If ever you thought there was a glimmer of hope for peace in the Middle East, think again.
While Israelis celebrate 50 years of their independence, Palestinians mourn them. As the usually rigid Benjamin Netanyahu, under heavy pressure from the United States and European nations, tilts barely perceptibly on the issue of withdrawing Israeli troops from the occupied lands, it is done with the knowledge that Yasser Arafat still lacks the power and determination to call off the dogs hounding and killing Israeli citizens.And, now, the 22-member Arab League has determined the long-range guidelines for Middle East conduct.
In a remarkable gesture of intemperate behavior, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo last week, agreed to cooperate to fight terrorism in the Middle East - but excluded Israel.
Not only that, but it declared Israel a terrorist state.
This gives the green light to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas to continue terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.
Behind all this is the continued insistence by the Arabs that the Israelis took Arab lands illegally in 1948 and in later wars. Thus, while Egypt and Jordan have treaties with Israel and recognize their existence, as a result of this latest document, they still maintain that Israel should not be there and, worse, by not including Israel in the anti-terrorism agreement, countenance continued attacks on Israel.
It was believed that men such as Egypt's Hasni Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein had resigned themselves to the fact that Israel is where Israel is, and nothing is going to change that. How best to get along with the Israelis, under admittedly difficult situations, would seem to be the best case goal of all parties.
Nevertheless the belligerency continues.
(It continues within Israel as well with its crop of passionate hardliners fed by Orthodox religious zealotry.)
But to call for an end to terrorism in the Middle East and exclude the most terrorized nation from that document is to provide more gasoline for the fire.
One must wonder: If the martyred Yitzhak Rabin still was prime minister of Israel and delivered on the occupied land concessions he worked out with Arafat and Bill Clinton, would that language still be in the Arab League document?
I firmly believe it would, just as I firmly believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue unabated, just as I believe that the Northern Ireland situation will never fully slacken, just as I believe that every ethnic and religious struggle in the Balkans, in Africa and in Southeast Asia will continue ad infinitum.
Memories are long and bitter, passions mercuric. The term "terrorism" is defined by such passion. We look at Iran, Iraq and Libya and see terrorists. Iran, Iraq and Libya look at the United States and Israel and see terrorists.
Nevertheless, for all of its 50 years, Israel has lived under the shadow of a Palestinian document that calls for the destruction of Israel and, now, an Arab League document that aims to fight terrorism but excludes attacks against Israel.
These, they feel, are the actions of "freedom fighters," a term the Western world often uses to defend its "terrorism" in the name of democracy.
Israel's first 50 years have been stormy, and the action of the Arab League promises to keep it that way. It is deeply rooted. In 1968, when I met in Jordan with an ardent spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, he cited the perseverance of the Arab World.
"The Israeli occupation might last 50 years, but we can wait," Jamal Nasser told me. "The Crusaders were here for 200 years. We outlasted them, too."
The Arab League terrorism document nurtures that promise.