U.S. MIDDLE EAST POLICY
BURNS ON THE STOVE
By Avi Davis
Want a recipe for a doomed Middle East policy? Then try this
one: Base diplomatic expectations on a cease-fire that never
occurs; make the cease-fire a precondition for the implementation
of a report that only one side accepts; then use that report to
support the continuation of a peace process that no one believes
The Bush Administration's Middle East policy, prodded into life by continuing violence, is now beginning to resemble more warmed-up Clintonian even-handedness than anyone in Israel could have expected. Last week's unhappy meeting between Bush and Sharon, followed by Colin Powell's trip to the region, threatened to envelop American foreign policy in a myopia that has crippled many administrations from Eisenhower to the present day. That is a preparedness to kowtow to regional Arab opinion at the expense of a natural and strategically irreplaceable ally.
There is little mistaking the source of George Bush's insistence that Ariel Sharon agree to a dramatically reduced cease-fire, followed by a foreshortened cooling off period. Clearly, whisperings from Arab oil states, unhappy with the Administration's apparent one-sided approach to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, have caught the President's ear. With Saddam Hussein still a specter hovering over the Persian Gulf and Osama Bin Laden reportedly plotting further attacks against American targets, the Administration may be feeling pressure to develop a plan that will appease Arab opinion.
But a U.S. caving to Arab pressure, at a vital moment in Middle East diplomacy, represents a historic miscalculation. There are few foreign policy analysts who do not acknowledge that terrorism, instigated and executed by Islamic fundamentalists, poses the singular threat to American security in the first decade of this century. Access to biological and chemical agents that can wreak havoc in America's urban centers or the appearance of rogue states who can supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, presents a source of immense danger to the West. As Walter Laqueur comments in his recent book, The New Terrorism "the idea of a holy war that is a sacred duty, permits the use of all weapons and sanctions unlimited bloodshed - all of which may be put in the service of non-religious interests."
That is exactly the case with the Palestinian uprising. Led by Yasser Arafat, a secular Moslem, Intifada 2 has harnessed the fury of fundamentalists and used religious language and symbols to inflame the passions of many secular Palestinians. The result is a heady cocktail of nationalism and religious fundamentalism that has roared across Palestinian controlled areas, extinguishing moderate voices and engulfing the region in violence. In the process, the Palestinian media identifies the enemy not only as "the Zionist entity" but as western culture. Little wonder that despite all Bill Clinton's ingratiations, the American flag burns with equal relish in Palestinian areas and the American president's effigy often sits on top of the pyre.
All of this should have alerted the credulous Bill Clinton and should now serve as a sober warning to his successor. States that sponsor terrorism, both domestically and abroad, are watching the Palestinian insurrection with great anticipation. If the Palestinians are successful in extorting even minimal rewards from both Israel and the United States by a resort to terrorism, open season may be called on Western and principally American targets throughout the world. A new era awaits the outcome of a Middle East struggle that no American, particularly an American president, should mistake as being restricted to Israel's borders.
In this climate of heightened awareness, the United States should remain implacable in its rejection of Arafat's resort to violence and steadfast in its diplomatic support for Israel. It should recognize that Israel is at war and that in this military confrontation its own strategic and moral positions are at stake. To this end, expecting Israel to absorb unlimited killings of its citizens in the name of a cease-fire that only it observes, represents as shortsighted a policy as the one that led Dwight Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to hand Egypt's Abdul Nasser a needless victory in the 1956 Suez War. The result of that diplomatic disaster was a conflagration known as the Six Day War.
A victory for Yasser Arafat, even if psychological and short lived, could have far more devastating global implications than anyone can imagine.
Avi Davis is a writer based in Los Angeles whose book The Crucible of Conflict: Jews, Arabs and the West Bank Dilemma will appear in the Fall.