What's happening in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the State of Israel is a war that did not erupt spontaneously, nor did the combatants stumble into it by accident. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is conducting "diplomacy by other means," and those means are violent and filled with terror. Arafat appears willing to accept the cost as measured in lost Palestinian and Israeli lives.
Israel under Prime Minister Ehud Barak has gone an extraordinary distance in accommodating Palestinian demands and trusting Arafat to restrain terrorist attacks and police his own territory effectively. Under pressure from the Clinton administration at Camp David in July, Barak made Arafat an offer on the final disposition of Jerusalem that he could not refuse in the eyes of the world community but could not accept in the eyes of many of his own people. There were, in fact, reports that Arafat had said he could not accept anything less than total Palestinian control over East Jerusalem or he would be assassinated.
War offered Arafat a way out of this box, and the Palestinian leader found a pretext for war in Ariel Sharon's ill-considered visit to the Temple Mount. After the visit, Arafat loosed the dogs of war by defiling a Jewish holy site and then waging recklessly offensive war against the enraged Israelis with such pitifully inadequate means that when the Israelis defended themselves, Arafat was able to proclaim the Palestinians to be the victims of Israeli "excessive use of force."
Am I unsympathetic to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people? Absolutely not. Palestinians are no different from Americans or Israelis in seeking economic prosperity, a good education for their children, access to capital, personal dignity, freedom, security and justice under the law. But both the Palestinians and Israelis have an obligation to work for a peaceful solution to their difficulties.
By failing to recognize this "outbreak of war" as Palestinian diplomacy in extremis, the United States government actually validates the diplomatic utility of war to the Palestinians and undermines the peace process. Not only did the U.S. government fail to call upon Arafat to stop the war immediately, it also refused to exercise its veto over a U.N. resolution that said nothing about Palestinian actions but instead "deplored the provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 28 September" and "condemned acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians." The world can hardly conclude other than that the United States objects to an Israeli application of the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming military force because it blames the war on Israel and expects Israel to stop it. Thus, Arafat is left free to pursue violent diplomacy until such time as he regains the diplomatic advantage he seeks.
While there is no doubt that Clinton believes sincerely in the Middle East peace process, his administration continues to commit dangerous errors. In trying to be both an "honest broker" in the peace process and maintain our alliance with Israel, the administration, both through diplomatic channels and the actions of surrogates, has overreached in an effort to create a "legacy" of peace in the Middle East.
The Clinton administration made no secret last year that it preferred Barak over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli election. That was a judgment for Israelis to make, and the presence of Clinton ally James Carville in the Barak camp was just one indication that Clinton saw Barak as a useful ally in establishing "Third Way" style government in the Middle East - putting allegiance to world opinion and international bureaucracies ahead of national security and self-preservation while trying to "harness" market forces to serve the ends of the state. Coupled with Hillary Clinton's call for a Palestinian state and her embrace of Suha Arafat, it would have been hard to mistake the administration's subliminal message of our tilting toward the Palestinians and bringing Barak's Israel with us.
I agree with Gov. George Bush that politics must stop at the water's edge, but the personalization of Mideast politics under the Clinton administration has clearly violated that rule. To get peace back on track requires an immediate cease-fire and cooling off, and the courage to delay further substantive negotiations until this crisis has passed. There are passions and forces in the Middle East that are beyond the control of any one man or woman, but we can do better than this. As the tragic terrorist attack on our Navy ship illustrated, the defense of American lives, as well as Israeli and Palestinian lives, now rests on our ability to learn from this latest tragedy.