"It sometimes seems as if the United Nations serves all the world's peoples but one: the Jews."
-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan December 1999
"I hate the Israelis. I oppose normalization with them."
-Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat April 2001
I have been a fan of President Bush's masterful performance in office and believe he has the chance to go down in history as one of America's great presidents. However, I worry that his unsteady support for Israel is more pragmatic than principled. Nobody expected the United States to negotiate with terrorists after September 11th, so why should there be a different standard for Israel?
For more than 18 months, Israeli civilians have been suffering a growing stream of attacks from Palestinian bombers. At the end of March, after a week that saw daily attacks--including one that killed 28 people and injured 150 at a Passover dinner--Israel finally decided to defend itself by launching a full-scale campaign to rout the terrorists.
Yet, somehow, it is Israel's response to the terrorist attacks--not the attacks themselves--that has drawn condemnation from much of the world. Israel's military actions are working against the peace process, the rhetoric goes, and if only Israel would restrain itself, utopia would soon come in the form of a peace deal. Apparently, a peace agreement can only be achieved once those pesky Israelis allow the Palestinians to attack them without interference.
Even if peace talks were to resume, the land-for-peace deal that's currently envisioned will do absolutely nothing to bring stable, long-term peace to the region. The whole basis of land-for-peace is flawed; Israel is being asked to trade something tangible now--land--in exchange for something intangible to be provided in the future--a promise of peace. In other words, Israel sacrifices land, while the only Palestinian "sacrifice" is that they'll have to stop killing Israelis. Aside from the inherent unfairness in such a trade, it isn't even workable unless the promised peace is permanent. So, the question is, can Israel trust Yasser Afarat's promises?
For those of us hoping for peace, the unfortunate answer is no. Arafat has always claimed publicly that he has no control over the Palestinian bombers who routinely attack Israel. But if Arafat can't control the bombers now, how can he promise Israel that they'll stop bombing once a peace deal is signed? Either Arafat can't control the bombers, in which case it is not possible for him to uphold a promise of peace, or he can control the bombers and is allowing them to attack, in which case he's a liar and a terrorist. Whichever it is, Israel would be crazy to sign a peace deal with him.
The land-for-peace model also heavily favors the Palestinians in another significant way. Let's say such a deal is made, what happens if the Palestinians remain peaceful for five years and then start attacking Israel again? Would Israel then be allowed to take back the land they gave up? I doubt it, given that Israel is roundly denounced by the U.N., Europe and the Arab world for simply defending itself. So, if Israel gives up land for peace, the Palestinians can--and probably will--resume attacks in the future, knowing that some latter-day Chamberlain will then prod Israel to give up even more land for yet another empty promise.
This is exactly what the Palestinian leadership wants; peace is not their ultimate goal, the destruction of Israel is. A land-for-peace deal would be a transient victory for the Palestinians in their quest to chip away at the state of Israel until it is so small that it can no longer defend itself. No matter how many times Israel tries to make peace, no matter how many concessions the world forces Israel to accept, the Palestinians will not stop fighting until Israel itself wiped from the map.
Many Americans seem to have a "one side is just as bad as the other" attitude about this conflict. If you believe each side is equally bad, then you must believe there is no difference between Israeli military operations against known bombers and Palestinian murder of people who've got nothing to do with the conflict other than their citizenship. And unless you're a hypocrite, you must therefore also believe that someone would be justified in killing you if they had a problem with you, your block association, your employer, your government, etc. Recently, Palestinian terrorists dressed up as Israeli soldiers, burst into several Israeli homes, and shot families while they slept, killing four--including a 5-year-old girl in her bed--and wounding seven. What grievance could the Palestinians possibly have with a 5-year-old girl?
President Bush should give Israel the leeway to finally defeat its attackers; then and only then will it be possible for peace come to the region. And if there is any question about whether we should support the Israelis or the Palestinians in this conflict, think back to September 11th: while the Israelis were lowering their flags out of sympathy, the Palestinians were dancing in the streets, celebrating.