March 14, 2002
Bush’s men should know better than to liken soldiers to suicide bombers.
General Anthony Zinni is returning to the Middle East today in search of a
cease-fire. On Tuesday the U.S. sponsored a United Nations Security Council
resolution supporting a Palestinian state. And State Department spokesman
Richard Boucher has called for Israel to “exercise the utmost restraint and
discipline to avoid further harm to civilians” — as if the difference between
Palestinian suicide bombers and Israel’s measured response isn’t abundantly
Even President Bush said yesterday that Israel’s recent military actions
are “not helpful.”
The reason for the Administration’s sudden re-engagement on the issue is no
secret. Vice President Dick Cheney is in the region trying to build support for
regime change in Iraq, and the deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a
sore spot in our relations with the Arab world.
The trouble is, this activity comes just as Israel has started to win some
important victories in its war on terror. And worse, it threatens to undermine
the moral case for our own war — a case President Bush couldn’t have put any
better than he did Monday, declaring:
“There can be no peace in a world where differences and grievances
become an excuse to target the innocent for murder.”
A couple of years ago, perhaps, it was still possible to argue that Palestinian
violence was the work of a few Islamic extremists, and that punishing Yasser
Arafat only made it harder for him to rein them in.
But in the summer of 2000 Israel offered Mr. Arafat a state, and Mr.
Arafat launched a war. The lion’s share of recent attacks have been carried out
not by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, but by the military wing of Mr. Arafat’s own
Fatah movement. And after Saturday night’s deadly suicide bombing at the
Moment cafe in Jerusalem, Mr. Arafat’s state radio praised the bomber as a
In short, the targeting of innocents is Mr. Arafat’s explicit strategy to address
the “grievance” of Israeli occupation.
Israel, on the other hand, has pursued a policy of carefully targeting
militants, and has been risking its soldiers over the past week to arrest suspects
and confiscate weapons in Palestinian towns and refugee camps. Some
non-combatants have been killed, but there is no moral equivalence here —
certainly not the kind implied by U.S. proposals for monitors to keep peace
between the two sides, or by Colin Powell’s declaration last week that “if you
declare war on the Palestinians and think you can solve the problem by seeing
how many Palestinians can be killed, I don’t know if that leads us anywhere.”
The message all this sends Mr. Arafat is unmistakable: Ratchet up suicidal
bombings of Israeli civilians, induce a military response, and the U.S. will
heavily pressure Israel for concessions.
The Saudi peace ‘plan’, meanwhile, seems to be going nowhere fast. Some
prominent Arab state will eventually have to take the lead in ‘normalizing’
relations with Israel.
But if Crown Prince Abdullah were serious, he might have presented it to
Ariel Sharon as Israel’s elected leader, not to a New York Times columnist. He
might also have presented it two years ago, when it could have made a
difference, instead of urging Mr. Arafat to reject the hugely concessionary offer
made by former Israeli Prime Minister Barak at Camp David.
Now there’s even talk among the Arab League of removing any
reference to ‘normalization’ at all. Without that, it amounts to nothing but a
demand for unconditional surrender.
We understand the Bush Administration’s concerns as it makes the case in
foreign capitals for an expansion of the war on terror. But the White House
should understand that both strategic and moral consistency means sometimes
telling people what they don’t want to hear.
To wit: The U.S. has already spent more than a decade sponsoring talks
for Israel to return to something like the 1967 borders, and the Palestinian
grievance over Israeli occupation must be addressed by a return to the
negotiating table, not violence aimed explicitly at innocent civilians.
The definition of such violence is terrorism. It is the very kind of anti-civilian
terror as an instrument of politics that President Bush so eloquently condemned
Until such time as the Arab world is ready to seek solutions by civilized
means, the U.S. has no moral alternative to standing firmly behind Prime
Minister Sharon’s war against such terror.