Ruth Wisse: Bush Destroyed a Dictator. Clinton Installed One.

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ms. Wisse, a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard, is the author of "Jews and Power" (Schocken, 2007).]

As President George W. Bush prepares to leave office amid a media chorus of reproach and derision, there is at least one comparison with his predecessor that speaks greatly in his favor. Mr. Bush removed the most ruthless dictator of his day, Saddam Hussein, thereby offering Iraqi citizens the possibility of self-rule. Bill Clinton's analogous achievement in the Middle East was to help install Yasser Arafat, the greatest terrorist of his day, as head of a proto-Palestinian state.

This is not how these events are generally perceived. The image that still looms in the public mind is that of President Clinton, peacemaker, standing between Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in the Rose Garden on Sept. 13, 1993. With the best intentions, Mr. Clinton had worked hard for this peace agreement and would continue to strive for its success, hosting the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization at the White House more than any other foreign leader.

But the "peace process" almost immediately reversed its stated expectations. Emboldened by his diplomatic victory, Arafat adopted Islamist terminology and openly preached jihad. The casualties suffered by Israel in the years following the Oslo Accords exceeded those of previous decades, and dangers to Israel and the world have increased exponentially ever since. This so-called peace agreement rewarded terrorist methods as fail-safe instruments of modern warfare, and accelerated terrorist attacks on other democratic countries. Though Mr. Clinton did not foresee these consequences, his speech at the signing ceremony betrayed the self-deception on which the agreement was based.

Throughout the speech, Mr. Clinton invoked the significance of the "sliver of land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea" to "Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout the world." He repeatedly linked the "descendants of Isaac and Ishmael," and the "shared future shaped by the values of the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible," as though their "memories and dreams" were all equivalent. But Judaism is quite unlike Islam. The Jews claim solely that "sliver of land" and accept their minority status among the nations. By contrast, Islam seeks religious and territorial hegemony, most especially in the Middle East.

Hence 21 countries descendant from Ishmael have denied the descendants of Isaac their ancestral home. This difference of political visions is precisely what propels the Arab war against Israel.

To be sure, the signing ceremony at the White House may not have been the best time to recall Arafat's complete record as the "father of modern terrorism," a title accorded him by the press for masterminding such acts as the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the murder of a schoolroom of children in northern Israel, and the establishment of a PLO missile base in Lebanon. But some mention of his profession was surely in order.

The PLO was founded, and funded, by Arab leaders as a terrorist proxy before 1967 -- that is, before Israel gained the disputed territory of the West Bank that retroactively served as a Palestinian casus belli. Arafat had never been anything other than a terrorist. He had threatened Arab rulers in Jordan and Lebanon no less than the Jews of Israel. Mr. Clinton's speech contained no hint of these facts, concealing the realities it purported to be changing.

To be fair, Israel's role in this self-deception was, if anything, even greater....

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