Restarting the process now is a deadly mistake
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 4, 2001
Let us admit at the outset that it is a lot easier being a pundit than prime minister of Israel. That must be the reason candidates who speak with admirable analytical clarity and enunciate clear policy guidelines – e.g., "No negotiations under fire;" "If they give, they will receive; if they don’t give, they won’t receive" – turn so clueless once in office.
Let us also admit that it cannot be pleasant being the prime minister of a small, beleaguered nation being hollered at by your sole patron and arms supplier. So when U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that Prime Minister Sharon allow talks to take place between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat and accused Sharon of being the only leader in the world to turn down a request from the United States since September 11, the pressure on Sharon was very heavy.
Sharon did well to refrain from pointing out that no terrorist groups have been expelled from Damascus in response to Bush’s just equation of terrorists and the nations that harbor them, that Iranian and Syrian backing of Hizbullah has not been cut, that the Saudis will not allow the U.S. to attack Afghanistan from U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, and that the French and Russians continue to aid Iranian and Iraqi nuclear programs. The president was likely in no mood to debate.
Yet even after acknowledging the pressures facing our prime minister, he still made a disastrous mistake in submitting to American pressure, much of it orchestrated by his own foreign minister.
No government can afford to convey to its citizens the message that their blood is cheap. Yet that is what Israel did by agreeing to negotiations after a week in which three mothers were murdered by Palestinians in separate ambushes, at least one by Arafat’s own Fatah militia. By approving a Peres-Arafat meeting as long as a "decent interval" of 24 hours passed since the murder of a Jew, Sharon turned the killing of Israelis into a game entailing the most minimal punishment.
Continuing to pursue talks after the Palestinian Authority arrested and immediately released the murderer of Sarit Amrani, gunned down in front of her three children, further cheapened Jewish life. With that release, Arafat made crystal clear that he has no more intention of keeping this cease-fire than the previous six. Sharon was entitled to ask President Bush how he would have reacted if the PA had arrested one of Osama bin-Laden’s chief operatives and then released him with a warning that the murder of Americans is frowned upon this month.
THE renewed American push for movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front as part of its war on terrorism gives credence to two myths. Both myths are demonstrably false, and their perpetuation endangers both the United States and Israel.
The first myth is that American support for Israel caused the Islamist jihad against America. That explanation betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of radical Islam and its religious war against the West. It conveniently ignores Islamist plots to blow up the European parliament in Strasbourg, hardly a bastion of support for Israel, and the Eiffel Torah. Even Osama bin-Laden has never listed American support for Israel as chief among his complaints against America.
Explanations for terrorism inevitably provide it with a certain legitimacy by locating the terrorists’ motives within the realm of rational, albeit exaggerated, grievances.
Crusades require moral clarity. To preserve that moral clarity President Bush must avoid vitiating his clarion call for victory over terrorism through concessions of legitimacy to the terrorists’ cause, whatever it may be. Turning Arafat, the father of the use of terrorism against civilian populations, into an object of American solicitude further creates the appearance of a distinction between bad terrorists and good ones.
THE second myth is that the September 11 attack on America proves that America must remain highly involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict because "if you don’t go to the Middle East, the Middle East will come to you." In fact, the September 11 attack required years of planning, most of it during a period of American hyper-involvement in the Middle East.
President Bush came into office in the wake of eight years of intense American involvement that led only to a renewed war by Palestinians on Israel. From the first he showed an instinctive understanding that the so-called peace process and peace have nothing to do with one another, and that the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict do not exist at present.
Over 70% of Palestinians reject as unacceptable a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital. A population indoctrinated for decades in the sacred duty to die reclaiming every inch of Israel from the Jewish descendants of "pigs and monkeys" is incapable of compromise. Not an easily digested fact, but the truth nevertheless.
Led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush risks returning to the diplomatic failures of the Clinton years. The resumption of talks with Arafat thrusts Israel once again into a process based on the logic of repeated Israeli concessions on the ground in return for the same infinitely renewable and infinitely violable promise from Arafat to refrain from violence. Except this time, Israeli concessions will be the pound of flesh offered by the United States to win support from the Europeans, whose concern for Israel’s self-defense is well known, as well as rogue Moslem states, which are themselves major sponsors of international terrorists.
Predictably, the Peres-Arafat meeting led only to a dramatic intensification of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, allowing Arafat to shore up his credentials at home while casting himself as a peacemaker abroad. The increased confrontations were then followed by the familiar even-handed State Department condemnation of the perpetrators of violence and those responding to it in equal measure. (For the preceding two weeks, we were blessedly spared such condemnations, as America prepared for its own war on those who attacked her.)
The inexperienced Bush can be forgiven for not recognizing the extent to which he has weakened his own cause and is heading back into old Middle East quagmires. But why did our vastly more experienced prime minister choose to aid and abet this folly?
Related Topics: Peace Process, September 11 Attacks
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