The U.S. Response to Terrorism

Thursday, 12 June 2003

The ink on the U.S.-authored "Roadmap to Peace" between the Israelis and Palestinians has barely dried, but already the roadmap seems to have been tossed aside by the principals. Three Israeli missile attacks have been launched from helicopters in the past twenty-four hours, and the Palestinians have unleashed missiles of their own, plus the suicide bombing of a bus in downtown Jerusalem. The Bush administration more or less ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during its first two years in office, choosing to focus instead on the threats allegedly posed by Saddam Hussein, but now White House spokesmen say that they are committed to working towards resolving the conflicts and bringing peace to the area.

That the current administration would like to see peace in Israel and Palestine is no doubt true. However, the U.S. commitment to assisting the Israelis and Palestinians in the peace process, or even pushing them toward peace, is questionable.

The main reason to doubt the U.S. commitment to peace is its uneven response to various acts of terrorism, or rather, to various terrorist actors. Unlike the Clinton administration, which worked with the elected leaders of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Bush II administration has refused to work with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, even going so far as to force the Palestinians to change their constitution and create the office of prime minister. The administration is happy, for the moment, with the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and President Bush recently met with both him and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. The meeting seemed to go fairly well, with both Middle Eastern leaders making speeches that, while somewhat vague, were interpreted by most commentators as leaning in the right direction.

Abbas, however, was immediately faced with an internal Palestinian problem. The armed group Hamas refused to sign on to Abbas' pledge to end terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. In response, Israel launched rocket attacks against suspected Hamas leaders in Gaza, killing some, wounding others, and killing and maiming dozens of Palestinian civilians in the process. Hamas retaliated, launching missiles into Israeli territory and, most notably, blowing up a bus in a Jerusalem market, killing at least seventeen (including the suicide bomber). Israel again retaliated, and Hamas is no doubt planning further attacks as well.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that these attacks and counterattacks are the fault of the Bush administration. However, it is certainly fair to say that Bush has not done all he could to prohibit them, starting with an equally tough reaction to both Israeli and Palestinian terrorism. In response to the bus attack, Bush "condemned" the killings in the strongest terms: "The Palestinians and all parties must fight terror," he said, urging other countries to "isolate those who hate so much that they're willing to kill." Concerning the attacks by Israeli helicopters that resulted in the deaths of many Palestinian civilians, however, Bush only expressed "exasperation," according to a CNN report. Another Bush spokesman said, "It was absolutely the worst possible moment" for such an attack. Was the spokesman implying that there was a better time for an attack of that nature?

The Bush administration condemns Palestinian acts of terror, but it is only perturbed by Israeli acts of terror. This unbalanced approach to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians will never lead to peace. However, the administration is in a position, perhaps a unique position historically, to take strong action. Bush's commitment to Israel, based on both political and theological ideology, cannot be doubted. Unlike Clinton, who was accused (unfairly) by some of coddling the Palestinians, Bush can never be accused of Palestinian favoritism. He could show real leadership, then, by taking decisive steps that might lead to peace. What are some of those steps?

  1. Just as the Bush administration has marginalized Yasser Arafat, at least as far as the peace process is concerned, the U.S. could refuse to work with Ariel Sharon, at least until he both promises to forego attacks on Palestinian civilians and follows through on that promise for some definite period of time, say six months.
  2. Just as the Bush administration forced the Palestinians to change their constitution in ways that the U.S. believed to be more conducive to peace, the U.S. could insist that Israel change its constitution and/or laws to guarantee equal treatment of all Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs; to prohibit further building of "settlements" on occupied Palestinian territory; and to end the policy of government-sponsored political assassinations.
  3. The Bush administration talked frequently in the prelude to its war on Iraq about Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions. The U.S. should be just as adamant in insisting that Israel live up to U.N. resolutions, including those that address Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (e.g, U.N. resolutions 237, 248, 252, 446, 471, 497, 605, 672).
  4. Just as the Bush administration has moved in the wake of 9/11 to prohibit private donations to groups with terrorist ties, mostly in the Muslim world, the U.S. should immediately suspend foreign aid to Israel, putting the proceeds in escrow until Israel takes pre-defined steps toward peace with the Palestinians, including military withdrawal from all Palestinian territory, dismantling Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and recognition of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty.
  5. Israel is currently the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, but the U.S. should make commitments to provide an equivalent amount of aid to the devastated state of Palestine, once terrorism has stopped there as well.
  6. Just as the Bush administration has worked with the Israeli government to intercept weapons bound for Palestine, the U.S. should immediately suspend selling arms to Israel, such as the attack helicopters and missiles that Israel has used this week to kill Palestinian civilians.

Until the Bush administration takes an even-handed approach to all acts of terrorism, whether perpetrated by Palestinian factions or by the state of Israel, it will make no progress toward bringing peace to the region. In a region that is seething with hatred toward the U.S. for its war on Iraq and its perceived belligerence toward Muslims, now is the time for the U.S. to take decisive steps to bring about peace in the land that three great religions call Holy.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

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