What Powers and Wehner get wrong about the Palestinians

Pete Wehner is a real gentleman. His reproofs are generally not caustic and are almost always intended to have his opponents listen to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Thus, when he recently criticized Kirsten Powers, he provided a most useful sketch of the history of Arab-Israeli conflicts in recent times, at least since 1967. Wehner’s column should be required reading for anyone taking part in Mideast policy discussions.

In the main, we agree with his assessment of this good woman’s errors. But in gently rebuking Kirsten Powers, Pete Wehner compounded the errors of the past 24 years of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

The late Jeane Kirkpatrick showed in her increasingly hard-to-find seminal article (“How the PLO was legitimized”) that the PLO was the precursor to this thing we call the Palestinian Authority (PA). All the same people who built the structure of the avowedly terrorist PLO are those who constituted the PA.

Amb. Kirkpatrick showed in her eight-page Commentary magazine (Jul. 1989) article how the PLO worked through the UN to have its use of terror — its intentional targeting of civilians, its murders and assassinations — re-classified as justifiable under new understandings of international law.

These accommodations to terrorism were facilitated at every stage in the 1980s by the Soviet bloc. With Euro-communism on the rise, aided by violent red terror groups like Brigate Rosse (Italy), Action Direct (France), and the Baader-Meinhof Gang (W. Germany), the Soviets had every reason to make common cause with the PLO to alter historic understandings of crimes against humanity.

These killings would not count as murders if done in the course of “a war of national liberation.” The Soviet terminology was explicitly adopted by the UN in the course of the decade-long process of legitimizing the PLO. Thus, the inventors of airline hijacking for terror purposes were exonerated. Thus Yasser Arafat’s own orders to kill U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel in Khartoum in 1973 were whitewashed.

Israel by this reckoning was deemed a colonial power, and its actions in self-defense were considered repression — not unlike those of the South African apartheid regime.

The problem with this view, one so heartily embraced by the repudiated former President Jimmy Carter, for example, is that the Israelis were never colonists in Palestine.

The Jews had never not been a major segment of the population of the Ottoman province, later the British Mandate in Palestine.

We take special umbrage at Pete Wehner’s use of “rejectionist” in describing those of us who do not believe in a Palestinian state. This is a departure from Wehner’s normally civil tone. A rejectionist, as generally defined, is one of those Arabs who reject any recognition or dealing with Israel. Applying it to us in America or in Israel who resist legitimizing the PLO is false and unjust.