Abraham Lincoln got it wrong.
"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here," he said at Gettysburg, "but it can never forget what they did here."
I contend the reverse is true. We remember Lincoln's famous speech, but we've forgotten the battle that inspired it. We know more of the words than of the deeds.
We know that words are important, yet the world at large seems to be overlooking the important words that came out of the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet 11 days ago. On that day the cabinet voted to "remove" Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian people.
Considering Arafat's present circumstances, the word "remove" has sinister implications. For months he has been confined to the bombed-out ruins of his headquarters in Ramallah.
Sharon has no intention of letting Arafat go into exile outside of Israel, where he would be free to tour the world to line up financial support.
So "remove" appears to mean "remove from Earth." It appears now that Sharon's forces are merely waiting for the proper time and place for an "accident" to occur.
Perhaps Arafat will soon come down with a fatal case of "accidental" food poisoning.
Men like Arafat, like Osama bin Laden, like Saddam Hussein, are greatly admired on "the Arab street" primarily because they stand up to the West, and particularly to the Americans.
Arafat is especially adored because he has fought both with guns and diplomacy for the freedom of his people, and done so in the heart of western influence.
Arafat's forthcoming martyrdom brings us back to the ill-fated "road map," a plan introduced by President George W. Bush in mid-March with many goals: to win Republican support by American Jews, to possibly snare a Nobel Peace Prize, to assure Bush's re-election in 2004, and -- incidentally -- to perhaps bring peace to Israel.
The "road map" is, to be sure, a noble and workable plan, assuming, of course, that all parties proceed with the best of intentions. The chances of that happening, however, are zero.
Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and war hero, is one of my favorite people. He tells the truth and he does so with great clarity and conviction. See for yourself: www.avnery-news.co.il/english/index.html
In an essay posted May 26, Avnery summed up some of the major problems with the "road map." In the quote below, "George" is George W. Bush, "Arik" is Ariel Sharon, and Abu-Mazen is the now-deposed Prime Minister of Palestine:
"George, it seems, believes Arik. When Arik proclaims his readiness for 'painful concessions,' he believes him. When Arik announces his agreement to a Palestinian state, he believes him. When Arik accepts the Road Map, he believes him. When Arik seems ready to evacuate settlements and outposts, he believes him. When Arik promises to help Abu-Mazen, he believes him. He cannot imagine that Arik, his friend, his comrade, the upright soldier, will look him in the eye and lie through his teeth.
"But Ariel Sharon has no friends, and never had. He has no comrades, and never had. For Sharon, Bush is just another naive American, there to be cheated for the sacred cause of Greater Israel."
"Just another naive American." In a way, that sums up all our problems in the Middle East. The Middle East is a land with no price tags. People negotiate everything. They've done that for centuries. They've become good at it. It's now in their genes. When it comes to bargaining, we are no match for them.
Most of what we hear from Israel parrots the official government line. But there are voices of dissent. Uri Avnery is certainly one. Another is Yossi Sarid, a columnist and member of the Knesset. In an Aug. 6 column in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper (www.haaretz.com; use a Google search for "why Bush tells tall tales"), Sarid writes:
"The day is not far off when Abu Mazen and his government will fall. It's only a matter of time. Then, Ariel Sharon will get Yasser Arafat back, and he will be relieved to be rid of Abu Mazen's moderation.
"Sharon always had huge difficulties speaking to moderate Palestinians, while he swims like a fish in a sea of Palestinian extremism. There's a problem with moderates. You have to encourage and strengthen them, offer them real proposals and make a real start on the famous 'painful concessions.' Sharon doesnt have any such intentions. All he wanted to do is get home from Washington in one piece.
"Sharon's behavior is not surprising to anyone who has known him for many years. The surprise is President Bush, who has evinced a strange passion for tall tales.
"It is completely unclear why the American president has decided to consume overflowing portions of complete lies served up to him by Ariel Sharon. Therefore, when Abu Mazen falls, and his government with him, the blame will fall on Sharon, but mainly on Bush, who maintains the pretention of an 'honest broker'."
And so it goes. The world is suffering from a shortage of men of good will. (See Bush, George W.; Sharon, Ariel; Arafat, Yasser.) In Israel, madness reigns, with each side continuing the proven futility of increased violence. "You kill ours so we'll kill yours so you'll kill ours so we'll kill yours ... and somehow we'll win."
More than 50 years of failed tactics, and both sides keep using them. You'd think that sooner or later one side or the other would hire a good public relations firm to find out what works and what doesn't.
Men of ill will make mistake after mistake. Very possibly the next big mistake will be the translation of words into a deed, the "removal" of Yasser Arafat.
If that happens, you can bet it will not soon be forgotten.
©2003 SF Gate