Take me to the Promised Land (the long way)

If we're going to part the Red Sea, it would be silly not to stop for a day in the middle to look at the view
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The Independent Online

At a time when many people complain that politicians are obsessed with spin, it's so refreshing to hear Israeli spokesmen, who refuse to make the slightest concession to PR whatsoever. Asked for their attitude towards the shooting of a baby by an Israeli soldier, instead of any waffle about regrets or needing to see the evidence, they'd say "What was the baby doing there? It was crawling in direct contravention of the curfew, it was shouting insults such as 'ber berder gabababab' at innocent civilians. Instead of accusing Israel of over-reacting, why don't you ask the dead baby whether it condemns suicide bombing?"

As they're fans of the Old Testament, they must wonder why the writers of the Bible didn't take a similar approach. So the story of David and Goliath would end with Goliath treading on every settlement in Judah, justified by a spokesman saying "Let me show you the young Philistine mother hit by a stone thrown by Mr David. And if the Lord wants us to withdraw our giants, why doesn't he condemn the use of slings and pebbles?"

Colin Powell could learn from this forthright approach. Attacked for taking so long to get to Israel, he could have said that if he was going all the way to the Middle East, it would be rude not to pop in on friends in nearby Morocco and make a week of it. Again, he was simply following Biblical tradition, as the original version tells of how Moses said to his people, "Follow me unto the Promised Land. But on the way we might as well stop off in Galilee to see Terry and Eileen. And if we're going to part the Red Sea, it would be silly not to stop for a day in the middle to look at the view and buy some souvenirs."

It's not easy to see why he bothered going at all. Sharon has responded to his demands in the same way a teenage boy reacts when his parents are screaming at him to get up. "Alriiiiight. In a minute. I'm coming, just stop going on about it."

Nonetheless, even the softest parent can usually extract something more than a promise to be ready in a week. Which is why Powell, not usually the most timid figure, answered questions at the press conference with the air of a schoolkid who hasn't been listening to the teacher. "Er, ceasefire," he said sheepishly at one point, so that it looked as if the question was "Powell, have you been paying attention? All right then, what was the last thing I said?"

To be fair he did eventually manage a whole sentence, "The specific term 'cease-fire' has not quite the same significance as what actually happens." All week the world was waiting for his statement and there it is. He'd have been more use if he'd said, "Oo dear, still, they'll never get on, the Jews and the Arabs, it's gone on for years. It's like my mum says, never talk about politics or religion, it always ends in a row."

So it seems there's nothing America can do. Or, to summarise, they're preparing to go to war with a country because it's rumoured, with no evidence, they're building weapons of mass destruction. But they can't possibly withhold a cent of the $2.7bn they send a year to a country that secretly built nuclear weapons and illegally occupies whole settlements and slaughters the inhabitants. They have no choice but to invade a country for refusing to allow uninhibited access to inspectors in all areas, but can't hold back as much as an air rifle to a state that won't allow the Red Cross into a battlefield. And a country must be invaded for ignoring UN resolutions but another country ignores UN resolutions and is referred to in every sentence as a friend.

Maybe it's a mathematical thing, the only UN resolutions that count are the ones divisible by seven, or the prime number ones. In other words they can do what they like. Israel might as well invade Kuwait for a laugh.

And with every statement comes the call for Arafat to condemn suicide bombings, as if they only happen because he orders them. I suppose he rules Palestinians with such authority that when he commands someone to blow themselves up, they think, "Well, I'd better do as he says, because if I disobey Arafat I'll be in terrible trouble."

Arafat, as all the players out there know, is despised by Hamas and the groups who support the suicide bombings. He's seen as out of touch with current events, and must be even more so now he's trapped in his compound without access to a television. He probably doesn't even know that Beckham's broken his toe. So it would make as much sense to surround any random figure and insist they bring a halt to the violence by condemning suicide bombings – Charlie Dimmock, perhaps, or the cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Followed by an official spokesman in dark glasses snarling "You ask us to condemn the invasion of the London Palladium, but can you imagine the terror that could be caused by a flying talking car?"