e-mail us


Needed: coherent, even-handed Mideast policy

The recent invasion of the Palestinian territories by Israel has laid to rest any suggestion that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might have been moving with any sincerity toward the cause of peace.

From the day he showed up at the Temple Mount in September 2000, Sharon was itching for a fight. He was openly exasperated with the Labor government of Ehud Barak and impatient with the peace process. He has been successful in upending both.

He has also been successful in manipulating President Bush into a corner far enough from the conflict that Bush’s weak protestations of the invasion have no effect.

It was not difficult, given Bush’s penchant for framing all world events in good guys/bad guys language. It leaves little room for self-criticism or for reflecting the complexities of situations that have evolved through tangled histories over many decades. It took Bush more than a week to weigh in on the latest escalation of violence. His appearance April 4 was largely a recitation of recent events. His use once again of “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, separating the world into those who harbor and produce terrorists and those who don’t, fell woefully short of being able to embrace the current struggle in the Middle East.

For someone who sees so much potential in faith-based groups to take up the state’s responsibilities, Bush has been deaf to the pleas from religious groups who have criticized his administration for focusing all of its attention on Palestinian suicide bombers and remaining almost silent about the state-sponsored terrorism that Israel has visited on the Palestinian people for decades.

No one is arguing Israel’s right to exist, but if historic agreements have any standing in the current dispute, then Palestinians have a right to their own state and without the ever-increasing presence of Israeli settlers.

Bush’s use of the terms terror and terrorist has achieved the equivalent of code. His war against terror has become a convenient and open-ended campaign of good against evil that has allowed him great scope in shifting objectives and pointing to potential battlefields with little responsibility to Congress or the American people. His branding of this or that state or individual as terrorist, with little accountability for what it means, can be used to his advantage from one situation to the next.

Israel, by defying the U.S. wish to have Arafat attend the recent Arab summit and by ravaging Palestinian towns is destroying the fund of good will toward Israel that exists in this country. Suicide bombings cannot be condoned, but neither can they be divorced from a political context that breeds the frustration and despair they express.

Bush needs to make Israel understand that it will pay a price for ignoring U.S. advice and ratcheting up the violence without regard to the danger it poses not only for the region but also for U.S. interests there. The price could be substantial, given the $3 billion per year the United States pours into that tiny country.

In our ill-defined war making, we have given Israel the language and justification for invading Palestinian towns and cities. They call it eliminating terrorists. What is becoming clear to most of the world is that in doing so, the Israelis have become efficient and fearsome terrorists themselves.

National Catholic Reporter, April 12, 2002