October 16, 2003

Palestinian leadership minces words

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."—Louis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland.

The new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Korei, is obviously a disciple of Humpty Dumpty. The agreed-to road map to peace requires the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to "undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere." When asked if he would implement it, Korei confusingly answered both yes and no. Yes, he will implement the road map, and no, he won't do what the words clearly say. He refused to be, as he put it, "a slave to words." This is the postmodernist, deconstructionist, Humpty-Dumpty approach, in which agreements are determined not by what the words plainly state but by how they are perceived by a particular reader. Words have no inherent meanings or common understandings. Communication is thus impossible, and the actions that others expect to follow from certain words are not taken.

The P.A. has frequently condemned terrorism but refuses to use that term to include Arab murders of Israeli civilians and children. It defines terrorism as actions taken by Israel to defend its people. This inversion of the meaning of words is reminiscent of George Orwell's novel 1984, in which the Ministry of Peace is in charge of war and the Ministry of Love heads law enforcement. The P.A. website is decorated with a noble-sounding statement favoring peace with Israel. On P.A. television, that peace is shown as war and conquest: the P.A. flag appears covering all of Israel-proper, not just the disputed territories. The meaning of the picture is clear.

There are some who believe that words have meaning, that they are intended to communicate knowledge and information. Contrary to the tenets of postmodernism and deconstructionism, the classic view of Western civilization has been that a common understanding of the meaning of words is not only possible but also essential for human understanding. The Confucian Analects states, "Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men." The Bible's Job says, "How forcible are right words!"

The P.A. says it is dedicated to peace, is against terrorism, and is determined to implement the road map. But by distorting language, the P.A. means something entirely different than the common understanding of what it says. Peace to the P.A. means eliminating Israel, terrorism means Israeli self-defensive actions, and implementing the road map means establishing a Palestinian state that will include Israel.

That the Palestinian Authority will not confront Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, or Fatah, as is required by the agreed-upon road map, is predictable. Those terrorist organizations are dedicated to the same ultimate goals as the P.A. itself. It is not that the P.A. lacks the power to curb terrorism from within its people, it is a matter of will and intent. Those organizations do, by direct action, that which the P.A. desires but cannot do directly. And for that reason the P.A. will neither confront nor challenge them. The most that can be expected from the P.A. is another hudna, a temporary truce, in which Israel will be expected to passively await the next bombing or killing in accordance with the terrorists' timetable.

Peace is impossible while the P.A. continues to obfuscate and deconstruct the plain meaning of words, preventing the common understanding necessary for communication of thoughts. Even if peace is otherwise obtainable, there can be no agreement on peace without understanding.