Some hard truths about the Middle East

Posted: Sep 05, 2001 12:00 AM
As a congenital optimist, it is my profound regret to say that it's time we faced the fact that there is nothing the United States can do to bring peace to the Middle East short of an unacceptable use of NATO troops. As long as both sides of the conflict perceive the price of peace to be higher than the costs of continuing the war, intervention by the United States would risk dangerous, counterproductive results for both Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the United States and the entire Middle East. What is taking place in Israel and Palestine is a political, moral and human tragedy. Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, more than 400 Israelis have been killed at the hands of Palestinian terrorists and 600 Palestinians have died as the Israeli military waged war against that terrorism. It is past time for us to realize that the destruction of Israel is the Palestinian leadership's ultimate goal. The official Palestine Authority doesn't even recognize the legitimacy of Israel; the symbol of Arafat's Fatah party is the entire state of Israel eclipsed by two machine guns. Even those Israelis willing to risk the most for peace no longer believe that Arafat seeks peaceful coexistence with the state of Israel. The Clinton administration - and for too long the career bureaucrats in our State Department - were played the fool by Arafat as he pretended to adhere to the norms of international behavior championed by the United Nations and the United States. He has refused to accept any compromise, which is the essence of statesmanship and leadership. At Camp David last year, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed a shared Jerusalem and an autonomous Palestinian state, Arafat walked away. He told President Bill Clinton he was speaking on behalf of 1 billion Muslims. Arafat does not speak for 1 billion Muslims; indeed we are forced to ask if he speaks even for his own population. If he does speak for them, he can be held responsible for the terror-inspired, blood-soaked streets in Israel. If he cannot speak for them, if he is not responsible to them, then the United States has no business dealing with him. It's one thing for Arafat to call for an end to the shooting, but it's another thing to put an end to the rhetoric of the PA that incites the shooting. While Israel is now in a war for its very existence, the U.S. State Department and many in the press corps help perpetuate the notion that Israel is overreacting when it responds to terror. When we in the West speak in terms of "cycles of violence" and condemn Israel's temporary military occupation of territory during efforts to root out terrorists, we establish a moral equivalency between the Palestinians' targeting of civilians and Israel's military actions in defense of itself. As former Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick told me, it is inappropriate for the West to assume the responsibility of telling Israel what it should and should not do to defend itself. When the "risks for peace," which are all taken by Israel, ultimately fail, it's the Israeli people who suffer, not we in the West. To be sure, not all Palestinians seek the destruction of Israel, but no Palestinian has been given any hope from his leadership as to what prospects for peace might look like in a democratic regime. Democracy ultimately translates into commerce, prosperity and stability. When Palestinians can see the fruits of peace that lead to improving their lot in life, they will then enter into a new era where democracies can trade with one another and live side by side. But the Palestinian leadership, which has allowed millions of its constituents to live in poverty for political purposes, sees the destruction of Israel as its primary goal. How else is one to interpret a recent sermon broadcast on Arafat's controlled Palestinian TV that reminded viewers that the Jewish nation was "cursed in Allah's book" and that Palestinians' "destiny in several years, Allah willing, will be to enter Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Ashkelon as conquerors"? Haifa (the site of the most recent suicide bombing), along with Ashkelon and Jaffa, are not even part of the West Bank or Gaza Strip; they are in Israel proper. The leader of Hezbollah has also used TV to urge Palestinians to take a knife and stab a settler. It saddens me - only a few years after the end of apartheid and after the fall of the Berlin Wall - that most solutions proffered today include higher walls, electric fences and apartheid between Israeli and Palestinian people. If the Palestinians really desire peace, they can stop the war by stopping the violence and the terror, but this may require totally new leadership in the Palestinian Authority, a leadership willing to take a risk for peace and stability and a leadership determined to bring stability, commerce and democracy to its people.