Journalists are trained to report what happened, but sometimes what’s most significant is what does not occur, what Sherlock Holmes called “the dog that didn’t bark.” Consider some of the quiet canines from this week’s summit meetings in the Middle East:
No Arafat: Not having Arafat either at the meeting between President Bush and the Arab leaders in Egypt or at the meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister in Jordan was obviously historic. Let’s be clear: Arafat doesn’t just condone terrorism. He doesn’t just encourage terrorism. He is himself a terrorist master starting his fifth decade in the business. The post-9/11 Bush Doctrine dictates that Americans don’t negotiate with terrorists. What’s more, friends don’t let friends negotiate with terrorists — which is why Israel is no longer being asked to deal with him. Arafat isn’t gone, but his exclusion this week suggests that he may be going — a necessary, if insufficient, condition for peace.
No Quartet: The “roadmap” to peace was supposed to be overseen by “the Quartet”: the U.S. along with the U.N., the European Union, and Russia. Bush pointedly did not invite U.N., EU, and Russian envoys, none of whom can be trusted by the Israelis, and all of whom lost credibility with Bush in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
No Saddam Hussein: The toppling of the terrorist-sponsoring Baathist Butcher of Baghdad by a strong and determined America has profoundly altered the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. With Saddam either dead or in hiding, the chances of producing real progress toward Arab-Israeli peace are enhanced.
No Syria, no Lebanon: Bashar Assad, the Baathist Butcher of Damascus, boycotted the Egypt meeting, proving he still doesn’t grasp the geo-political changes taking place — despite Colin Powell’s most recent visit with him. No Lebanese leader showed up either. That’s because Lebanon is an occupied country — an issue that the U.N., the EU, the Russians, and other members of the “international community” would address if they were serious about opposing illegal occupations.
No Sharon in Egypt: Israel’s Arab neighbors — even those at peace with Israel — refused to break bread with Israel’s prime minister. That’s not an encouraging sign, especially considering this fact: There would be no conflict today over the West Bank and Gaza were it not for those Arab neighbors.
In 1967, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and other Arab nations launched a war against Israel, a war explicitly intended to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth and drive the Jews into the sea. That war was launched from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip (both then Egyptian possessions) and the West Bank (then in Jordanian hands). Because the attempt to annihilate Israel failed, Israel came into possession of Sinai, Gaza, and the West Bank. Israel has since returned the Sinai — in exchange for a very cold and unsatisfying peace with Egypt.
No tackling of tough issues by Arab rulers in Egypt: The Arab leaders who met in Sharm El Sheik publicly embraced Bush’s push toward peace, but they did little to further it. They said they’d stop funding terrorism, but does that mean that Saudi authorities will crack down on billionaire sheiks who write checks to Hamas? Doubtful. It also would help if they’d stop returning Arafat’s phone calls and stop sending money to him — funds that may find their way to terrorists. Instead, they continue to treat Arafat as the Palestinian president-for-life. And there was no pledge of real reform for Egypt and Saudi Arabia — no commitment to open economies, democratic institutions or even an end to the anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic hate speech that continues to flow from government-sanctioned sources.
No waffling on terrorism by Abbas in Jordan: At the Aqaba summit, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas denounced terrorism. But denouncing terrorism is easy for Arab leaders when they privately define terrorism as Israelis bulldozing bomb factories rather than suicide-bombers blowing up school buses. Abbas went further. He renounced “terrorism against the Israelis wherever they might be.” Now, the question is: Will he be brave and bold enough to actually disarm and arrest the terrorists who operate with Arafat’s blessing throughout the West Bank and Gaza?
If Abbas makes a serious effort, Sharon will reward him with further concessions. (Sharon already has released scores of prisoners, including mass murderers of Israelis and, by the way, Americans; he has promised to dismantle “illegal outposts” in the West Bank; and he is allowing Palestinian workers to enter Israel.) If Abbas does not make a serious effort, however, if he instead settles for a hudna, Arabic for a temporary ceasefire (which would give the terrorists time to regroup, recruit, retrain, and rearm), that will lead to a dead end on the roadmap.
No real recognition of Israel: Abbas has not yet been willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. His plan, apparently, is to insist on the “right of return” of Palestinian Arabs not just to a new Palestinian state but also to Israel proper. That would make Israeli Jews a minority in their own country — effectively turning the Jewish state into the Arab-Islamic Republic of Israel.
By contrast, Sharon has taken a huge step by saying he is willing to support the creation of a new Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. That state actually would be the second Palestinian state. The country now called Jordan occupies 75 percent of the territory formerly known as the Palestinian Mandate, and a majority of its population is Palestinian Arab. (Most of the rest are Bedouins, a formerly nomadic people found just about everywhere in the region, including in Israel.) The king of Jordan is a Hashemite, which means he descends from the royal family of Mecca. His family was thrown out of Arabia by the House of Saud — otherwise the region’s leading oil producer might be called not Saudi Arabia but Hashemite Arabia. The Hashemites were installed in East Palestine by the British when they were still running the show. East Palestine was then called Trans-Jordan. They shortened the name after 1948, when they came into possession of the land on the West Bank of the Jordan River.
No terrorist attacks: Lastly, it’s significant that no suicide-bomber successfully struck during the meetings. What does that tell us? It’s hard to say. (We don’t know how many may have tried and failed.) Similarly, it’s hard to know what to make of the fact that there were no major terrorist attacks against the U.S. during the Battle of Iraq, nor were there any major attacks against the U.S. over the Memorial Day weekend — despite threats of both. In fact, there have been no al Qaeda attacks on American soil since 9/11. None of that should make us complacent. But the absence of successful terrorist attacks is a reason for optimism, a dog that hasn’t barked — or bitten.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.