Empire, state, building

Euphemistically speaking, peace isn't just around the corner.

Hamas gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
'Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne," said ever-outspoken author Quentin Crisp, born in Britain where understatement is a way of life. We all use them, but, as Crisp euphemistically put it: they stink. Lately, the phrase "confidence-building measures" is doing overtime in the diplomatic world, although in our collective experience it has all the value of describing child abuse as "character-building." Even the term "peace process" has yet to prove worthy of its name. The road to peace is paved with good intentions just as surely as the road to some sinister nether world. In an unusually blunt move, the fund-raising conference held in Paris last week came right out and said what was it was really about: building the Palestinian state. It was entitled: Conference Internationale des donateurs pour l'etat Palestinien. It sounds better in French. The two-state solution has always seemed to me the most logical solution to the Mideast situation, although increasingly I am concerned that the two states the Palestinians have in mind are the West Bank and Gaza with guess who stuck in the middle. Either way, state building comes at a price, but strangely the Palestinians don't seem to be the ones who have to pay it. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the donors' conference the Palestinian government's "last hope" to avoid bankruptcy and world donors coughed up (or at least pledged) US$7.4 billion for the Palestinians over the next three years, a huge sum that exceeded expectations. This is being portrayed as a universal endorsement of the push for a Palestinian state, whatever you want to call it. However as a Jerusalem Post editorial pointed out, "Call us naive, but one might think that an international conference convened to provide financial aid to the Palestinians would be organized by the Arab states, and led by their contributions. It is the Arab world, after all, that styles itself as the main champion of the Palestinian cause." True, Britain and France with their colonialist policies and artificial borders certainly played their part in getting us into this situation to begin with. But the oil-rich Arab countries have done very little to ease the suffering of their brethren and help them out of the mess. Contrast this with the way Diaspora Jewry pulled together to help build Israel 60 years ago - those with the means gave big bucks and those without means donated dimes. I WAS reminded of something my Arabic teacher said at a six-week summer program at the Hebrew University many years ago. Asked "How do you say 'public garden' in Arabic," the teacher, an Israeli Arab from a town renowned for its moderation, replied: "We don't have such a thing." The implication was clear. The Israelis don't build parks for the Arab community. Green recreation areas are indeed sorely lacking in the Arab sector but the reason is not black and white. Nearly all the gardens in my neighborhood were established with the help of Diaspora Jews who opened their pocketbooks and funded the play areas (in return for nicely sculpted signs with their names on them). The Arabic class was, indeed, an education in itself. There was an American university student looking for credits for his Middle East studies program who evidently still had a great deal to learn. His question "Do you eat ketchup with humous?" left the experienced teacher speechless in two languages. I can't help wondering if the student didn't end up somewhere as a Mideast expert without a clue about the culture he was meant to be analyzing. For all I know he could now be sharing his expertise with the State Department which - I blame the tomato sauce - has the amazing ability to swallow all sorts of incredible information and euphemisms as "facts." (How do you define a settlement?) There was also an Australian journalist who even while studying in Jerusalem obsessed over the situation in Bosnia (the hot spot of the year). Following a suicide bombing on a bus in Ramat Gan which killed several elderly passengers, she railed against the inhumanity of closing the territories without deigning to acknowledge that blowing up innocent Israelis should be considered a crime. Another student had if not an identity crisis at least an uncomfortable jolt from reality. Defining herself at the outset of the intensive course as "Palestinian," by the end of the month and a half some of the pride and certainty had gone from her voice as she learned from the Christian relatives with whom she was staying that an unholy war was being waged by the Muslims in their Jerusalem neighborhood against all infidels. The Jews, it turned out, were not as bad as the propaganda would have her believe. ONE OF those catchphrases which have lately been doing the rounds is "distrust." We have to conquer our distrust of the Palestinians and they must overcome their fear of us, urge all those involved in "building bridges to peace." This is a euphemistic - or at least diplomatic - way of saying "Get over it." Move on. Forgive and forget. It is not so easy. Just as the country is dotted with the donation plaques thanking those who prettified and developed it, it is scarred, too, by the marks of wars and terror attacks. Even as the 90 or so movers and shakers from all over the globe gathered in Paris for the donors' conference, southern Israel was undergoing a barrage of rockets launched from Gaza. Admittedly, they were aimed - in the non-literal sense - as much at PA president Mahmoud Abbas as at the residents of the South who had to suffer them. While Abbas is at least talking peace, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza are trying to destroy everything within their sights. If they spent the money that they put into their arsenal on building up what is in effect a nascent state, their economy and society would both be in better shape. The Post's Khaled Abu Toameh has noted that the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat received nearly $6.5 billion. How many millions ended up in exclusive Parisian stores courtesy of First Lady Suha is anyone's guess. But I digress. After Israel took action against those responsible for the missiles with targeted killings (that's the least euphemistic I can make it), Hamas suddenly started talking of a cease-fire. A hudna, the word previously in fashion with the Palestinians, is not so much a cease-fire as a temporary truce. Hamas leaders can barely bring themselves to use it now, opting instead for "tahadiya" or "calming down." In other words, in the long term they are, unfortunately, still telling us - albeit euphemistically - to "Drop dead."