Bush's Middle East policies lack focus
April 3, 2001
President Bush has been in office for 10 weeks now and he has yet to establish a clear foreign policy on a troubled Middle East.
The lack of a set approach to the region has led to conflicting statements from administration officials about sensitive issues, including the status of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Secretary of State Colin Powell was even forced to retract statements he made about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His initial statement suggested a major shift in U.S. policy in the region and led to Muslim-American and Arab-American protests.
The administration has further contradicted its pledge to peace. Late last month, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council measure that would have sent a U.N. observer force to the Occupied Territories to protect Palestinian civilians from the Israeli army. This veto symbolizes a tacit approval of Israel's continued use of excessive force against the Palestinians, and sends a signal that America is siding with Israel in the latest conflict.
Bush's warm reception of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has disappointed millions of Muslim and Arab Americans. And his unwillingness to extend an invitation to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has further let them down.
Bush's indecisiveness on how to deal with the conflict in the Middle East does not help his image. His insistence that all sides tone down tensions is a vacuous request, since he offers no specific repercussions for those who do not comply with such a demand.
And Bush misses the mark when he places the ball in Arafat's court. By demanding that he put an immediate halt to the violence, Bush incorrectly assumes that Arafat can stop the popular uprising by the Palestinian people on the turn of a dime. Many Palestinians see this fight as a war of independence. They will not back down just because the United States forces Arafat to utter words of retreat.
Israel's election of the hard-line Sharon has proven, in Palestinian eyes, that it does not seek peace. As a result, many Palestinians see no alternative but to fight for their independence -- a right, they argue, that international law gives them as an occupied people.
If Bush is serious about the Middle East, he ought to put real pressure on Israel, the recipient of more U.S. foreign aid than any other nation in the world. The administration should threaten Israel with the suspension of U.S. aid, particularly military aid, if Israel continues to use brutal force and impose this painful siege on Palestinian cities and villages.
Only by pressuring Israelis as it has pressured Palestinians can the Bush administration hope to make a foreign policy that is both clear and morally sound.
Raeed N. Tayeh is the Chicago correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com.