Another Tack: Masters and donkeys

When Obama's special Mideast envoy fails to object to carrot-and-stick speak, he implies that he's in charge, while we - threatened with a severe whack on the rump - are his asses.

Mitchell smiles 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mitchell smiles 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])

Consciously or otherwise, the carrot-or-stickmotif conjures images of masters and the dumb donkeys they try to prodand move along. Those lucky enough to be in position to choose betweeninducing or punishing are obviously the power-wielding honchos.

Thoseto be tempted or whacked into submission are clearly the brutishtroublesome beasts which must be disciplined - one way or another.

Therefore, when US President Barack Obama's special Mideastenvoy fails to object to carrot-and-stick speak - and even bothers tospecify one stick's characteristics - he implies that he's in charge,while we, threatened with a severe whack on the rump, are his asses.

So forget the nitty-gritty of George Mitchell's January 7gibber-jabber in the PBS interview with Charlie Rose about withdrawingloan guarantees if we Israelis don't obey pronto. Plenty of ink hasbeen spilled on whether this constituted a serious signal. The pointhas been honed that we don't desperately depend on said guarantees,that Israel repays all its debts dutifully and that it can get alongjust fine, thank you, without Washington's grudging favor.

That's almost the lesser issue.

What ought to get our goat is Mitchell's attitude - and byextension that of the White House resident who appointed him. It wasn'tthe reference to a possible anti-Israel stick which made Rose'sinterview with Mitchell outrageous. It was the hubris andpresumptuousness it exuded. Both interviewer and interviewee radiatedsupercilious smugness and ostensible omniscience. Both the professedhonest broker and the opinionated talking head haughtily, almostfrivolously, reduced us to the lowly status of obdurate pack animals.

Tobe sure, it was Rose, patronizingly sounding the voice of impatientreason - intermittently even chiding Mitchell for not getting the peskychore of contracting a Mideast peace out of the way quickly andimperiously enough - who first mentioned carrots and sticks. ButMitchell could have refused to resort to the offensive terminology. Thefact that he didn't - and that he went so far as to hypothesize aboutthe likely stick with which he might smack Israel, but conspicuouslynoting nothing with which the Palestinians might be thumped - speaksvolumes in itself.

SO DID the air of lighthearted camaraderie and lightweightbanter throughout the one-on-one. At some points it became surreal.Clued-in viewers had to wonder whether the mutually ego-massaging chumsactually believed what escaped their lips or whether they merelypretended to.

Take Mitchell's portrayal of the PA's PM: "an impressiveperson, Salam Fayyad, who is trying to build, from the ground up, theinstitutions of governance that will be able to govern effectively onday-one of the Palestinian state." Rose cheerfully chimed in: "Theyalso call that bottom up." On cue, an agreeable Mitchell contentedlypoured on more syrup: "Bottom up, top down." Yep, we get it, theRamallah bunch is on the side of the angels.

Mitchell then proceeded to lay it on even thicker: "Now,obviously, we have great respect for President [Mahmoud] Abbas. Wethink he and Prime Minister Fayyad represent strong and effectiveleadership for the Palestinian people and are the ones that we thinkare going to produce a Palestinian state."

Who is Mitchell kidding? If he doesn't understand that Abbas isa virtual leader and that both he and his clique are neither respectednor trusted by anyone in the Middle East, then we are dealing withwillful delusion.

Mitchell gets lots more cloyingly sweet: The Palestinian"security forces are outstanding by any measure... Palestinians havetaken very significant steps. Until the last couple of years, theprinciple problem from their side was the absence of security... thatwas the Israelis' angle: 'We don't have a partner; they're not doinganything about the terrorists and the violence.' Now you have agovernment that is doing something, very actively, aggressively,successfully, as even the Israelis acknowledge."

That upbeat assessment doubtlessly impresses Avshalom MeirChai's bereaved widow and seven children. He was shot in the head onRoute 57 near Shavei Shomron, after Israel obligingly removed acheckpoint close to Tulkarm as a "goodwill gesture" to appeaseMitchell. Later IDF troops clashed with and killed three of themurderers during an attempt to detain them. Abbas's "outstanding"forces never tried to apprehend these snipers. Moreover, Abbas soonshamelessly glorified them on PATV as "martyrs executed cold-bloodedlyby Israeli forces in Nablus." So much for promoting the spirit of peaceand coexistence.

By ignoring this, Mitchell doesn't just innocuously look on thebright side. He masks reality and abets falsehood. Mitchell boosts aninciter who exalts drive-by shooters. They hailed from Abbas's Fatahfaction. If Abbas can't even control his own splinter, what canrationally be expected of him? To distort the truth that Judea andSamaria's relative calm is the IDF's handiwork is to disseminate lies.To demand the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints which curtailattacks is to undermine security, not enhance it.

GET A load of the following exchange. It begins with Mitchellwaxing ecstatic over Obama's alacrity to rid mankind of our conflictonce and for all: "This president began 48 hours after taking office.He appointed me to this position two days after he was sworn in aspresident. You know what he said to me? He said, I want you to go overthere tonight. I said, Mr. President, I've got a wife and kids, I don'thave any clothes with me. I have to go home and tell them I'm going toleave. I had to go home for a day just to get ready to go. He wasanxious from the first to get into it."

Rose: Okay, but tell me, do you think things - since the momenthe said that to you and the moment that you prepare next week to beback there - things are better or worse?

Mitchell: Oh, they're much better.

Well, you could have fooled us. Mitchell's assertion, though,fits snugly into the interview's clipped judgmentalisms, worthy of arighteous 1930s Hollywood cops-and-robbers flick. Mitchell, forinstance, noted that Israel annexed east Jerusalem and treats it as anintegral part of the state. To this Rose retorted: "So you're going tolet them go ahead even though no one recognized the annexation."

Our complex context, the genocide plotted againstus for over a century, are all simplistically condensed andsuperficially redefined as an irksome kink that requires a quick-fix.At best equal blame is artificially apportioned to both sides. Ourtribulations are boiled down to tiresome bellyaching that must withgreat urgency be overcome.

Israel'svery inability to risk the Jewish state's continued existence for thesake of facile cliches paradoxically facilitates its demonization. Whenour struggle for survival ends up trivialized and kitschified, theremedy is clear: Get the darned donkey under control with one stick oranother.