Israel has dramatically escalated the conflict by attacking not just stone-throwing youths and renegade police with sidearms, but also the government centers of the Palestinian Authority itself–the very body from which Israel expects a peace agreement. As a result, the Israelis are deliberately sabotaging the chances for peace. The most the Clinton administration can do, however, is make bland appeals for both sides to exercise restraint.
All these attacks are on Palestinian territory. Such military actions outside of a country’s internationally recognized borders are illegal under most interpretations of international law. Yet the Clinton administration refuses to insist that Israeli forces return to their own internationally recognized borders.
The weapons used in Israel’s military operations are largely of U.S. manufacture. Despite reputable human rights groups’ widespread condemnation of Israel’s attacks on civilians and other human rights abuses, however, the Clinton administration has rejected calls to suspend its massive arms shipments to the Israeli government.
The vicious lynching by a Palestinian mob of the two Israeli soldiers was horrific, but it can in no way justify the Israeli attacks. If the Israeli government is really concerned about the safety of its citizens, the Barak government must withdraw its armed forces and remove the settlers from the Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war. Not only is Israel obliged to do so under UN Security Council resolutions, but the country would also be in a much better position strategically: It is far easier for the Israeli Defense Forces to defend a clearly defined, internationally recognized border than a patchwork of roads, settlements, and military outposts amidst a hostile Palestinian population.
Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent on each other. The Clinton administration, however, has never appreciated this fact, sending massive arms shipments to Israel while refusing to support the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
But force alone will not suppress the Palestinians’ desire for freedom. The Jews did not give up their dream of a national homeland for 2,000 years. The Palestinians will not give up after just 50 years.
Rioting and mob violence is both morally wrong and politically counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. The corrupt, inefficient, and autocratic Palestinian Authority has proved unwilling or unable to curb such violence. Yet far greater violence has come from the Israeli side, armed and supported by the U.S. government, which then expects to be trusted by the Palestinians and other Arabs as a fair mediator.
When Secretary of State Albright says both sides cannot get everything they want, she refuses to acknowledge that the demands of the Palestinians are far more modest than those of 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 and to retain most of their illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as a vast network of Jewish-only highways connecting them with each other and Israel–isolating Palestinian areas into tiny noncontiguous 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 quasi-government, 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.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has further sabotaged the peace process by inviting rightist leader Ariel Sharon–a war criminal and notorious anti-Arab racist–into his government. The Clinton administration has failed to raise any objections.
If there is to be peace in the Middle East, the United States must exercise some “tough love.” This would include reiterating our unconditional support for Israeli security within that country’s internationally recognized borders, but a firm refusal to offer any more economic, diplomatic, or military support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and repression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To do otherwise, is simply to invite more bloodshed.