Immediately after the 1991 Gulf war, the first Bush administration convened in Madrid an international conference on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This was an event that political leaders all over the world had been pursuing as if it were the holy grail of international diplomacy. It set in motion a decade of “peacemaking” that included the treaty between Israel and Jordan but whose most visible fruit was the Oslo accords of 1993.
In recent months, three years into the bloody Palestinian assault on Israel that the Oslo peace process became, the same dynamic has once again been in play, as international diplomats and government officials have scrambled to take advantage of the anticipated defeat of Saddam Hussein by pushing forward their preferred solutions. President Bush himself predicted in late February that “success in Iraq could . . . begin a new stage of Middle Eastern peace,” while England and other European nations, keen to demonstrate their good faith to the Arab world, have gone much farther. In the very first week of the war, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, complaining about an alleged double standard when it came to “injustice against the Palestinians,” equated UN resolutions concerning Saddam Hussein’s threats to international peace with those condemning Israel on a range of less significant matters.
A more evenhanded view underlies the latest diplomatic initiative to address the Israel-Palestinian dispute. This is the famous “road map” prepared by the “quartet” of the United States, the European Union (EU), the UN, and Russia. The road map proposes a two-state solution to the conflict, to be reached in three phases.
In phase I, the Palestinians are to “declare” an end to violence and terrorism; undertake “visible” efforts to prevent attacks on Israelis; consolidate all security forces under an “empowered” interior minister; and restructure Palestinian institutions through numerous, detailed measures. Israel, for its part, is to call for an end to violence against Palestinians; cooperate in rebuilding a viable Palestinian security force; cease all actions “undermining trust,” including deportations, demolition of homes, and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure; take measures to improve the humanitarian situation; and “immediately” dismantle “settlement outposts erected since March 2001” and freeze all other settlement activity, including “natural growth.”
All this is to happen by June of this calendar year—next month, in effect. Then comes phase II, which foresees the “option” of creating a Palestinian state, with provisional borders, attributes of sovereignty, and maximum territorial continuity; the completion date for this phase is the end of the current calendar year. Phase III, which is to result in a final agreement between the parties settling all outstanding issues, is to be completed by the end of 2005.
The road map was given a major boost on March 14 when President Bush affirmed his support for it and promised to publish it as soon as the Palestinians appointed a new prime minister with “real authority.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair promptly signaled his readiness to put pressure on Israel to move the process forward whether Palestinian violence ceases or not. Meanwhile, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have claimed to accept the road map “in principle”—a standard Middle East negotiating ploy—although both sides have major differences with it. In particular, Ariel Sharon’s government has insisted that Palestinians must end all attacks before Israel is required to take any steps on the proposed “road.”
Quite apart from its wildly optimistic timetable, many substantive objections can and should be raised to the road map.
Still, it may be stipulated that the plan’s aim—a two-state solution—is a reasonable one, accepted by the present Israeli government. But the mere recitation of a valid aim, even when coupled with a scheme for negotiations and escalating concessions, will hardly suffice to realize the peace envisioned by the road map’s authors. The problem is that this road map, like many plans for Middle East peace, expects to bring an end to Palestinian violence against Israel without addressing the reasons why the Palestinians have deliberately and repeatedly chosen that path.
Dennis Ross, the former U.S. negotiator for the Middle East, recently admitted that, ever since the last Gulf war, he and other U.S. negotiators failed to take seriously the PA’s steadfast refusal to end violence. (As Ross put it in State Department doublespeak: “The prudential issues of compliance were neglected and politicized by the Americans in favor of keeping the peace process afloat.”) Instead, in the face of the continuing violence, the United States kept pressing Israel to make further concessions, thereby convincing Palestinians that they could go on cheating and killing and still procure the benefits for which they had been negotiating. In the end, it seemed reasonable to suppose that they might even force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza as it had been forced to withdraw from southern Lebanon in the summer of 2000.
But Palestinian violence is a much more serious and difficult problem than even Dennis Ross now admits. It is the product of an environment that fosters, shelters, encourages, and rewards acts aimed at nullifying Israel’s very existence. And that environment is itself the creation not only of the Palestinians, or of the Arabs, but also of the international community—including the United States. To change this situation requires changing not just the actions and attitudes of Palestinians but the policies and practices of others, again including the United States. No recognition of these facts, let alone any acknowledgment of the need to do something about them, has been made part of the road map—which is again why it shares the basic flaw of every Middle East peace plan that has preceded it.
The policies and practices I have in mind can be broken down into categories, of which the first has to do with terrorism.
The United States portrays itself, properly, as leading the worldwide effort to combat terrorism. Some longstanding American policies, however, have contributed to terrorism, and especially to terrorism against Israel. Although steps have been taken to rectify matters in the wake of September 11, terrorists and supporters of terrorism continue to be abetted by the United States in their determination to control the destiny of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Consider, first, the longstanding strategy of Arab states and the PLO to keep as many Palestinians as possible living under horrible conditions in refugee camps, close to Israel. The camps, first set up after the 1948 war that followed the establishment of the state of Israel, are administered by an arm of the United Nations, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This agency now spends more than $400 million a year to assist a population that has swollen over the last half-century to some 4.5 million persons, relatively few of whom are refugees by any accepted definition of the term. The whole system could not have been better designed both to endanger Israel’s security and to damage its moral reputation.
In the late 1980’s, when I was running the legal adviser’s office in the State Department, my colleague Nicholas Rostow and I proposed to Secretary George Shultz that the U.S. move toward ending its financial support of UNRWA programs that perpetuated the exploitation of refugees as tools of the radical Palestinian cause. The “building”—as the Department is called by insiders—rose up in opposition. Our diplomats acknowledged that the camps were awful places that bred hatred and terrorism. But, they claimed, it was too late to do anything about it, and anyway the camps would disappear once peace was achieved. They declined to consider the possibility that the camps were helping to prevent peace from being achieved.2
What would an alternative look like? It would include plans for building permanent homes for Palestinian refugees within Palestinian territories on the West Bank or in nearby states. As the scholar Scott B. Lasensky has recently suggested, incentive programs could also be put in place to encourage refugees to relocate and neighboring Arab states to accept them. Such resettlement could commence immediately; as long as it does not, we will be continuing to aid in solidifying the sentiments that lead to terrorism.
Second, the Palestinian educational system is an abomination; it, too, is largely funded by the UN, with the substantial support of American taxpayers. In their schools, Palestinian children are taught mendacious versions of their own history as well as of Jewish culture, history, and beliefs. Generations have been fed on propaganda that denies the legitimacy of the state of Israel while simultaneously glorifying intolerance, fanaticism, and “martyrdom.”
Very little that is actually useful—engineering, computer technology, science, finance—is taught in these schools. In the private, religiously funded schools, things are still worse. There, in the words of Itamar Marcus, “children have been taught to hate, and to die for Allah. Their childhood has been destroyed by indoctrination to hate and kill Jews as well as Americans and Westerners in general.”
The UN and the United States have allowed these terrible practices to continue for years. Although, recently, efforts have been made to restrict the flow of funds to some schools, little if anything has been done to halt the teachings themselves. How can Palestinians realistically be expected to accept Israel as long as they continue to convey to their children that Israel is unacceptable, and that terrorism against it is a noble undertaking?
Third, our policies have worked to prevent Israel from defending itself against terrorism. Nowhere is this clearer than in our relations with the highest level of Palestinian political power. The PA has advocated, planned, financed, and rewarded terrorism against Israel and Jews. And yet, during the Oslo years and for many months during the current intifada, the State Department persistently called on Jerusalem to go on turning over to the PA the sums collected by Israel for its use. Only Israel’s refusal to go along prevented us from enabling the PA to increase the level of violence and thus forestalling the very negotiations we wanted to see resumed.
Aside from government funding, the PA and other terrorist groups also receive massive financial support from a network of private companies, humanitarian fronts, and wealthy individuals, some of them with American addresses. This is consistent with the pattern used by al Qaeda in financing the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings. Recent indictments of individuals like Sami al-Arian of Florida State University and of the leaders of “charities” like the Global Relief Foundation of Illinois, the Benevolence International Foundation of Chicago, and the Holy Land Foundation in Texas will help limit the flow of such funds. But much more needs to be done to curb the resources of terrorists—a subject about which the authors of the road map, aside from their vague and general call for action against terrorism, are silent.
Terrorists have also benefited from unreasonable efforts to restrict Israeli responses to their operations. The United States, for example, has known for many years that, in addition to those associated with the PLO, at least three major terrorist groups operate in Israel: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Until recently, however, the State Department has joined in castigating Israel for capturing or killing leaders and members of these groups. It was wrong to do so. It is neither an “assassination” nor a “non-judicial execution” to target an individual who has killed and intends to continue to kill one’s citizens if that individual cannot safely be apprehended. Such conduct is part of every state’s legitimate right of self-defense.
After 9/11, the U.S. recognized the need for an active defense against terror. We killed many terrorists in Afghanistan, and we continue to hunt down al Qaeda operatives and leaders. Where possible, they are arrested and held as prisoners; where necessary, they are killed. We have also undertaken to assist several states in similar defensive operations—even while criticizing Israel for exercising its sovereign right in this regard. Are we to deny to Israel the flexibility in protecting itself and its citizens that we demand in protecting ourselves?
Besides criticizing Israel, our government and others also repeatedly accuse it of using excessive force and improper methods. There are indeed occasions when such criticism is warranted: destroying the homes of suicide bombers, which can leave entire families homeless and has sometimes resulted in the death or injury of noncombatant neighbors, is a form of collective punishment that is not defensible. But Israel is clearly permitted by the laws of war to destroy homes used by terrorists when necessary to attack or capture them, or to protect Israeli soldiers or civilians from attack, or in any other military operation. Although one would hardly know it from the routine condemnations that issue from the international community, most of the destruction that occurs is in fact for these proper reasons.
Not only are most criticisms of Israeli anti-terror operations baseless, some are outright fabrications, as in the case of the alleged “massacre” of “thousands” of Palestinian Arab civilians in Jenin in the spring of 2002. This charge was endorsed by the UN envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, without even conducting an investigation. As was subsequently demonstrated, a total of 52 Palestinians died in Jenin, most of them fighters.
Israel has demonstrated its readiness to drop improper practices, including deportations, and now leads the world in developing and using nonlethal military methods. It has also apologized for mistakes and punished its own soldiers as the law requires. Such conduct is inconceivable from the PA. That is precisely why the United States government needs to protect its own credibility by declining to join those who make a habit of censuring lawful Israeli actions.
Our government has also consistently failed to come to grips with the extent and seriousness of Palestinian terror itself. The annual State Department report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, lists only nine terrorist attacks in Israel in 2001. In fact, there were 97. Among the 88 incidents omitted from the list were Hamas bombings in Haifa and Netanya in which twenty were killed and 140 wounded, as well as other devastating bombings by Islamic Jihad and Yasir Arafat’s Fatah. This simple refusal to acknowledge reality underlies, in turn, the continuing demand by our government that Israel restore the PA’s security forces—the same forces that we paid to build up in the 1990’s, only to see them placed at the service of terrorism.
In addition to subsidizing refugee camps thatbreed terrorism as well as an educational system that justifies and extols it, and in addition to hobbling Israel’s efforts to counter terrorism, we and others continue to be remiss in dealing with state support of terror.
Iran, together with Hizbullah, its proxy force in Lebanon, supports Hamas, an Islamist organization based in Gaza. Hamas also has supporting offices in other countries, including Jordan. Islamic Jihad and the PFLP are based in Syria, where they enjoy sanctuary and have been provided with training camps. Theseorganizations also raise funds and recruits in Saudi Arabia, in Europe, and even in the United States.
Syria and Iran are on the State Department’s list of states that support terrorism. By itself, this means nothing—their support for terror has continued with impunity. After 9/11, however, the UN Security Council reaffirmed the duty of states to refrain from instigating, supporting, or acquiescing in terrorist attacks on other states, and it also set out positive duties for suppressing such support. This statement offers a powerful basis for pursuing, through the “inherent right of self-defense,” remedies against states supporting terror.
Even before 9/11 we ourselves insisted that if a state is unwilling or unable to prevent terrorist attacks, or if it supports such attacks, a victim-state is entitled to act in self-defense. This is the legal basis upon which, for example, President Reagan retaliated against Libya for supporting terrorist attacks on U.S. nationals in Europe, and which even President Clinton invoked in his ineffectual responses to Iraq’s efforts to kill the first President Bush and to al Qaeda’s bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
As for Israel, it has expressly threatened to use force against states that support or fail to prevent terrorist attacks on its citizens, although it has done so but rarely. One occasion was the hostage-release operation at Entebbe; another was the bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis; a third was the 1982 incursion into Lebanon. It now faces the far more difficult task of dealing with terrorism supported directly by Syria and Iran and indirectly by others like Saudi Arabia. These are major states with substantial military capacities, including, potentially, weapons of mass destruction.
Syria has openly acknowledged giving shelter to terrorist groups driven from Israel and the Palestinian territories, although it claims that the facilities are not being used for terrorism. Even if that were true, such support is illegal and subject to appropriate remedial action. As for Iran, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres identified it as long ago as March 1996 as the source of support for terrorist activity in Israel. More recently, Iran supplied the arms on the Karine A that had been purchased by the PA for terrorist operations; it has also supplied Hizbullah in Lebanon with some 10,000 short-range rockets, as well as Iranian-made Zelzal-2 and Fajr rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
In 1986, when the Iranians were mining the Persian Gulf, we warned them to stop; when they persisted, and we caught them in the act, we destroyed half their naval vessels. They stopped. We cannot expect Israel to go on accepting state support of terrorists without acting in self-defense. If we are serious about peace in the Middle East, we and the other members of the quartet should be placing far greater emphasis on convincing Iran and Syria to alter course.
President Bush made clear where he stands in his speech of June 24, 2002: “Every nation actually committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to [terrorist] groups, and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the President’s national-security adviser, have emphatically reiterated this warning. Pressuring states to stop supporting terror against Israel would help create an atmosphere more conducive to peace with the Palestinians. But the pressure cannot be merely rhetorical, or limited to one or two speeches; and the results must be seen to be believed.
I now pass to a different class of issues relating to Palestinian violence. In negotiations between the parties, the United States has worked to keep some matters unresolved. Of these, a few are indeed so difficult as to be properly deferred. Others, however, clearly admit of only one possible resolution; if they have nevertheless been pushed off to some future date, that is because it is felt by our diplomats that they should not be foreclosed until the parties themselves come to an agreement on them. This tactic, however, has caused far more harm than good, allowing illusions to grow and take root that damage the practical prospects for peace.
Jerusalem. Every successful presidential candidate since at least Ronald Reagan has promised that, if elected, he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem. Yet, once elected, every President has breached this promise, announcing that current conditions do not yet favor such a move. Sometimes Congress has attempted to cut through the issue by mandating a move to Jerusalem, only to be instructed that it must not intrude on an area of presidential prerogative.
If moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would actually harm prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, then it should not be moved. But the claim is spurious. Moving the U.S. embassy to the site designated for it in the western part of Jerusalem would merely acknowledge that Jerusalem is in fact the capital of Israel. It would not eliminate from discussion the issue of East, or Arab, Jerusalem, or the issue of who is to control the Old City, which includes the Temple Mount and other holy places. At most, it would make it harder for Palestinians to raise West Jerusalem as a negotiating chip in their efforts to secure control of the rest of the city. Far from being an obstacle to peace, it would tend to force Palestinians to confront the real compromises they would need to make if they truly desired peace.
More fundamentally, our continued failure to demonstrate that we accept Jerusalem as Israel’s legitimate capital has encouraged virtually all other states to behave similarly. This, too, feeds the openly expressed hope of radical Palestinians and their supporters that somehow, some day, Israel can be pushed back to its pre-1948 lines, if not into the sea. Palestinians are in the grip of quite enough disabling fantasies as it is; they can well afford to surrender the fantasy of undoing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
Right of Return. At the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000, American diplomats were surprised by the fierceness with which Palestinian representatives insisted upon a “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. If acted upon by the millions claiming to be refugees, such a right of return would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian position was especially stunning in light of confident predictions by Yossi Beilin, Israel’s former deputy foreign minister, that no such right would be invoked, but only a right to appropriate compensation for property and other measures of relief.
The United States bears some responsibility for encouraging Palestinians in this regard. Specifically, we backed the Arab interpretation of a 1949 General Assembly resolution, number 194, that has no legal weight, that was originally rejected by all Arab states, and that is but one small item in the great mass of anti-Israel declarations by that body. More recently, we were among those welcoming a February 2002 Saudi peace “initiative” that explicitly invoked a right of return.
The road map, in turn, cites the Saudi plan in a positive manner. Though it does—finally—call in passing for a “realistic” solution to the refugee issue, any plan seriously aimed at leading toward peace, and backed by the United States, should make it crystal clear at the outset that a right of return is antithetical to peace, and must be renounced. Furthermore, any reference to the rights of Palestinian refugees should be balanced by one to the legitimate claims of the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries, which must be satisfied on the basis of the same principles. Justice requires no less.
Settlements and Borders. Although the road map leaves the final borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state to final-status negotiations, it does insist on a complete cessation of all settlement activity by Jews, including “natural growth,” beyond the Israeli side of the pre-June 1967 borders. State Department officials have long adhered to the notion that Security Council resolution 242, issued in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six-Day war, requires treating those borders as final; if, they say, Israel wishes any adjustment in them, it will have to compensate the Palestinians with some additional concession, probably in the form of land on Israel’s side.
The State Department’s interpretation of resolution 242 is not only mistaken—the literature on this point is formidable—but it could end up presenting at least as great an obstacle to peace as Israel’s policy of building settlements in areas heavily populated by Palestinians. In Israel’s history, settlements have a central and necessary place. The road map disregards both this history and the plain legitimacy of building places to live in what Israelis regard as their historic (though not exclusive) homeland. The road map also errs in treating every Israeli settlement as equally troublesome, even though some are obviously defensible on security grounds and minimally disruptive to Palestinian inhabitants of the territories. It thereby once again creates unwarranted expectations among Palestinians.
The settlements issue cannot be resolved by means of solemn declarations. In my own view, a pragmatic approach that is not anchored in the pre-June 1967 lines would have a far greater likelihood of success in any set of good-faith negotiations than the unrealistic and indiscriminate proscription contained in the road map. It would require, among other things, considering the settlements in categories.
A small number of settlements are illegal; Israel has ordered them closed, but it has not always enforced the order. If, however, these particular communities may be regarded as a genuine obstacle to peace, the same cannot be said of the largest settlements, which lie virtually adjacent to the pre-June 1967 lines and contain some 80 percent of the settler population. Nor would “natural growth” in or close to these settlements be a serious problem, since it is widely recognized that the areas will become part of Israel in some appropriate exchange. As for the many other settlements that exist in the territories, while some Israelis would struggle to retain control over all of them, they would be unable to prevail if the government considered it in Israel’s best interests to act otherwise. Ariel Sharon, it should be remembered, removed the settlers from Sinai to implement the 1978 peace treaty with Egypt. Nor should the road map or any other plan preclude Israel and the Palestinians from developing methods for preserving some settlements under Palestinian control, or under joint administration.
By tacitly accepting interpretations of reality that unfairly put the onus on Israel—in this case by demanding a “freeze” on settlements as if all settlement activity were either illegal or evidence of evil intent, or both—the United States helps to perpetuate Arab revanchism and works against the possibility of peace.
Beyond, above, and behind every failed policy that has been devised to nudge forward the prospects of reconciliation in the Middle East there lies a simple if often unacknowledged fact: there can be no peace until the Arabs of the region openly accept the existence of Israel as a permanent, sovereign state. For 55 years, most of Israel’s Arab enemies have refused to do so. For 55 years, the community of nations has tolerated, acquiesced in, and thereby confirmed the propriety of that refusal.
To this day, Israel is treated in international affairs and by most members of the United Nations as a pariah state. The United States, despite the generous and indispensable support it has extended to Israel, has too often gone along with that treatment. From time to time, as the late Daniel P. Moynihan documented in these pages, it has even “joined the jackals.”3
The blanket exemption from treating Israel as an ordinary state and an equal member of the international community has had a pervasive impact on the calculus of war and peace. To Israel’s enemies, it has sent a signal that the conflict between them may yet be resolved through Israel’s complete delegitimization and destruction. To Israel itself, it has sent exactly the same dire signal.
The UN. Nowhere is this more salient than at the UN itself. There, Israel has been refused a place in the regional grouping of Middle Eastern states and hence an opportunity to serve on the Security Council and other UN bodies—an opportunity afforded to every other member state. In addition, UN members have prevented Israel from serving in any important role on virtually any functional agency or body. The number of Israelis serving in significant UN positions has always been small, even relative to Israel’s size; after a series of votes against Israeli candidates, that number is now down to a single person whose term is scheduled to expire within the next year.
The notion that the U.S. and other friends of Israel can do nothing about this outrageous situation is simply wrong. For years, the State Department agreed with the UN legal office that the 1975 General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism could not be repealed. Once a resolution has been adopted, the argument went, it can only be modified in its effects by some subsequent resolution. The first Bush administration put the lie to this idea when Secretary of State James Baker developed a plan for repealing the resolution, thus marking the beginning of the end of that infamous chapter in the history of anti-Semitism. During the current Bush administration, similarly, the President and Secretary of State Powell refused to go along with the racist attacks on Israel at the United Nations conference in Durban in the summer of 2001; Powell canceled his appearance, and the U.S. delegation withdrew when it became clear that the conference had been hijacked by anti-Semites.
There is every reason to approach the issue of Israel’s continued ostracism in international bodies in the same spirit and with the same conviction. Nothing meaningful can be done internationally without U.S. involvement and support, and nothing is more important to the principle of sovereign equality than the fair and equitable treatment of member states of the United Nations. Are we to go on approving, by our silence, a situation wherein a true pariah state like Libya can serve a term as chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights while democratic Israel is refused the right to participate in multilateral affairs? It is a grotesque charade, and it dishonors us.
Normalizing Relations. Arab states—even the few that have concluded formal peace agreements—have refused to normalize relations with Israel. Egypt, for example, has created many obstacles to trade, and although it has opened its doors to Israeli tourists willing to brave the pervasive anti-Semitic climate in that country, it has severely restricted tourism from Egypt to Israel. Our State Department has rejected the idea of working to alter this behavior. Not that it opposes greater openness; it simply regards the issue as subordinate to the “peace process” with the Palestinians, and has not wished to irritate the Egyptians.
The same attitude is reflected in the road map. That document barely mentions Arab-Israeli relations, and then only to call on Arab states during phase II to “restore pre-intifada links to Israel (trade office, etc.)” and to revive certain multilateral discussions—water, the environment, economic development, refugees, and arms control—begun after the 1991 Madrid conference. But these measures amount virtually to nothing. Few Arab states had significant links with Israel prior to the intifada, and multilateral discussions, however potentially interesting they may be, do not in themselves imply or depend on a meaningful acceptance of Israel. “Even if peace is accomplished,” Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad remarked matter-of-factly in late March of this year, “Israel will not be a legitimate state.”
Progress has been made in relations between Israel and Jordan, and between Israel and Turkey. Much more could be done—by us—to encourage Arab states and others to deal with Israel as an equal in commercial matters. Instead, we have declined to hold the international community to a proper standard of behavior, and we have acquiesced in the exclusion of Israel from the economic and political benefits of normalization.
Israel as an Ally. In 1990, as we prepared to confront Saddam Hussein over his seizure and occupation of Kuwait, we built, under the authorization of the Security Council, a coalition of forces in which every state willing to participate was welcomed, except one: Israel. During the ensuing conflict, when Iraq fired 39 missiles at Israel in an effort to draw it into the conflict, the U.S. asked the Israeli government not to respond; in deference to us, and in violation of its cardinal principles of self-defense, Israel agreed.
This year, in preparing our latest campaign in Iraq, we again asked Israel to stay on the sidelines for fear of alienating Arab allies. As insurance, we took measures to defend Israel from Iraqi attack by placing missile-defense units on its eastern border and providing unprecedented access to battlefield intelligence. Once again Israel went along, although this time Prime Minister Sharon reserved the right to respond if attacked.
Asking Israel to stay out of the coalition against Saddam in 1991 and then to refrain from exercising its right of self-defense was morally wrong, tactically shortsighted, and very harmful to the goal of securing Israel’s acceptance in the Middle East. The decision to keep Israel out of the war gave credence to a preposterous premise: that Arab states would have preferred to let Saddam keep Kuwait than permit Israel to fight in the same campaign with them. Naturally, Saddam exploited this premise by attempting to draw Israel into defending itself and thereby undermining the coalition against him.
A way could have been found in 1991 to welcome Israel into the coalition against Saddam without destroying it. The U.S. did not even try. Instead, it granted validity to the notion that Israel should be excluded. We in effect said to the Arab and Muslim states, “We don’t necessarily share your view, but we understand and accept your need to avoid any appearance of countenancing the legitimacy of the state of Israel.”
Why should we continue to operate on this premise, when what we should really be doing is working to challenge and overcome it? The principle informing our action should be that Israel—our ally, remember—is a state with the same inalienable rights as all other states. President Bush has quite rightly demanded that Arab states make clear “that they will live in peace with Israel.” We should be doing all we can to enforce that demand.
The Jewish Question. Some one million Palestinian Arabs—a fifth of Israel’s population—live there as citizens. Jewish settlers in the West Bank number, at most, a tenth of the area’s population—but the guiding assumption of all international efforts to achieve peace is that no Jew should be allowed to reside in any Palestinian area.
Some Israeli extremists, it is true, have attempted to inflame existing animosities between Palestinian Arabs and Jews in the hope of securing permanent Israeli control of certain hallowed sites in territories claimed by Palestinians. Their efforts would be futile if Palestinians accepted Jews in their midst. They do not. On the contrary, they have attacked and killed Jews seeking to live in places like Hebron, an ancient and holy Jewish seat where Jews lived for centuries before being slaughtered and driven out in the 1920’s.
The notion of a Palestine in which Jews are not allowed to live is anathema.4 It implicitly affirms the hatred and violence that has made the Arab and Muslim Middle East virtually Judenrein, and it thoroughly undercuts any hope for peace. It should be anathema, above all, to the United States. Palestinians should be required to agree explicitly that Jews may live in their midst. Arab states should be expected to reverse anti-Jewish policies and laws, based as they are on racist ideas that are not only intrinsically offensive but completely inconsistent with peaceful coexistence. Judenrein should be an impermissible policy, everywhere.
As for the much larger and excruciating question of Arab anti-Semitism, this is not the place to comment at length on its frightening tenacity, its ferocity, and its worldwide reach. What must be said, though, is that the failure of our government at the highest levels to denounce the genocidal teachings that issue regularly from the press, the mosques, and the schools of Arab and Muslim regimes, some of them our longstanding allies, is shameful.
This failure has consequences in policy. Throughout Israel’s history, and especially now, Palestinians have acted as though they have a perfect right to kill Jews with impunity. Little wonder: they live in a culture in which armed men, and men of God, publicly and routinely call for the murder of Jews. Fundamentalist Muslims and nationalist Arabs alike preach and practice a racist ideology based on the inhumanity of Jews. In their ravings, Jews—“dogs,” “cockroaches,” “filthy bacterial growth”—deserve to be killed en masse and uprooted from a land they have defiled by their presence. When Arab terrorists are themselves killed by Israeli reprisals, Palestinians parade through the streets of their cities with guns, masks, and suicide-bomber outfits, crying to heaven for vengeance.
All this would be intolerable, and shocking beyond belief, in any society based upon law. Yet so pervasive is it in Palestinian society, as indeed in Arab society generally, that one doubts even Israelis have taken in its full dimension. About it, the road map utters not a word, and neither has our government. Instead, as I have already noted, some government spokesmen have unconscionably criticized Israel for targeting terrorists in order to prevent further homicidal attacks on its people.
The same lack of moral compass can be seen in the equanimity with which the civilized world responded to Saddam Hussein’s lavish cash awards to the families of suicide bombers and other Palestinian “martyrs,” with the highest amounts reserved for those who killed children and other innocents within Israel proper. President Bush was the only Western leader to condemn this monstrous behavior. Western indifference to Saddam’s public offer to pay for the murder of Jews, combined with the major increase in anti-Semitism in Western Europe itself, cannot but have reassured Israel’s Arab enemies that they are not alone in regarding Jews as a lesser form of humanity, and Jewish life as an object of little value.
However much it may exasperate those bent on “bringing an end” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, decades of war, terror, and hatred are not to be undone through declarations and deadlines. The problem is not one of borders and territory; it is not one of schedules; it is not even one of a Palestinian state. The problem is existential.
Israel is at present capable of defending itself against any conventional armed threat; it may also be expected to deter any overt attempt to attack it with weapons of mass destruction. But such capabilities are no longer sufficient to ensure security. An attack by an extremist group, secretly supported by a state capable of providing it with weapons of mass destruction, can no longer be ruled out of the question. Alternatively, a state could act irrationally, driven by fanatical beliefs or by leaders prepared to absorb grave punishment in exchange for wreaking irreversible harm on Israel.
That is what is meant by an existential threat—a threat to Israel’s very existence, fueled by a radical and uncompromising hatred of that existence and by the implacable determination to liquidate it. Some Arab and Muslim states, along with private and religious groups around the world, have adopted the destruction of Israel as official policy. Others give sanctuary and active help to groups committed to that end. With support from Germany, France, Russia, and other nations, states controlled by Islamic extremists or Arab radicals have acquired or are acquiring nuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction. The former Iranian prime minister Hashemi Rafsanjani—a “moderate”—has declared that “the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground”; Pakistan’s retired intelligence chief, General Hamid Gul, now a “strategic adviser” to the Islamist parties that control the Pakistani legislature, has asserted that “we have the nuclear capability that can destroy Madras [India], surely the same missile can do the same to Tel Aviv.”
In the democratic West, no one wishes to believe this—it is too awful. And that, too, adds to the magnitude of the threat. By omission as much as by commission, the United States and other democracies have encouraged radical Palestinians and their supporters to cling to their dream of eliminating the Jewish state. They have acquiesced in and thereby promoted the separate and unequal treatment of Israel as a member state of the community of nations. They have truckled to, and pressured Israel to reach an accommodation with, the most radical elements among its adversaries, while subsidizing and turning a blind eye to the culture of violence in which generations of those adversaries have been raised. When it comes to the workings of anti-Semitism, they have chosen not to absorb, and not to act upon, the indelible lessons of history.
In late March, President Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice remarked that, although the administration welcomed “comments” on the roadmap, the document itself was not susceptible of “renegotiation.” If true, that is a pity. A road map to peace is a fine thing, but if it is based in denial and wishful thinking it will be rightly doomed. The task for diplomats and all other interested parties is to force an end to the murder of Jews and to the effort to destroy the Jewish state; in pursuit of that goal, it is as necessary to delegitimize Palestinian violence once and for all as it is to prevent and repudiate the delegitimization of Israel. When that necessary condition is met in word and deed, all manner of desirable and mutually beneficial outcomes will become negotiable; but not before.1 See, for example, Joshua Muravchik, “Road Map to Nowhere,” in the March 31 Weekly Standard, and Daniel Pipes, “Does Israel Need a Plan?” in the February Commentary. (An exchange on the Pipes article appears in this issue starting on page 10—Ed.)
2 In the event, Secretary Shultz did propose ways of improving the lot of Palestinian refugees; his ideas were rejected by the Palestinian leadership.
3 “Joining the Jackals: The U.S. at the UN, 1977-1980,” February 1981.
4 Hillel Halkin has written powerfully on this theme. See, in Commentary, his “Why the Settlements Should Stay,” June 2002.
ABRAHAM D. SOFAER, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, served as legal adviser to the Department of State from 1985 to 1990, and was the principal negotiator of the 1989 accord that returned to Egypt the Israeli-held area of Taba in the Sinai peninsula.
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