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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001 / 12 Kislev, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Sticking with the plan --
COLIN POWELL'S speech at the University of Louisville last week was expected by many to be the announcement of a new Middle East policy and a break with George W. Bush's refusal to become more deeply involved with negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Many, especially in Europe and in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, hoped that Powell, by putting pressure on Israel, would assuage those leaders in Arab and Muslim countries who have called Washington's support of Israel a factor that led to the September 11 attacks and one that makes them reluctant to support America's war against terrorism.

All those expectations were disappointed. As Powell said the day before on Fox News Sunday, "I am not introducing a new plan. . . . We have a plan." The anti-Israeli Europeans and the State Department Arabists have always wanted the United States to pressure Israel to make concessions. From 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai desert in the Six-Day War, until 2000, when Bill Clinton pressured Israel's Ehud Barak at Camp David to make huge concessions, the pressure was always on Israel. Israel had the land, and Arafat wanted a Palestinian state.

But now Israel is ready to accept a Palestinian state. The problem is that the Palestinians refuse to accept the Israeli state. One of the reasons Yasser Arafat gave for rejecting Barak's Camp David offer was that it didn't include a right of return for Palestinians to Israel. His motive was clear: Get enough Palestinians inside Israel and they'll outvote the Jews. From the intifada that Arafat unleashed after rejecting Camp David, we know what life would be like for Jews in a Palestinian-majority Israel: kristallnacht every day of the week.

First, action. At this point, the change necessary for any settlement is change by the Palestinians. Powell made this clear. "The Palestinian leadership must make a 100 percent effort to end the violence and to end terror. There must be real results, not just words and declarations. Terrorists must be stopped before they act. The Palestinian leadership must arrest, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has demanded 48 hours free of violence before he would meet with Arafat, then backed down to 24 hours. Now Powell is demanding more than Sharon. "Palestinians need to understand that however legitimate their claims, they cannot be heard, let alone be addressed, through violence."

So the Palestinians must act first, just as they acted first in launching the intifada and first in every other episode in the cycle of violence. Demands on Israel come second. "Settlement activity must stop"; "the occupation must end"; Israel must "accept a viable Palestinian state"-all things Israel is prepared to do. Powell called for "a just solution that is both fair and realistic" on the right to return. But, first, "Palestinians must eliminate any doubt, once and for all, that they accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state."

The Palestinians, and those who sympathize with them, anticipated that the logic of the war on terrorism would move Washington in the direction of pressuring Israel for concessions in the hope of appeasing the Arab "street" and mollifying Arab regimes. But the war's logic seems to have moved Powell, and George W. Bush, in quite another direction. Bush was momentarily irritated when Sharon compared the United States to the appeasers at Munich. But after Palestinian violence continued and escalated, Bush pointedly refused to meet with Arafat in New York. Not included on the list of terrorist organizations whose accounts were frozen on October 12, the Palestinian-supported terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah were added on October 31.

Now Powell is, in effect, calling on Arafat to shut them down in the territories he governs. Powell also decried "the endless messages of incitement and hatred of Israelis and Jews that pour out of the media in so much of the Palestinian and Arab worlds," adding that "no one can claim a commitment to peace while feeding a culture of hatred that can only produce a culture of violence." For years, we have let the Palestinians and Arab nations subsidize and encourage hate propaganda without complaint. Now we know the price we paid for that. Some hoped we would fight the war on terrorism by pressuring Israel to appease terrorism. Powell's speech shows he and Bush have decided to demand that Arafat and the Palestinians join the war and that they can't get what they want until they do.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone