Robert Fisk's World: When it comes to Palestine and Israel, the US simply doesn't get it
Biden and Palin hid like rabbits from the centre of the Middle East earthquake
The Independent, 4 October 2008
Palestinians ceased to exist in the United States on Thursday night. Both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin managed to avoid the use of that poisonous word. "Palestine" and "Palestinians" – that most cancerous, slippery, dangerous concept – simply did not exist in the vice-presidential debate. The phrase "Israeli occupation" was mercifully left unused. Neither the words "Jewish colony" nor "Jewish settlement" – not even that cowardly old get-out clause of American journalism, "Jewish neighbourhood" – got a look-in. Nope.
Those bold contenders of the US vice-presidency, so keen to prove their mettle when it comes to "defence", hid like rabbits from the epicentre of the Middle East earthquake: the existence of a Palestinian people. Sure, there was talk of a "two-state" solution, but it would have mystified anyone who didn't understand the region.
There was even a Biden jibe at George Bush for pressing on with "elections" – again, the adjective "Palestinian" went missing – that produced a Hamas victory. But Hamas appeared to exist in never-never land, a vast landscape that gradually encompassed all the vast and black deserts that stretch, in the imagination of US politicians, from the Mediterranean to Pakistan.
"Pakistan's (nuclear) missiles can already hit Israel," Biden thundered. But what was he talking about? Pakistan has not threatened Israel. It's supposed to be on our side. Both vice-presidential candidates seemed to think that our ally in the "war on terror" was now turning into an ally of the axis of evil. Even Islam didn't get a run for its money.
Indeed, one of the funniest reports of the week, yet another investigation of Obama's education, came from the Associated Press news agency. The would-be president, the Associated Press announced, had attended a Muslim school but hadn't "practised" Islam.
What on earth did this mean, I asked myself? Would AP have reported, for example, that McCain had attended a Christian school but hadn't "practised" Christianity? Then I got it. Obama had smoked Islam but he hadn't inhaled!
Travelling across the US this week – from Seattle to Houston to Washington and then to New York – I kept bumping into the results of America's White House-induced terror. A well-educated, upper-middle-class lady at a lunch turned to me and expressed her fear that Islam "wanted to take over America". When I suggested that this was pushing things a bit, she informed me that "the Muslims have already taken over France".
How does one reply to this? It's a bit like being informed by a perfectly sane and rational person that Martians have just landed in Tennessee. So I used the old Fisk trick when confronted by ravers of the "admit George Bush did 9/11" school. I looked at my watch, adopted a shocked expression and shouted: "Gotta go!"
But seriously. There was Biden on Thursday night, telling us that along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan – he was referring, of course, to the old frontier drawn by Sir Mortimer Durrand which most Pushtuns (and thus all Taliban) regard as fictional – "there have been 7,000 madrassas built ... and that's where bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actually (sic) intelligence".
Seven thousand? Where on earth does this figure come from? Yes, there are thousands of religious schools in Pakistan – but they're not all on the border. In another extraordinary bit of myth-making, Obama's man told us that "we kicked the Hizbollah out of Lebanon" – which is totally untrue.
And, of course, Israel – a word that must be uttered, repeatedly, by all US candidates – became the compass point of the entire Middle East, this "peace-seeking nation ... our strongest and best ally in the Middle East" (quoth Palin) of whom "no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend...than Joe Biden" (quoth Biden).
Israel was "in jeopardy" if America talked to Iran, Palin revealed. "We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust." Thus was the corpse of Hitler dug up yet again – just as McCain resurrected the shadow of the Second World War last week when he blathered on about Eisenhower's sense of responsibility before D-Day. That Israel can quite adequately defend herself with 264 nuclear warheads went, of course, unmentioned, because acknowledging Israel's real power undermines the image of a small and vulnerable country relying on America for its defence.
Israelis deserve security. But where were the promises of security for Palestinians? Or the sympathy which Americans would immediately grant any other occupied people? Absent, needless to say. For we must gird ourselves for the next struggle against world evil in Pakistan.
Biden actually demanded a "stable" government in Islamabad, which was a little bit hypocritical only a few days after US troops had crossed its sovereign border to shoot up a Pakistani house allegedly used by the Taliban. As General David Petraeus told The New York Times this week, "The trends in Afghanistan have been in the wrong direction ... wresting control of certain areas from the Taliban will be very difficult."
It's an odd situation. Obama and Biden want to close down Iraq and re-conquer Afghanistan. The Palin College of Clichés characterised this as "a white flag of surrender in Iraq" while continuing to warn of the dangers of Iran, the name of whose loony president – Ahmadinejad – defeated McCain three times in last week's pseudo-debate.
But it's the same old story. All we have learned in America these past two weeks, to quote Joan Littlewood's Oh! What a Lovely War, is that the war goes on.
Dawn (October 6, 2008): Pakistan projected as a major issue in the US elections