Archive for April, 1997

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

What’s going wrong (again!) in the Middle East? Quite simply, the Israelis have announced their intention to build settlements in occupied Arab East Jerusalem and the Palestinians have resorted to the only effective weapon they have – unconventional warfare.  Palestinians see this struggle for their occupied land as war, a war they are compelled to fight without an army.  Their only weapon is a virtually unlimited supply of suicide bombers drawn from an angry, frustrated, fatalistic and hopeless Palestine.

Israeli settlements in Arab Palestine accomplish exactly what they were designed to accomplish.  They make it extremely difficult for any Israeli government to pull out the troops that protect their settlers in Palestine, thus continuing the Israeli occupation.  Furthermore, under  Netanyahu’s expansionist Likud government, new settlements are being encouraged, making the prospects for peace even dimmer.  Despite all their pious pronouncements about peace, Netanyahu and his supporters clearly display their preference for territorial gain in the ancient biblical lands over the peace process.

Does anyone care?  Do Americans care that the Israel they have unstintingly supported since 1947 is pursuing counterproductive and undemocratic policies that will almost certainly have major negative consequences for the United States, other western countries and perhaps the entire world?

Ten centuries before the birth of Christ, Jews ruled Samaria and Judea which together now comprise Palestine.  For that reason, Palestine has major, albeit ancient, emotional and religious meaning for many Israelis.  The Likud party, in power in Israel from 1977 to 1991 and again since 1995, has always actively promoted the establishment of Israeli settlements in Palestine in order to make it as difficult as possible for non-Likud Israeli governments to return Palestine to its rightful Arab owners.

What do Netanyahu and his supporters want?  Real peace would mean an end to Israeli settlements in Palestine.  If the Likud wants peace, they simply need to look at their last election to see that at least half of the population of Israel shares that goal with them.  Unfortunately, it is very clear that what motivates the Likud government is territorial expansion into the Arab lands of Jerusalem and Palestine.

If the Likud continues to expand through the creation of new settlements and through their refusal to carry out agreements (to withdraw from Palestine) already made in the peace process, the Palestinians will respond the only way they know how.  They will continue to murder and destroy Israelis whenever and wherever possible.  Netanyahu will blame them for the destruction of the peace process, vow revenge and carry out harsh retribution, conveniently forgetting that it was his very own expansionist policies that started things up again.  Violence begets violence and there will be no peace.

Now and then it appears that the Clinton Administration understands what is happening here and what is likely to come of these Likud policies.  The Clinton administration’s refusal to join in (and their subsequent veto of) the UN security Council censure of Israel for their settlement in Arab East Jerusalem is and was unconscionable.

Thirty years of US vetoes of legitimate UN resolutions condemning Israel’s international misbehavior in occupied Palestine have enabled, even encouraged, Israel’s expansionist policies and behavior.  Israel right or wrong!  Until that stops, there will be no peace.  We simply need to be a lot tougher.  We have to apply the same moral standards to Israel that we say we apply to the rest of the world.

Despite that, US policy is still designed to discourage Likud expansionism.  The reasoning behind our policy is very simple.  Likud expansionism will undo all of the hard-won gains of the peace process.  It  will lead to a much more hostile environment which will encourage the inherent violence of Muslim fundamentalism.  This will manifest itself in violence toward Israel and her allies, most definitely including the US.  We should not forget the World Trade Center bombing.

As violence escalates, our allies in the moderate Arab states where about 40% of the world’s oil is produced will be threatened.  The unfortunate byproduct of such violence is the accelerated radicalization of the Arab world, something that cannot further US interests.  We cannot afford to allow any of that to happen.  This is not just about Israeli interests, it’s about ours as well.  Unfortunately, they are not always identical.

Finally, our policy represents the right and fair thing to do.  It is time we acknowledge that Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are no less human or decent than anyone else, Israelis included.  Despite the Israeli fixation on labeling Palestinians “terrorists”, they are no more “terrorists” than were the Minutemen in 1776.  After all, they are fighting for the same thing – the right to self government in their own land.  It was Jordan, Egypt and Syria who started and lost the 1967 war that enabled Israel to first occupy Palestine.  Who has paid the price?  Palestine.  It’s time to give Palestinians a fair shake, something they have not had at least since 1949.  If we are unable to do that, we will lose what little moral credibility we have left in the Middle East and the world will become an even more dangerous place.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served five years in the Middle East.  He lives in Brookfield, Vermont.

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