Eyebrows were raised on Tuesday when, just hours after Fatah and Hamas bombed civilians in Rosh Ha'ayin and Ariel, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Palestinian terrorism would have no effect on US Middle East policy.
"We will continue to move forward on the road map," he said. "We will not be stopped by bombs, we will not be stopped by this kind of violence."
The question arises: How can the US not reassess its policy of coddling the Palestinian Authority when the policy has already failed so abundantly?
Unfortunately, the Bush administration's policy on the Palestinian issue is part and parcel of an overall inconsistency in the administration's approach to the Middle East that bodes ill not simply for Israel, but for the US and its allies all over the world.
Laying out the foundations of the administration's foreign policy doctrine last week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice explained that US foreign policy is aimed at making the world a safer and better place.
The former, she said, is advanced through military campaigns like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter is done by promoting freedom and democracy abroad.
"There is one region of the world where all the challenges of our time come together, perhaps in their most difficult forms: the Middle East," Rice said.
She's right. After the 9/11 attacks, it is inarguable that the Arab world, whose 22 states have not one democratic government among them and whose clerics daily call for jihad against the US, manifests the most direct threat to US and global security.
Iraq and the PA were Rice's two examples of how the US is advancing its dual agenda in the Middle East. She referred to the recently inaugurated Iraqi Governing Council as the "most promising" advance toward stability and democracy since Saddam Hussein's regime was deposed in April. In her words, "It serves as a first step toward Iraqi self-government and toward a democratic Iraq which can become a linchpin of a very different Middle East in which ideologies of hate will not flourish."
Yet there are indications that the Bush administration will squander much of the good work US forces have done in destroying the Ba'athist regime. Over the past month, reports have surfaced that the White House intends to appoint former secretary of state James Baker to lead the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Proponents of the appointment note Baker's tremendous experience in the region and his close association with regional leaders.
But a Baker-led occupation government is cause for alarm. "Putting Baker in charge of Iraq means the US is handing the country over to the Saudis," one senior diplomatic source told me this week.
Baker is one of the Saudi government's chief supporters in the US. His law firm, Baker Botts, is now representing the Saudi government in the $1 trillion law suit filed against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks by the victims' families. Baker also serves as senior counsel and partner in the Carlyle investment group, which is a financial adviser to the Saudi government.
In view of this, it is not unreasonable to assume that as head of the Iraq occupation authority, Baker would not support the geostrategically vital idea of keeping liberated Iraq out of the OPEC cartel.
As for the Palestinians, Rice applauded the "reformed" leadership of PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and security chief Muhammad Dahlan. "A new Palestinian leadership is emerging that says, in Arabic and in English, that terror is not a means to Palestinian statehood, but rather the greatest obstacle to statehood," she said.
Then she added that "Israel has to fulfill its responsibilities to help that peaceful state emerge."
It is debatable at best whether either leader has made such anti-terrorist declarations. Not debatable is that Dahlan and Abbas refuse to take any action against terror groups. Far from working toward reconciliation, they, like their boss PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, have used every opportunity to condemn Israel and to undermine the legitimacy of its actions to defend itself against the same terrorist aggression that they are supposed to be combating.
In insisting on backing its hand-picked Palestinian leadership, the Bush administration is both rhetorically and effectively embracing a terror regime and abandoning a democratic ally.
Speaking of the US's own fight against terrorism, Rice briefly noted operations by the Homeland Security Department to secure potential targets like airports, power plants, and government buildings against attacks. "But if we in the United States are to preserve the nature of our open society there is only so much of this 'hardening' that we can do. We must also address the source of the problem. We have to go on the offense," she said.
So while the Bush administration claims to be going on the offensive, it attacks every move Israel makes – both defensive and offensive – to protect itself against terrorism.
Last week, the administration attacked the newly passed legislation that makes it more difficult for Palestinians who marry Israelis to receive citizenship. This law, whose national security implications are clear, is no more draconian than procedures the US itself enacted in 1986 to protect itself against foreigners who enter into fictitious marriages to receive residency status. The decision to build a fence to protect itself against terrorists is even more strongly condemned. From Bush to Powell to their spokesmen, the entire apparatus of the US government seems to have ratcheted up its rhetoric in placing the IDF's counterterror operations on a moral par with the massacre of Israeli civilians.
The administration has also ordered Israel not to take action against the growing Hizbullah threat from Lebanon, which over the past month has taken the form of direct aggression against civilians and military installations.
As for the greatest strategic threat presently emanating from the region, the Iranian nuclear program, the US is now moving steadily toward repeating with Iran the same failed policy of UN weapons inspections it used for 12 years against Iraq.
While Israel estimates that the Iranians are only one year away from nuclear capabilities, the US has moved discussion of the imminent threat to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.
In a fine imitation of the policy of Iraq's former government, Iran is making a show of cooperating with IAEA officials. Now IAEA officials are apparently set to present a second inconclusive report about Iranian compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at their meeting in September.
The consequences of the Bush administration's policies for Israel can be simply put: We must no longer seek to coordinate our activities with Washington. The US is actively abandoning Israel, while embracing its authoritarian and terrorist enemies and neighbors even as it hollowly claims to be doing just the opposite. The unreformed and unrepentant PA leadership cannot be given control of territory today or statehood tomorrow.
Hizbullah bases in Lebanon must be destroyed. And the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran must not be allowed to materialize as the UN impotently engages the duplicitous Iranian government.
The consequences of the administration's policies for US national security are no less apparent. Its current fetish with Israeli-Palestinian engagement has allowed the Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Saudis to continue with their support for terrorism and incitement against the US.
Perceiving the US as unwilling to confront its open hostility, the Arab League did not bat an eyelash when it voted to ref
use to recognize the Iraqi Governing Council.
As the Egyptians loudly proclaim their support for Israeli-Palestinian peace and blame its nonexistence on Israel, a weapons smuggling tunnel from the Sinai to Gaza unearthed this week was found to have originated in an Egyptian border guard base. On July 30, Egyptian religious authorities reiterated their call for all Muslims including women and old people to attack US and coalition forces in Iraq.
As for Syria, President Bashar Assad is directly arming and enabling Hizbullah as well as the guerrilla fighters in Iraq. He also continues to aid and abet Palestinian terror groups headquartered in his capital city.
For their part, the Saudis have taken no steps to close down the offices of their government supported charities either at home or abroad that have been directly implicated in global terror funding.
The US's abandonment of Israel is also liable to impact its strategic posture in Asia. Why should China be deterred from overrunning Taiwan when the US is abandoning Israel to similar totalitarian forces? Why should South Korea or Japan trust the US's commitment to their security from the North Korean nuclear threat when the US is not taking action against Iran and reportedly reining in Israel from taking action against Iran on its own?
In concluding her remarks, Rice said, "The desire for freedom transcends race, religion, and culture The people of the Middle East are not exempt from this desire. We have an opportunity and an obligation to help them turn this desire into reality. That is the security challenge and the moral mission of our time."
Again, Rice is correct. And yet, with its current Middle East policy of embracing terror regimes like the PA and anti-American tyrannies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while publicly condemning Israel for trying to advance the administration's own stated policy, the US is failing to meet this challenge. Instead, the Bush administration's policies are damaging America's credibility, moral standing, and national security.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.