Wednesday’s New York Times led with the banner headline, “New Strategy Set by US and Saudis for Mideast Crisis.” The article cited administration sources, explaining that the outcome of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to US President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, was a “division of labor” between the two.
The Saudis are to deliver Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to the negotiating table, and Bush is to deliver Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, starting at their meeting on Monday. The endgame, according to the article, is the establishment of a PLO state along the lines set out by president Bill Clinton in December 2000.
The Clinton proposal, which was declared null and void by the Bush administration early last year, envisioned the establishment of a Palestinian state in about 95 percent of Judea and Samaria, all of the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, and the Halutza dunes inside pre-1967 Israel.
The Clinton proposal also gave legitimacy to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return,” allowing for the immigration of several thousand in the framework of family reunification.
If the Times’ report is true, (and the Times seems to have a knack for forcing events to follow its stories), it can be said that the Bush administration is quite simply following in the footsteps of all US administrations since Dwight Eisenhower’s – allowing Israel to beat Arab aggression militarily, but forcing it to lose the war politically.
So it was in 1956, when Eisenhower forced David Ben-Gurion to beat a speedy retreat from the Sinai and Gaza at the end of the Suez campaign. The president justified the uncompromising demand by promising Israel that if the Egyptians were again to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, the US would send its navy to reopen the waterway by force. In 1967, when Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the straits, president Lyndon Johnson begged off, forcing Israel to stand alone.
After the Six Day War, which should have led to a complete political reshuffling of the region, the US again protected Israel’s neighbors.
Adopting UN Security Council Resolution 242, the US again dragged Israel along by extolling the resolution’s balance – conquered land would be returned to the aggressors, but not all of it, for Israel would be allowed to retain all territory necessary to ensure it had “defensible” borders.
Promises aside, since the Carter administration, the US has accepted the Arab misinterpretation of 242 – that Israel is required to return all the lands it conquered.
In 1973, the US administration was again on hand, wresting the Egyptians from the jowls of defeat. Henry Kissinger prevented Israel from destroying Egypt’s Third Army, allowed the Egyptians to escape with honor and thus enabled the creation of the current Egyptian myth – that Israel lost that war.
The Ford and Carter administrations strongly pressured Israel to sign away the Sinai in exchange for peaceful ties with Egypt, which after 23 years have yet to materialize, although Egypt, rearmed with American assistance, now poses a military threat unimaginable in the past.
In Lebanon in 1982, the Reagan administration stepped in to save a routed Arafat. The Americans paved the way for his escape with his troops from Beirut to Tunis, free to fight another day. In the meantime, the US forced Israel to withdraw from much of Lebanon and allowed the Syrian army to remain.
And in the Gulf war, the first Bush administration not only prevented Israel from achieving political advantage, it prohibited Israel even from defending itself against unprovoked Iraqi ballistic missile attacks. After isolating Israel from the coalition, the administration proceeded to force its democratic ally to the negotiating table to discuss the transfer territory to the Arabs. When the negotiations failed to bear fruit, the administration meddled in the 1992 elections to assist in the victory of the more forthcoming Labor Party.
Although the Clinton administration served in a decade unscathed by large-scale war, but marked by an increase in rogue states’ audacity and terrorist attacks on US targets, Clinton consistently urged Israel to accept Palestinian terrorism and insisted on turning a blind eye to blatant PA breaches of its commitments to Israel.
The Clinton administration’s addiction to pressuring Israel to accept Arab aggression under the guise of peacemaking led to unprecedented meddling in Israel’s internal politics. The end result could be seen in the twin pictures of Clinton impertinently announcing his peace plan after his successor had already been elected, and Madeleine Albright chasing after Arafat outside the US Embassy in Paris in a vain attempt to get him to return to the negotiating table he had just overturned.
The refusal of successive administrations to locate the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is not simply an indignity, but another example of how the US has consistently prevented Israel from gaining any political advantage from its military victories against Arab aggression.
Why has the US treated Israel so shabbily? Mainly because it can get away with it. After all, Israel has no other diplomatic outlet, given that the American people is not as cynical as the State Department.
Throughout this history, the US has justified denying its democratic ally the fruits of its military victories against despotic aggressors “in the interests of peace.” This policy has never brought peace, nor has it engendered stability. Rather, just as feeding the beast acts not to placate it but to strengthen it, so US placation of the Arab world at Israel’s expense has legitimized Arab rejection of Israel.
Never having to worry about losing irrevocably in their wars against Israel, rogue states like Syria, Iraq, and Iran ostentatiously build up non-conventional capabilities to destroy Israel. For their part, supposedly moderate regimes, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are free to inspire as much anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment as they wish, knowing there will never be a serious price to pay, even if this hatred foments a war they will lose.
Today Bush, perhaps to a degree even greater than his predecessors, has sole power to determine which side will emerge victorious from the current Palestinian terrorist war against Israel. And what would a much maligned and dreaded Israeli political victory over the current terrorist war look like?
First and foremost, it would see Arafat’s physical disappearance from the scene and the dismantling of his Palestinian Authority as a political and military organization. Just as in Afghanistan today and hopefully in Iraq in the near future, the US has and will set up friendly, quasi-democratic governments, so Israel, or the US, would set up a new Palestinian government, committed to coexistence with Israel and the provision of political and economic freedom to the Palestinian people. Although sovereignty would not be promised, the chances of sovereignty being achieved, naturally and peacefully, would be greatly enhanced if the Palestinian people is allowed to develop democratic institutions and economic prosperity.
There is nothing wrong, immoral, imperialistic, or even anti-Palestinian about this plan. In fact, it would allow the Palestinians the opportunity to reconstitute their civil society after eight years of living under a corrupt dictatorship, which impoverished and subjugated them and told them to value murder more than life.
The only thing wrong with this plan is that it allows Israel to win this war politically.
In seemingly siding with the Saudis over Israel, the Bush administration has opted for the status quo, even
though the status quo has failed repeatedly. On September 11, the US was attacked by the consequences of the status quo. Decades of hatred of the US, fuelled by despotic, US-backed regimes, which have seen the value of US guarantees as successive administrations have sold Israel out to Arab pressure, empowered al-Qaida to strike.
The belief that today, the US is again preventing Israel from defeating the PA, has made Arafat stronger than he ever was before. It should have been clear by now that the Palestinian terrorist war against Israel, supported by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, together with al-Qaida’s war against the US – backed by the same governments – have rendered the status quo not only destined to failure, but also dangerous to US interests.
Given the almost schizophrenic nature of the US administration’s Middle East policies, it is still anybody’s guess what Bush will decide to do. One thing is certain though: For the US to be able to win its war on Islamic terrorism, Israel must be allowed to win its war on Palestinian terrorism, both militarily and politically.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post