The foreign policy of the Bush administration towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is mistaken, dangerous, and is bound to increase the bloodshed.
In recent public declarations, US President George W. Bush blames the violence on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. This is clear encouragement to right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his attempt to crush the Palestinians.
Sharon, who was given a similar green light by president Ronald Reagan to invade Lebanon, is now boasting support from the present US administration for his policy towards Palestinians. This is a mistake that will only increase bloodshed and is contrary to American values, principles and interests in the Middle East.
Let us be clear. What the US is doing is tacitly supporting the continued illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, the continued illegal expropriation of Palestinian land for exclusively Jewish settlements, and the imprisonment of three million Palestinians in a big prison in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Arafat is being attacked not for his actions, but for his inaction. He is being criticized for not publicly condemning his people’s heroic resistance to the occupation and for not arresting and using military means to stop Palestinians from their acts of defiance towards the occupation.
For 35 years the authoritative state of Israel, with its repressive policies, house demolitions, torture and deportation has been unable to crush Palestinian resistance. And now Arafat is being vilified for failing to bring his own people into submission. Since 1994, Arafat has done just that in the hope that the peace process was moving in the direction of a genuine peace that would provide Palestinians with true independence in a sovereign state alongside Israel.
That remains the Palestinian goal, as expressed clearly in the recent Arab summit. But the lack of trust and the absence of a just and sustainable peace strategy on the part of the Israelis has removed any incentive for Palestinian leaders to take a harsh stance against the resistance of their own people.
Bush seems to have fallen for the simplistic Israeli argument that the recent surge of Palestinian resistance is a result of incitement on Palestinian television; or the crude, inhuman, and highly racist Israeli claims that Palestinian parents send their children to be killed in order to accomplish propaganda aims.
Less than 10 percent of Palestinians watch the Palestinian Authority’s TV station – more watch Israeli TV.
Palestinian ministers have made public announcements encouraging children under 16 to remain in school and not to participate in demonstrations.
When Bush says that his message to Arafat is to stop the violence, the impression one gets is that Palestinian tanks are besieging Tel Aviv and that Israelis are being killed daily by Palestinians.
The opposite is a much more accurate picture. It is true that Israelis have been hurt, but their casualties are in no way proportional to the suffering of Palestinians.
Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed more than 400 Palestinians. Thousands have been wounded, many permanently. The Israeli killers are not cloaked in mystery. They are clearly identified soldiers using US guns and helicopters with orders to wound and maim Palestinians. The killings are taking place in the Palestinian territories which are besieged by Israeli tanks.
International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned this excessive use of firearms by Israel.
This dangerous policy became clearer when the US defied the will of the international community by vetoing a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at sending unarmed observers to the conflict areas. If Arafat is to be blamed for all the violence, why are the US and Israel afraid of neutral unarmed observers? By its veto, the Bush administration has contradicted its own initial, publicly stated position of not interfering in the conflict.
Instead of pursuing this dangerous direction, the US policy must be fair and impartial, stress a political resolution and should not favor any side that deviates from internationally accepted human-rights standards.
Bombing and suicide attacks against innocent civilians in Israel are wrong and must be condemned by all. But by focusing on internationally sanctioned resistance and ignoring the illegal occupation, military repression of civilians and exclusive settlement policies, the US has shown that it has lost any appearance of impartiality.
In the past seven years, many Palestinians have criticized their own leadership’s human-rights record. Many of us have been critical of the lack of democratic institutions and policies, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law.
But when confronted with the existential issues of freedom from the yoke of occupation and independence, Palestinians under occupation and in the Diaspora are united. It should be obvious to the Bush administration that when Israel and the US try to humiliate the democratically elected Palestinian leader, the support for Arafat increases and not decreases, positions harden, and the goal of genuine peace becomes more elusive.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.