- State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher last week
expressed deep US concern about recent civilian casualties, including the
death of UN director of reconstruction, Mr. Ian Hook, resulting from Israeli
military actions. That expression of concern, as far as it went, was appropriate
and timely, but Boucher went on to say that the United States remains solidly
behind Israel's efforts to combat terrorism, and he concluded by saying
that Washington's concerns are not a condemnation of the Israeli offensive.
That formula appears designed more to avoid offending Israeli leadership
than to secure corrective action, and the Israelis seem to treat the formula
as a continuing carte blanche endorsement of their actions in the West
Bank and Gaza. They normally reject rather than respond to any criticism.
In the meantime, under an asserted 'war on terrorism' the Israeli Defense
Force operates without restraint throughout the West Bank and Gaza, keeps
three million Palestinians under rigorous curfew and surveillance, has
brought the Palestinian economy to a standstill, destroys homes and properties
only alleged to be related to militants, protects old and new settlers
as the settlements continue to expand, and regularly shoots people who
are only suspected of being terrorists. On the other hand, the Palestinians,
who have no army, are not supposed to fight back; if they do, they are
treated as terrorists.
It is time for the United States to stop pretending that any part of the
IDF operation in the West Bank and Gaza is acceptable. Israeli shootings
of people who have neither been tried nor found guilty of crime, the IDF
occupation, continuing settlement building, and Israeli treatment of the
Palestinians as inferior are constant provocations to which the Palestinians
respond with suicide bombings.
Both Israeli and US models of the War on Terrorism involve disturbing erosion
of the justice system and of national sovereignty. Israel has the only
armed force in Palestine, and we have not objected to Israeli use by the
IDF of accusation and suspicion as justifications for killing Palestinians.
We, the United States, therefore, have bought into a corruption of the
international justice system by placing the fight against terrorism outside
the law. The United States moved into this same shadow land with the assassination
of six suspected Al Qaida members in Yemen. Israel ignores any sovereign
rights the Palestinians may have or aspire to enjoy. The US has indicated
that in the War on Terrorism national boundaries may not deter attacks
on suspected terrorists.
US tolerance for Israeli excesses in the West Bank and Gaza is a reflection
of our own creeping loss of moral focus. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians
is not right, and we know it. We may use the Palestinian suicide bombings,
as the Israelis do, as an excuse for the occupation, but those bombings
are constantly provoked by IDF actions. As a rule, the United States would
be working overtime to terminate the occupation of any other country by
a hostile army, but not in the case of Israel. We would be screaming for
explanations of such attacks as the killing of Ian Hook, but not from Israel.
We would hold any other aid receiving country to legal standards of accountability
and performance, but not Israel. And now we encourage the Israelis in
their attitude toward international criticism or responsibility by ignoring
Israelâs acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and Israelâs
failures to comply with more than 30 UN resolutions, while pounding Iraq
for far lesser infractions in both fields.
The ãspecial relationshipä with Israel has been a cornerstone
of US policy for more than half a century. However, from the beginning
it provided political cover to Israeli excesses, starting with the systematic
expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and property in the late 1940s,
to which we did not object. In recent years, it has provided for greater
economic and military assistance to Israel than to any other country. In
fact, US aid to Israel in some years has equaled aid to all other countries
combined, and if the currently requested package goes through, it will
be more than twice US aid to all other countries in 2003.
What have we gotten for those enormous investments of our national prestige
and treasure? Rewards are hard to find. The US Congress decided to fund
the peace process initiated by the Camp David Accords by giving half of
worldwide US assistance to Israel and Egypt, mainly to Israel. But at present
and for the indefinite future Israeli excesses in the West Bank and Gaza
are likely to remain the chief stumbling blocks to peace in the Middle
East. Our largely uncritical support of Israel, despite continuing excesses,
has alienated much of the Arab world and many others as well. And now,
unless effective ways are found to moderate Israeli behavior toward the
Palestinians, our future is at risk due to increasing terrorism by people
sympathetic to the Palestinians and/or opposed to Israel.
The solution is not rejection, but a more balanced relationship. We cannot
continue to acquiesce in Israeli military destruction of the Palestinian
state. Polite criticism accompanied by unwavering support is a giant hypocrisy.
We have to work on getting and keeping the Palestinians on a path to peace,
but Israelis have to recognize that the special relationship is a two way
street, and they must start delivering on their part of the peace process.
Israel must accept that much of its current predicament is its own doing,
and therefore the only way out is for Israel to behave responsibly toward
the region and its neighbors. Israel should begin to repay its enormous
debt to us, variously estimated at $85 billion, instead of using its clout
with the US Congress to get that debt forgiven.
Finally, we must not allow the War on Terrorism or the special relationship
to undermine the values that have made our country great. No relationship
with any country is worth that order of sacrifice. It is time to stop
pretending that the relationship in its present form is a good thing.
It clearly is not, and it is costing us dearly with everyone else.
- The writer is a retired senior foreign service officer
of the United States Department of State.