For those waiting to see if Israel would be any sort of an issue in the first
presidential debate last week, the answer was clearly not.
With the spotlight on Iraq, it is unlikely that either President George W.
Bush or Sen. John Kerry see much point in grandstanding on the Israeli-Arab
conflict. The obsessive focus on Israel seems to be fading from the foreground of
American public opinion.
There is something to be said for this, in and of itself, but it might be
wise for American policymakers to use this point to reassess some of our basic
assumptions about the situation.
After four years of a Palestinian terror war that most experts seem to agree
is petering out in abysmal failure, maybe it's time again to ask what exactly
it is that the Palestinians want? And what, if anything, should Americans be
doing about it?
For most of us looking on from afar, the tit-for-tat going on across the
border between Israel and Gaza is just a messy cycle of violence in which no one
party is more to blame than the other. The assumption remains that if only the
Palestinians would agree to stop terror and the Israelis would give them a
state of their own, the fighting would cease.
But Israel's government has already announced it will abandon those slivers
of Gaza it still controls along with the settlements planted there, sometime
next year. But the Palestinians, especially the Hamas Islamic fundamentalists,
continue to shoot Kassam rockets over the border into Israel. These cause both
damage and casualties and prompt counterattacks by the Israelis which hurt
Hamas but are unlikely to stop the attacks.
What does any of this accomplish?
More misery for ordinary Palestinians has a certain value to the terror
groups. Hamas also wants credit for the Israeli withdrawal and can reinforce that
point by keeping the missiles flying until the last Israeli leaves the last
But perhaps we should start considering that this is itself not an adequate
explanation for Palestinian strategy. And just maybe, it should also give us
some hints as to how Americans should be analyzing another potential threat to
the peace in that region.
A clue to unraveling the puzzle of the Palestinians was offered on the Op-Ed
page of The New York Times this week when it published a piece titled "Two
Peoples, One State." Authored by Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser to the PLO and a
one-time peace negotiator during the heyday of the Oslo accords.
In it, Tarazi outlined his rejection of Israel's offer of a separate
Palestinian state and returned instead to the PLO's Oslo demand: a binational secular
state in which Israel's Jews would be at the mercy of a Palestinian Arab
majority. The Jewish state of Israel would be destroyed in the name of "equality"
and "equal rights." Left unsaid is the unsavory record of the Palestinian
"democrats" who would rule this state and the certain fate of the Jews who would
be at their mercy once they were no longer protected by the Israeli army.
This return to the rhetoric of extinction is significant because it is very
much in line with the campaign of delegitimization of Israel that has being
pursued by pro-Palestinian activists on American campuses and within the councils
of America's mainline Protestant churches. The call for divestment from
Israel that has resonated in these sectors is often couched, like Tarazi's article,
in the language of human rights, but the real intention is not hard to
divine: the end of Israel.
It also puts the Palestinian strategy of keeping the Israelis fighting in
Gaza in a clearer focus. Since they no longer want their own state, even on the
generous terms that they were offered prior to the start of the intifada, what
good is an Israeli withdrawal to them? More bloodshed, which can help
manufacture more pressure on Israel, will only help deepen the conflict and make peace
impossible in the short term, as they work toward the long-term goal
enunciated by Tarazi.
If this is so, then it's obvious that either a re-elected George Bush or a
newly inaugurated John Kerry should forget about further efforts to entice the
Palestinians back to the negotiating table. But it should also make another
potential danger to world peace even scarier.
And by that I mean the clear and present danger posed by the certainty that
Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, neither Bush nor Kerry have
enunciated what might be considered a coherent policy concerning this real
THE THREAT FROM TEHRAN
The current administration is clearly divided over whether to confront Tehran
or to engage in a dialogue aimed at getting them to stand down from their
nuclear ambitions. Despite some strong rhetoric from Washington, Iran may think
it has no reason to fear resolute action.
In response, John Kerry seems to be supporting more engagement a
questionable strategy in and of itself but he mixes in enough tough talk to make his
stand just as incoherent as his opponent's.
How do these various elements connect with the Palestinians and their
reversion to an-all-or-nothing war with Israel?
Iran has never backed away from its rejectionist attitude towards Israel.
It's also a major funder of terror groups like Hezbollah and, as the Karine A
arms affair in which Tehran sought to increase Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat's arsenal of terror demonstrated, Iran also wants to help terror groups
keep the conflict hot and bloody. And if the Iranians do develop a nuclear
option, that would put the peace of the entire region and the physical existence
of Israel very much in question.
Connecting the dots between Iranian nukes and Palestinian rejectionism may
not be on the radar screen of Americans who still cling to their childish hopes
that forcing Israel to further appease the Palestinians will calm the
But if their assumption is false, it would appear that whoever is elected
president may be faced with a far more volatile set of problems than presently
Heaven help us if the winner in November fails to understand all that's at