When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to Washington in June to meet President Bush, it was his second visit to the White House in less than six months. Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat has yet to meet with Bush; nor is he likely to do so. For all intents and purposes, Arafat has been effectively isolated as a credible party to the peace talks.
Walls; Electric Fences; Eliminations; Dogs; Closure; Collective Punishment; Tanks; Assault Helicopters; F-16s; Reciprocity; Retaliation; War. Welcome to the new Israeli lexicon concerning the Palestinians–the “new speak” of the post-Oslo period. And as with the Orwellian “new speak,” there is no longer any real discussion of issues and options, no plurality of opinions among the Israeli public, let alone the political leadership.
This past eight months of bloodletting between Israelis and Palestinians is no more than an additional, exhausting chapter in a decades old conflict that seems today more polarized than ever. When Israel invaded the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in 1967, the occupation of Palestine was born. With this birth came a second Palestinian Diaspora (the first was in 1948 when Israel was established) and the reality that an entire population–1.2 million Palestinians–would become totally controlled by the Israeli military. Over three decades later, no one expected to see the occupation enduring, or to see Palestinians still able to resist.
In today’s complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the political assumption that a Palestinian State is part and parcel of any future peace agreement is now a common realization that the U.S. and Israel have finally come to terms with. The U.S. administration, the Israeli press, and even the hawkish Israeli government, now openly make public statements to this regard. I do not question the fact that a Palestinian State is on the horizon, but I have serious doubts that the geographic location of this State is the same between the world’s conviction and that of the Israeli government led by Prime Minster Ariel Sharon.
The Jerusalem Post website reported, “IAF [Israeli Air Force] F-16 warplanes may have dropped munitions as large as 250 kilograms on their targets” (5/18/2001). Among these targets were a Ministry building, police stations, a TV station, and a prison–all in civilian neighborhoods in several Palestinian cities under Israeli military occupation for the past 34 years. The warped justification for Israel’s latest war crime is that it is a response to yet another Palestinian suicide bomber, who hours earlier took the lives of seven Israeli citizens in a shopping center in the Israeli City of Natanya.
At a time when the United States’ leadership is most needed in the Middle East, the Clinton administration is falling short.
There is a widespread assumption that resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is an extremely complex issue, and that the United States has been and is the best hope for peace. The reality, however, is just the opposite.
It is highly unlikely that the upcoming summit between the United States, Israel, and Palestine at Camp David will the kind of positive results that came from the 1978 summit between the United States, Israel, and Egypt. At the earlier Camp David gathering, President Jimmy Carter was willing to pressure Israel to withdraw from all Egyptian territory seized in the 1967 war in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. President Bill Clinton, in contrast, has not supported total Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands seized in 1967, and he has actually pressured the Palestinians to allow the Israelis to maintain control of large amounts of their land, including Arab East Jerusalem, the historic capital of Palestine.