- As the Israeli IDF incursions into the West Bank and
Gaza have advanced, reports have grown that the United States Congress
is hardening around unconditional support for Israel in the conflict.
Congressional hardening on the side of Israel is driven in part by anger
about the Palestinian suicide bombings, but the main drivers are active
lobbies for Israel including Jewish organizations in the United States
and the Christian Right. The aim obviously is to put Congressional pressure
on the Executive Branch to pursue a totally pro-Israeli policy.
So far that pressure has not worked, but there are real questions in the
air about what was intended by the amount of time Secretary of State Colin
Powell spent on his way to meetings with Sharon and Arafat, and whether
the Administration has put enough pressure on the Israelis to withdraw
from what, clearly for most, has become a full scale and brutally harsh
invasion of Palestinian territory.
One can ask whether the God of Abraham, who is the God alike of Christians,
Jews and Muslims is even remotely likely to take this conflict as a cue
for working out Christian hopes regarding the Second Coming a reported
reason for Christian support of Israel in this situation, or Jewish hopes
respecting an affirmation of the Covenant a justification for their arguments
that they should have all of Israel and the West Bank, or for that matter
Palestinian hopes that their fears regarding Israeli expansion and their
own expulsion will disappear. However, one should really ask: Just how
much real good will unqualified American support do the Israelis?
In the long run, the best answer to that question is: Not very much.
More likely, even in the short run, such unqualified support will be
counterproductive. Once one has gotten beyond the obvious point that it
is always good to have strong, influential friends, it is time to get
to the real issues. First, will strong US support protect the Israelis
from future body bombers or terrorist attacks? The answer is no, even
on the assumption that significant US or other forces are interposed between
the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, whatever may be the
final revelations about Israeli attacks in Jenin and other communities,
the next two or three generations of potential body bombers have been
created, and there is no telling when one or more will decide to go critical.
Second, will strong US support for Israel make the Palestinians more likely
to cooperate? The answer is unlikely. Moreover, as already has been indicated
by Mubarak s snub of Secretary Powell this week, Arab governments in general
will be offended by any such skewed US posture and are unlikely to cooperate
on the key issues of getting Palestinian leadership to the table and shutting
down the violence.
Third, will the War on Terrorism be advanced in any decree by an unbalanced
US posture on Palestine? Here the answer is clearly no. European governments
are already visibly uncomfortable with our actions regarding Palestine.
Arab governments on the whole are unhappy. Some, for examples Iraq,
Syria and Iran, may be unlikely to help very much in any case, but they
could be materially less unhelpful, if they thought we were taking the
Palestinian plight seriously. Most of those governments in effect have
signaled that the War on Terrorism we are conducting in Afghanistan should
in no way be equated with or confused with what is going on in Palestine.
Whether their support for the War on Terrorism would diminish or disappear
if we came out wholly for Israel is not a question we should put to them,
unless we can live with a response that will amount to yes.
Finally, will unequivocal US support for Israel in any way speed the conclusion
of the present conflict and creation of conditions for peace? The record
shows clearly that our support has not been decisive in the past toward
creating a stable or peaceful environment for Israel.
The parties themselves must fix this, and that cannot happen unless both
parties are treated equally by each other and by outsiders. To start
with, each party must respect the other s rights. Until that happens, no
amount of support from outside will be meaningful. The impasse will go
on, as it has already for half a century.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
and former Deputy Director of the Office of Counterterrorism.