With the second Intifada and rise to power of Ariel Sharon, Israel abandoned Oslo and land-for-peace. We will never again negotiate with Arafat, said Sharon, because Israel does not negotiate with terrorists.
Two Israeli prime ministers, Rabin and Peres, had shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat. A third, "Bibi" Netanyahu, had handed over Hebron to Arafat. A fourth, Ehud Barak, had offered Arafat 95 percent of the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem. Yet, Sharon not only made his policy stick, he got George W. Bush to sign on to it.
Where Arafat had been to the Clinton White House more times than Bob Dole, he was blackballed by the Bush White House.
Sharon's distaste of Arafat was visceral and real. He would not shake hands with him. But it was also politically astute. As security analyst Michael Vlahos has written, nations often declare adversaries "terrorists" to delegitimize them and absolve themselves of any obligation to talk peace with them. They fall back on the time-tested formula: "We do not negotiate with terrorists!"
And it is surely true that Arafat's Fatah, as well as his PLO, had committed acts of terror: the killing of the innocent for political ends, not only Israelis but U.S. diplomats. Yet, Sharon, in 1953, led a force called Unit 101 into the West Bank village of Kibya to avenge the Arab slaying of an Israeli woman and her children. Sixty-nine Palestinians were massacred, mostly women and children, as their homes were dynamited. Sharon was also the army commander when the IDF let the Phalangists into Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, and fired flares to light the night so the killers could get on with their work.
What of us Americans? Do we negotiate with terrorists?
At Tehran and Yalta, FDR ceded Eastern Europe to the Great Terrorist he called "Uncle Joe." Truman at Potsdam affirmed the grant to Stalin. Three years after Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution, Eisenhower invited the "Butcher of Budapest" to Camp David and had him escorted on a 10-day U.S. tour.
In the year the Viet Cong perpetrated the massacre at Hue, going door-to-door with lists and executing 3,000 South Vietnamese, U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman sat down with the VC and North Vietnamese at Paris.
In 1972, Nixon went to Peking to shake hands with the greatest terrorist of the century, Mao Tse-tung, even as Mao's Gang of Four, including his wife, carried out the Chinese pogrom known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam Hussein on behalf of Ronald Reagan, and we aided Saddam's Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran. Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad was said to be a state terrorist. Yet, in 1991, Bush I made him an ally in the Gulf War.
Khadafi is responsible for the air massacre of American schoolkids over Lockerbie. Yet, Bush let Khadafi out of the sanctions box for giving up his nuclear program and making restitution to the families of the murder victims on Pan Am 103. After early careers in which each was accused of terrorism, Tito, Begin, Shamir and Mandela were honored guests at the White House.
Which brings me to the point. America is a world power with a broader interest in the Middle East than Israel's, and if we are to protect those interests and play the role history has assigned us, we cannot allow any nation to exercise veto power over whom we talk to. While most Americans wish to maintain our commitment to the security and survival of Israel, we must declare our political and diplomatic independence of Israel, as Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan all did.
Ike ordered Ben-Gurion out of Sinai. Nixon saved Israel in the Yom Kippur war with the 1973 airlift, then told Golda Meir Israel must let Egypt resupply its Third Army on the east bank. Reagan backed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, then ordered Israel to stand down, and sold F-16s to Saudi Arabia.
It is preposterous that, at the behest of Israel, we do not talk to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, after an election in which Bush himself demanded Hamas be included. And while Syria and Iran have been distant and hostile, neither appears to want war with the United States, and neither has attacked us in at least 10 years.
If we can talk to Khadafi, who has the blood of Americans on his hands, why cannot we talk to Bashar al-Assad and Ahmadinejad? Neither of them has slaughtered hundreds of Americans in a terror attack.
Before he launched his democracy project, Bush was warned that free elections would advance the fortunes of Islamic militants. At his insistence, the elections were held. Results:
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the seats it contested. Hezbollah swept south Lebanon. Hamas recorded a stunning victory on the West Bank and Gaza. These were the freest and fairest elections ever held in those nations. But Bush refused to engage the winners.
The painful truth is that, in the Middle East, democracy will produce, as it does in the West, two dominant parties. One will be a state party, and the other is going to be a party rooted in the Islamic faith.
Time to recognize reality -- and stop isolating America.