Tuesday, April 12, 2005

James Carroll: A Study In Loaded Terminology

I very much enjoyed James Carroll's magnum opus Constantine's Sword, though I did have to question how his version of early Christianity could possibly be embraced by the Catholic Church. I must say that as a columnist, he consistently disappoints me. His latest column is an exercise in studied fairness that is anything but.

The subject is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and despite Carroll's measured attempts to show both sides, his language betrays his sympathy. Far better for an opinion writer to state his loyalties up front than to hide behind a false mask of neutrality.

Consider the following passages:
...Does Israel's nearly completed ''security barrier" effectively define the permanent border? If announced new Jewish settlements are built east of Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian areas, where does that leave the Palestinian hope for Jerusalem as capital of its nascent state? How can that state come into being at all, with Israel tightening its grip on much of the West Bank?

...How can Abbas maintain power and the Palestinian truce -- if Israel and America give him nothing of what he needs?

...The Sharon government is in no hurry to take up final-status questions again. Instead, a tactic of unilateral separation, coupled with the new ''facts on the ground" -- the security barrier, expanded settlements around Jerusalem -- preempt negotiations. Palestinians want no part of the truncated state that such facts define.

...One imagines George W. Bush with a piece of straw in his mouth. His boots up on the table. Shucks. What a view. But does the president see that the very survival of Israel -- as a democracy, even as a nation -- is at stake here? Does he see the ever more desperate plight of the Palestinian people? Having turned Iraq into a recruitment and training center for terrorists, can he see how the final collapse of peace between Israelis and Palestinians will fuel Arab and Muslim hatred of America? What is Bush waiting for? What good is the view if the rancher is blind?
This last paragraph is particularly galling;...'having turned Iraq into a recruitment and training center for terrorists' is such a completely one-sided view of the situation in that country that one wonders if Carroll prefered the stable dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the tenous, but inspiring, fledgling democracy taking root.

All of these examples show clearly a distrust for Sharon and contempt for George W. Bush. I would argue, though, that it is precisely the tough stances adopted by Sharon and Bush, coupled with the death of the Noble Peace Prize winner and permanent obstacle to peace Arafat, that have brought new opportunities to the arena. I do share Carroll's worry that the position of Abbas is weakening, and that's not a good thing, when you consider his likely replacement with a militant.

The question, though, is what is Israel, or the United States, to do? Clearly, negotiations must be pursued, but negotiations can last indefinitely; it is to Sharon's credit that he has begun to do unilaterally what must be done to lesson the violence and change the dynamic. For far too long, the open wound that is the Middle East has been allowed to fester; at last, steps are being taken that might bring some relief.

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