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Mideast Policy Counterproductive
7 February 2002
When President Bush meets Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington today, he should be urged to reconsider his one-sided support for Israeli policies toward 3 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, especially his position on &qupt;terrorism.&qupt;
Terrorism involves the threat or use of violence to intimidate civilians or governments, and that includes actions by governments, that is to say, &qupt;state terrorism.&qupt; But Bush defines &qupt;terrorism&qupt; selectively so as to include Palestinian, but not Israeli, violence and sharply criticizes Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for being unwilling or unable to stop Palestinian violence.
Bush's approach strengthens hawks and undercuts moderates on both sides, giving Sharon a blank check to continue Israeli violence. This, in turn, makes it harder for Arafat to stop Palestinian extremists without looking like a collaborator, especially since Sharon is unwilling to offer concessions Arafat needs to curb violence without bringing on civil war among Palestinians. Bush's double standard only makes it harder to end the cycle of violence that has taken more than a thousand lives (and wounded far more), 80 percent of them Palestinians.
But does Bush understand this? Does he care? The United States and Israel demand Arafat arrest, jail and punish Palestinian militants who commit terrorism against Israeli civilians. However, by holding Arafat under virtual house arrest and by killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians, destroying hundreds of Palestinian homes and tens of thousands of olive trees as well as assassinating dozens of Palestinian militants, Israel undercuts his ability to curb violence.
Nor is Arafat helped by Israeli bombing -- with U.S. fighter planes -- of Palestinian Authority prisons and police offices. Israel should also heed calls by the international community to withdraw from Palestinian towns and villages and lift draconian blockades (&qupt;closures&qupt;) that prevent Palestinians from reaching hospitals, schools and jobs and from getting adequate food, water and medicines. These acts of Israeli state terrorism violate international law; many qualify as war crimes. For the U.S. criticism of Arafat to be effective and credible Washington must equally condemn Israeli violence, condemn Israeli oppression of Palestinians, help Palestinians achieve their rights through non-violent means and use diplomatic and, if necessary, economic pressure on Israel to grant Palestinian rights. In opposing Israeli state terrorism, the United States should insist that Sharon arrest, jail and prosecute Israeli soldiers who, according to human rights groups, have used &qupt;excessive force&qupt; against Palestinian civilians, resulting in hundreds of unnecessary deaths, including scores of children. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges wrote in October's Harper's magazine that he has visited many war zones, but only in Gaza has he found soldiers killing children &qupt;for sport.&qupt;
Sharon must also be urged to arrest and punish Jewish settlers who have been harassing, attacking and often killing Palestinians as well as destroying their crops and orchards. All the Jewish settlements are in violation of international law. Washington needs to heed the Israeli human rights and peace communities. More than 100 Israeli army reservists are now refusing to serve in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, stating that they will &qupt;fight no more to rule, deport, destroy, blockade, exterminate, starve and humiliate&qupt; the Palestinian people. Israel's leading human rights group, B'Tselem, reports that Israel has violated 29 of the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its treatment of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. B'Tselem also concluded that the experience of the 200,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians living under Israeli occupation has been &qupt;a history of dispossession, systematic discrimination and a consistent assault&qupt; on their &qupt;basic rights.&qupt;
The United States should tie its massive foreign aid to Israel of $3 billion yearly and its much smaller aid to the Palestinian Authority of $100 million yearly to their adherence to human rights treaties and international law, a position taken in 1999 by 1,100 American religious leaders. Their declaration cited U.S. law that prohibits foreign aid to countries &qupt;engaging in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.&qupt;
Israel would be required to end the occupation by withdrawing troops and settlers from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees exiled from Israel. A viable, independent and demilitarized Palestinian state can then live at peace with a secure Israel. Israel will have 78 percent of British mandatory Palestine; the Palestinians, 22 percent. For Israel to colonize and deny Palestinians freedom in barely one-fifth of their historical homeland is illegal, immoral and disastrous for Israelis.
Washington should insist that the Palestinian Authority end violence and encourage those Palestinians who are already engaged in non-violent resistance. This effort, if invigorated, would gain support among Israelis and Americans, save Israeli and Palestinian lives and stand far more chance of achieving Palestinian rights than violence. In seeking an end to violence in Palestine/Israel, Bush should heed Pope Paul VI: &qupt;If you want peace, work for justice.&qupt;
Edmund R. Hanauer is an American Jewish political scientist and director of Search for Justice and Equality in Palestine/Israel, a Boston-based human rights group.
Edmund R. Hanauer