal hoped for by not a few Arabs and their sympathizers.

Even if not in numbers, the Darfur genocide is of the same order of moral magnitude as the shoah. It will haunt us in whatever day of judgment we face, and it will haunt us when civil and civilized people at last come to bring some just order to the world, including the moment when some court renders justice. I believe Richard Just's desolating essay, "The Truth Will Not Set You Free," will be an exemplary witness and a rare one.

Bosnia was in the same dimension, and I am sullenly proud that we as a magazine were possessed enough to be able to put our quiet and dignified literary post-script to this disaster in what the French would call our témoignage: The Black Book of Bosnia.

I am afraid that only the truly haunted kept Cambodia in their souls. It was easy enough to falsely fault Henry Kissinger for what our (and his) enemies perpetrated, and for Noam Chomsky to exonerate them and still to remain a hero on many college campuses.

As Darfur shows, it is a simple matter for the disasters that befall African peoples to meld into the very darkness of their condition. So it was with the Tutsis of Rwanda, where Kofi Annan was a foul arbiter of life and death in a holocaust that took 100 days. It was like that, too, in the Central African Republic and Chad and in other venues. Was Biafra the first of these? I hardly remember, I whose PhD included African nationalism as a special field. Shame on me.

So let me say outright that what wrongs the Israelis may have done to the Palestinians are, in the contexts of history and of our time, actually ... let me not say "trivial." How about banal? Not that this makes them right. Still, in the grand setting of the past, as well as in the circumstances of Palestine in this century and last, the quarrels between Jew and Arab are minor. Minor, that is, if there were a wish to come to settlement on the part of Arabs. But, for them, every loss (an olive tree, an orchard, an uninhabited hill) is a challenge to the divine order of things. In that sense, the world of Muslim Arabs is unchangeable and untouchable.

But nothing is unchangeable and untouchable, including Palestine. The fact is, of course, that the other Arabs do not care a fig for Palestine, not a fig. Even with their lush surplus of petroleum cash, the oil Arabs do not pay their self-assessed tax for Palestine. The Emirates, perhaps the greatest employment agency for foreign labor anywhere, hire relatively few Palestinians, preferring Malaysian and Pakistanis and, if Arabs, Yemenis and Egyptians. The sultans are not dumb: They saw how the Palestinians behaved when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

To the extent that the Arab states have sustained these "refugees"--that's another matter, better left for another time--in place and through time deep into the fourth generation they perpetuate the wound that, unlike in the Philoctetes myth, never heals. Now, it is something of an accomplishment, a perverse one, to be sure, to have made Palestine the fixation of the United Nations and virtually every one of its agencies. But this has not brought relief to a single Palestinian.

How do I say this? The Palestine national movement is a fraud. Internecine killing has taken far more Arab lives than armed encounters with the Israelis. It is full of pomp but no ordinary circumstance. You can judge the reality of Palestine by the travels of its leaders. Arafat went everywhere. The Palestine Liberation Organization had embassies everywhere, more perhaps than did Israel. The Palestinian Authority is represented in God only knows how many capitals. And it is now Mahmoud Abbas who could collect frequent flyer miles if he didn't have the illusion of being president of a state.

Last week, Palestinian functionaries were in Yemen visiting its president and exchanging complimentary chit-chat. The officials expounded upon the importance of Yemen. How could Yemen be so important? Divided by tribes upon tribes, nearly half of its population is under 15 and one of its primary products is qat, chewed into oblivion by everyone. It is nearly equally split between Shi'a and Sunni. One of its last legislative reforms was to eliminate the age qualification of 15 for girls to marry. This is a joke. What did the Palestinians and Yemenis really talk about? Was the visit worth the gas?

Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the P.A.,  is a serious economist and a serious man. On him fall the quotidian burdens of real life in the West Bank. (Gaza seems to breathe on delirium, and he has no place in it.) Politics is at best a distraction for him, and so he is distracted by the idea of a different sort of politics. Fayyad wants a Palestinian government made up not of professional revolutionaries, but of non-partisan professionals. It is a dream but, like many well-intentioned dreams, a dream that will not come to pass. Not that there aren't Palestinians who would want it. After all, there must be many men, women, and children, too, who want an ordinary life, who even dream of an ordinary life. It is not just Israel that denies it to them by check-points and other humiliating routines. It is the very perfervid character of Palestinian society that substitutes fantasy for the commonplace. Even the death of a poet becomes an excuse for frenzy. So Fayyad will not have his wish. His country is riven by fanaticisms that divide its people against each other.

Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.

By Martin Peretz