Published in The Jerusalem Post on September 7, 1997
Dear Secretary Albright;
Time to re-think Mideast peace strategy. You had planned to turn the screws on us this week, after Dennis Ross convinced Yasser Arafat to make the requisite minimalist noises about fighting terrorism and the PA has put on an amateur show of renewed security cooperation. But Arafat’s embrace of the Hamas and the subsequent Ben-Yehuda bombing has thrown off that political calculus. Nobody here would take you seriously.
So what’s left in the American diplomatic arsenal? The only real ammunition you’ve got is the threat to withdraw from active engagement in the process – to leave us and the Palestinians sinking in ever-dangerous Mideast quicksand with no Uncle Sam to play lifeguard or referee.
Indeed, it’d be easy for you to wash your hands of all this for a while, and let us stew in our own juices. But such a ‘plague on both your houses’ approach would be wrong, tactically and morally.
Tactically, a US pull-out would lead directly to additional rounds of bus bombings and violence yet-worse-still. This would kill whatever constituency for conciliation with Arafat still exists in Israel. Our response would be tougher than ever, breeding even more Palestinian resentment and violence – and we’ll all sink even further into retaliatory cycles of hatred. All that pain wouldn’t make people more supportive of compromise; it would dash confidence in the process and harden negotiating positions.
Backing away from the process would be wrong, as well, because it implies a moral symmetry between us and the Palestinians – equal punishment for two stubborn little boys. Now I understand that “evenhandedness” is an important diplomatic posture for a mediator. But bear in mind, Madame Secretary, that there’s little moral equivalence between Palestinian and Israeli behavior.
The Palestinians may not be enamoured of the fact that we’re building homes in and around Jerusalem, or that Netanyahu isn’t going to choke-off the natural growth of Israeli settlements over the Green Line. But when the process takes a downturn, we’re not planting bombs in their markets or kidnapping their children. The Arab builders, plumbers and electricians working on my home will still come to work – I’m not going to slaughter them — while I wouldn’t dare step foot in a Gaza or Nablus neighborhood.
Only here will a grass-roots peace movement take to the streets to encourage the democratically-elected government to press ahead with reconciliation, despite it all. Even if there were a Palestinian Peace Now equivalent (– there isn’t yet, unfortunately) Arafat would never let it openly criticize his policies.
Moreover, most of us Israelis attempt to avoid dehumanizing, racist defamation of the ‘other side’, even if we repudiate certain Palestinian leaders or their self-proclaimed ‘rights’. None of us recently have accused the Palestinians of distributing cancer-bearing food products and hormones that harm male virility (PA deputy minister of supplies Abdel Hamid al-Qudsi); talked incessantly of taking revenge against Palestinian ‘dogs’ and ‘wolves’ (two favorite images for Israelis on the Voice of Palestine and in PA Mufti Ikrama Sabri’s Friday sermons on the Temple Mount); or suggested that we were being infected with AIDS by the other side.
Yes, believe it or not PA representative Nabil Ramlawi told the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that “Israeli authorities injected 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus”. And, I haven’t yet mentioned Arafat’s thinly-veiled calls for violence or winks and kisses for the Palestinian jihadniks.
No, there’s no parity in the Palestinian-Israeli ethical equation. Even when trying to be an honest broker for peace, take into account that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recalcitrance isn’t synonymous with Arafat’s confrontationism and calumny.
Peace progress and regional stability are central to US Mideast policy, but so are the moral bonds between the US and Israel. The integrity of the process is not everything – not at all costs nor under all circumstances.
And one more thing. The transparent “revolving-door” arrest gimmick — whereby the PA para-military casually brings in a couple of Hamas buddies for a temporary layover in detention, only to be released shortly after when the press is no longer looking – won’t wash any longer. Especially since the lines between Hamas terrorists and the PA police increasingly are becoming blurred.
It sounds banal because it’s been said so many times, but we won’t take more ‘risks for peace’ unless our Palestinian neighbors act like the partners in peace they’re supposed to be.
Lately, it’s hard to tell our friends from our enemies down in Gaza (or in Cairo, for that matter). Perhaps you can help us sort them out.