U.S. support for Israeli response is misguided
December 12, 2001
In the wake of the recent multiple terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Israel's rage is justified. But the Israeli military's attacks against Palestinian territory are not.
While the corrupt, inept and autocratic Palestinian Authority has not done enough to crack down on Islamic terrorists, it should not be held directly responsible for the wave of terrorist attacks, which it strongly condemned.
The Israelis have chosen to attack the Palestinian Authority just after the Palestinian government's most extensive sweeps against suspected terrorists in years. While this does not mean that the Palestinian Authority has been as effective as it could have been, it is wrong to blame the group for the actions of a radical minority which the Authority has no direct control over.
It is ironic that the Israelis keep attacking Palestinian police and intelligence offices, which are at the center of the Palestinian Authority's counter-terrorism efforts. Israeli attacks have killed many investigators. And the Israeli decision to place Palestinian towns and cities under siege during the past 15 months has made coordinated actions against the terrorist cells extraordinarily difficult.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two terrorist groups that loathe Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his police, could not be more pleased that Israel has made the Palestinian Authority its target.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing government insists that the terrorist attacks give it the right to continue its occupation of most of the West Bank and large parts of the Gaza Strip, and to seize additional lands it had returned to the Palestinians.
Seizing Arab territories may have made sense as a temporary measure back in 1967, when Arab armies were threatening Israel's right to exist, and when cross-border guerrilla raids were targeting the military and civilians inside Israel's internationally recognized borders.
But today's terrorists -- who tend to be lone suicide bombers and do not have state support -- do not need territory in which to operate. All they need is enough frustration and anger to motivate them to strap explosives to their bodies -- something which 34 years of foreign military occupation helps make possible.
Israeli occupation and repression does more to encourage terrorism than it does to prevent it. By refusing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians unless the violence stops, Sharon is granting an invitation to terrorist extremists who do not want the peace process to resume.
Terrorism must stop unconditionally. So, too, must the Israeli occupation and repression.
Far more Palestinian civilians have died since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 -- particularly in the 15 months since the latest Palestinian uprising -- than have Israelis. In total, more than 870 Palestinians have been killed and possibly 25,000 injured since the uprising, according to a Dec. 6 commentary in The Guardian. About 245 Israelis have died and 800 injured during that same time.
The United States can hardly be considered an honest broker in the peace process. The U.S. government gives nearly $4 billion in U.S. military and economic aid to Israel. And last spring, the United States even vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution, which simply called for the deployment of unarmed human-rights monitors to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently attacked Arafat for not supporting President Clinton's peace plan, which would have forced Palestinians to make major concessions. The plan would have allowed Israel to keep large swaths of confiscated West Bank land for illegal settlements, granted the Israelis control over most of Arab East Jerusalem, denied Palestinian refugees the right of return and prevented the Palestinians from establishing a viable state alongside Israel. Such an unsustainable peace would have been worse than no peace treaty at all.
Hope for real peace cannot come until the United States makes clear that, while our support for Israel's legitimate security needs is absolute and unconditional, we will no longer give a blank check to policies that violate the most basic principles of international law and human rights.
Until the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government and the Bush administration recognize that Israeli security and Palestinian rights depend on each other, there will be no peace.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He serves as a senior policy analyst and Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, and can be reached at email@example.com.