In some ways, the Middle East situation is like a bad cowboys and Indians movie. Not only is there a thrill a minute, action galore and a cast of characters Hollywood itself could not invent, but there seems to be a need on the part of everyone to believe in good guys and bad guys. For the moment, the Israelis are everyone's bad guys.
That's understandable. Any Israeli government under Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon is not about to win a charming-child contest. Begin, through his actions and by the force of a personality that should be outlawed by a Geneva convention, has all but isolated Israel. The repeated and almost casual bombings of Beirut and, of course, the massacre of Palestinians for which Israel, in some measure, must share the blame, are not the sort of actions calculated to endear the Begin government to the world.
But Israel is just one half of the Middle East equation. The Arabs are the other half--a fact that seems to have been forgotten recently. It was, after all, Lebanese who killed Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and it was probably Arabs who killed Bashir Gemayel, the president-elect of Lebanon.
Yet, in an article in The Washington Post, Amin Gemayel, the brother of the slain Bashir and the new president of Lebanon, took no responsibility for the killings in the camps. This was quite a feat, given reports that it was the soldiers of his Phalange militia who, along with others, were responsible for the deed.
Similarly, King Hussein of Jordan waxed eloquent and verbose about the refugee camp massacres, blaming it all on the Israelis, and never acknowledging for a moment that one reason some of those people were in those camps in the first place is that he, in a bloody battle, had kicked them out of Jordan. It is not for nothing that the Palestinians remember the date as Black September.
Indeed, it seems that almost everyone has forgotten that the Palestinian refugee problem itself is not solely Israel's creation. It had plenty of help from the Arab world. It has been the leaders of the Arab countries who have time and time again used the Palestinian problem for their own purposes, financing the most radical components of the PLO and encouraging the Palestinian dream of driving Israel into the sea. Even the Palestinian diaspora is partly the result of Arab leaders encouraging Palestinians to flee Israel.
And indeed, it seems to have been forgotten that while Israel is doing all it can to sabotage President Reagan's Middle East peace plan, it has had help. The Arabs, for their part, have contributed to the stalemate by treating Israel as a Middle East version of a leper. At the Fez, Morocco, meeting of the Arab League, for instance, all the Arab leaders managed to do was repeat stale formulas for a Middle East solution that Israel had already rejected. And the other day, when the Israeli foreign minister dared to speak at the U.N., every Arab delegation but Egypt's walked out.
In fact, as Vice President Bush pointed out in a recent speech, not a single Arab country other than Egypt has yet had the courage to simply recognize Israel's right to exist. Instead, they offer vague declarations, references to this or that U.N. resolution and language that is, even by diplomatic standards, so ephemeral as to be worthless. The private assurances offered journalists are no substitute for simply recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Of course, this is not an easy thing for the Arabs to do. Unlike Israel, which is a single entity, the Arab world is split into many nations, some of them moderate, but some of them led by men who either for internal political reasons or for reasons better left to psychiatry are downright nuts on the subject of Israel. Their rhetoric, not to mention their violence, contributed in no small measure to the Palestinian massacres.
But for whatever the reason, the Arabs have played their part in continuing to make the Middle East the world's Wild West. Now it is Israel's turn to be the bad guy, but this is no movie. Assigning blame just to Israel accomplishes nothing. It still takes two to make a fight, two to end it and a solution is impossible as long as one side recognizes the other only on the battlefield, but never at the peace table.