The middle east is a time bomb

Posted: Mar 07, 2002 12:00 AM
In the Middle East, where Israeli and Palestinian infighting threatens to explode into unprecedented violence, it has become an eye-for-an-eye and a child-for-a-child. Over the past week, 31 Israelis and nearly twice as many Palestinians have died in violent uprisings. This most recent phase of the 17-month-old Palestinian uprising has increasingly targeted civilian populations for attacks, raising serious questions about whether a full-scale war is imminent and the extent to which the United States should intervene as a broker of peace. Against this backdrop, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government is beginning to fray. On one side, are the conservatives who favor eviscerating the Palestinian threat by targeting their commercial centers, banks and economic centers. On the other side, are a minority of cabinet members who believe that displays of power alone will not beget peace. Though Sharon has been cautious not to support the arbitrary bombing of civilian centers, he does seem prepared to dig in his heels. "Now they have to be hit. ... They must be beaten," said Sharon in response to the most recent wave of suicide attacks. It is, however, likely that a wave of Israeli assaults will only nourish the Palestinians martyr complex and exacerbate the violence. Eighteen-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Daraghmeh al-Shuhani put it succinctly in a videotape he prepared prior to blowing up himself - and nine Israelis - in a recent suicide bombing: "Let me tell that dog Sharon that I will strike and I will avenge my families in the Balata refugee camp ... [and] Jenin refugee camp, and on behalf of all the martyrs in Palestine." President Bush has responded to the recent bloodbath by asserting that increased U.S. involvement in the peace process is preconditioned upon the Palestinians first halting their attacks. Plainly, Bush realizes that a forced peace would not confront the issues that support the conflict and plague the region. However, Bush cannot close his eyes to the fact that the Unites States and Israel are neighbors at the bank. Israel's carnage is paid for, in part, by our foreign subsidies. That makes the U.S. partially responsible for this bloodbath. And if that rousing fact is not enough to shock Bush into a more proactive role as peace broker, it is worth noting that an all-out war in the Middle East - which is where this conflict seems to be headed - would derail U.S. efforts to build an anti-Iraq coalition. That would significantly undermine Bush's goal of breaking apart the terrorist coalitions that threaten the civilized world. This alone should provide sufficient impetus for Bush to take a more active role in facilitating the peace process. For starters, that would mean pressuring Sharon to adapt more of a defensive position, so as to allow for the mere suggestion of a diplomatic strategy. Simply, a military strategy alone will not bring an end to this conflict. It will only pull the region further apart and eviscerate any hope we have of uniting a broad anti-terrorist coalition.