Clinton’s Failure In The Mideast Crisis

At a time when the United States’ leadership is most needed in the Middle East, the Clinton administration is falling short.

There is something all too familiar about the Clinton administration’s failure to support the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s excessive use of force, when the U.S. stood alone in the Security Council chamber on Friday. Israel’s widespread human rights violations during the past two weeks have been well-documented by Amnesty International and other reputable human rights organization, including the Israeli group Betselem. Yet, just as the Reagan-Bush administration rejected criticism by the human rights community and the United Nations for the behavior of its Central American allies in the 1980s, so too does the Clinton-Gore administration reject such criticisms of its Middle Eastern allies today.

Palestinian violence is mostly non-lethal in nature, and is directed primarily at uniformed Israeli soldiers in outposts in occupied land outside of Israel’s internationally-recognized borders. While such violence is probably counter-productive to the Palestinian cause, international law recognizes the right of resistance against foreign occupation. By contrast, the far greater Israeli violence is directed primarily against Palestinian civilians within autonomous Palestinian areas. The failure of the Clinton administration to recognize this difference puts the U.S. at odds with most of the international community.

Indeed, the Clinton administration’s refusal to suspend its military aid to Israel, despite the use of U.S. weaponry against civilian targets, is yet another sign of the administration’s lack of concern over basic human rights issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is wrong to think that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat can turn off the Palestinian violence like a spigot. While Arafat should certainly do a better job of preventing Palestinian security forces from engaging in firefights, and curb broadcasts which could incite violence, the bulk of the rioting is largely spontaneous–a reflection of the pent-up rage of a people tired of ongoing occupation despite promises of independence.

The Jews did not give up on their dream of their own country for 2,000 years. The Palestinians are not going to give up after 50. The U.S. refusal to support the independence of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel is a major factor in the breakdown of the peace talks.

When Secretary of State Albright says both sides cannot get everything they want, she refuses to acknowledge that the Palestinian demands are far more modest than the Israelis’. The Palestinians have already conceded 78% of Palestine to Israel. All they are asking for is what remains: the West Bank, Gaza, and the eastern half of Jerusalem, all of which are outside of Israel’s internationally-recognized boundaries. The Israelis, backed by the Clinton administration, are demanding the right to control most of East Jerusalem, to retain their illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and to build a vast network of Jewish-only highways connecting them with each other and Israel, isolating Palestinian areas into tiny non-contiguous territories–not unlike the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa.

That the Clinton administration appears willing to allow Israel to retain these lands, settlements, and roads, which are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention and several UN Security Council resolutions, raises serious questions about the credibility of the U.S. as a mediator. Indeed, whatever one may think of Yasir Arafat and his corrupt and autocratic Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian negotiating position is actually far more consistent with international law and the UN Security Council than that of Israel or the United States.

It is also ironic that the United States has expressed such concern over the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Lebanese guerrillas in a disputed border region, after having ignored the plight of thousands of young Lebanese men kidnapped by the Israeli army and brought to Israel during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon during the 1980s. Amnesty International and other reputable human rights groups documented the widespread use of torture and other abuses in the Ansar prison camps in Israel where the kidnapped Lebanese were kept, some for up to ten years.

To this day, two Lebanese Muslim leaders kidnapped by Israeli forces from inside Lebanese territory remain in Israeli prisons without apparent U.S. objections. Kidnapping is wrong, no matter who does it. Such double-standards also greatly harm the ability of the United States to be an effective mediator.

What is even more striking is that neither the Lebanese nor the Syrian government have direct control over the Hezbollah. The Israeli government, by contrast, does have control over its own security forces.

The United States should certainly maintain its commitment to Israel’s legitimate security needs. What needs to be questioned is the Clinton administration’s support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and its violations of basic human rights.