Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Give me a one-handed mediator!

From an International Herald-Tribune column on Israel/Palestine by Serge Schmemann

To its combatants, the Middle East conflict is often perceived as a zero-sum game. Each side declares, We are the victims; they are the terrorists. When they strike, it is aggression; when we strike, it is just retaliation. To suggest that the other side also has just grievances and just demands becomes a denial of one's own suffering and claims.

Those with longer memories will recall the furious attacks on William Scranton, when, as President Richard Nixon's envoy to the Middle East, he called for a more "evenhanded" American approach. It was as if Scranton had proposed that the United States abandon Israel. Henry Kissinger has described how Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, told him she expected the United States to be evenhanded - so long as that meant total agreement with Israel.

Every diplomat who has served in the Middle East, and every reporter who has covered the conflict, myself included, knows well the depth of these feelings. When I wrote about a close call with a suicide bombing, Palestinian colleagues assailed me for playing to the Israeli side; when I wrote about the agony of life under occupation, I was criticized by Israelis.