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Lebanon Again

By David Warren

No one yet knows what the civilian toll is, inside the permanent Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, near Tripoli, Lebanon. This is frustrating for the media, who want a number. But quite a few dozen Lebanese soldiers have died, together with "militants" (the media term for Islamist psychopaths). The Syrian-sponsored Fatah al-Islam, which openly associates itself with Al Qaeda, and speaks freely to the entire Muslim world on the airwaves of Al Jazeera television, say they will not give up; and so does Fouad Siniora, the prime minister of Lebanon, whose elected government has braved, from Islamists, one violent power-play after another.

In many ways Lebanon is not like Iraq. In many ways it is; chiefly in being the closest thing to a democracy in the Arab world, though with a deeper history of what we now call "civil society." For many decades under predominantly Christian rule, it was the freest country, and to this day Beirut, when not at war, is the cultural capital of that Arab world -- the place where artists, writers, and intellectuals are most likely to get away with what they want to do. From this angle, Lebanon has been both a magnetic attraction, and an open sore, to the exponents of fanatical Islam.

The West failed Lebanon, and indeed, the Reagan administration failed her in 1983, when focused instead on the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. In that light, Lebanon appeared to be a side-issue. In response to heavy casualties from the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks, troops sent to restore order in Lebanon, and back the legitimate government, were withdrawn. The Baathist Syrian regime refilled the power vacuum, and for the quarter century since, Lebanon has been directly or indirectly under its murderous thumb.

The mistake the West made was two-fold. For 1982 had been the year when the Israelis had Yasser Arafat's PLO "fedayeen" trapped, in Lebanon, and were in a position to annihilate it. Succumbing to world opinion, including pressure from American allies and European false friends, the Israelis negotiated free passage for this terrorist force, and the late Arafat was able to set himself up in style in Tunisia. The mistake was compounded by the Madrid and Oslo conferences, of 1991-93, wherein the fatuous "roadmap to peace" was conceived and executed. Israel then accepted the relocation of this terrorist force to the West Bank and Gaza; and Arafat was able to establish the regime of thugs that brought Israel intifadas and the suicide bombers.

Though it beggars belief, the Western diplomatic view remains that it is better to negotiate with psychopaths than fight -- even when we have them cornered. This has been consistently the official Western approach, everywhere but in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will be there, too, if Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and company eventually prevail, politically, in the U.S. (This week, they finally agreed to resume funding the U.S. military effort in both countries, without specifying a withdrawal schedule. President Bush waived his veto in return for allowing the Democrats to lard the spending bill with an extraordinary amount of domestic pork.)

We are likely to watch history repeat itself at the Nahr al-Bared camp, where pressure from the world to "avoid civilian casualties" will be the leverage with which the terrorists holding the camp's civilians hostage live to fight another day. A previous generation of Lebanese politicians had already negotiated away the very right of the Lebanese police and military to enter the camp, thus turning it over to the rule of the psychopaths.

Verily, the entire Palestinian population, both within Israel's proximity and far away from it, remains perpetually hostage to the political ambitions of Arab and Persian tyrants claiming to champion their cause -- and are about as far from grasping whom their real friends might be, than they have ever been in history. Their worst enemies will, for the indefinite future, continue to be Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrians, the Iranians, and munificent oil sheiks in Arabia.

In the short run, nothing can help them. In the longer run, the West could be tremendously useful, by refusing to negotiate with -- let alone continuously finance through the U.N. and aid schemes, and by accepting the OPEC cartel -- the Palestinians' worst enemies, as listed above. We could help even more, both them and ourselves, had we the stomach to annihilate any of these parties, just as and when each opportunity is offered.

© Ottawa Citizen

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