Understanding the real divide in Middle East

Ray Hanania’s Column

It is easy to get caught up in the escalating cycle of Middle East violence.

But placing all the blame on one side is wrong and feeds the violence. Though I am Palestinian-American, I don’t blame one side. I blame both. I also blame President George W. Bush.

Last week, it was an Israeli terrorist attack that killed innocent civilians including many children. The attack was premised on killing a man the Israelis allege (but never proved) is responsible for numerous bombings.

This week, it was a Hamas terrorist attack at a university in occupied Jerusalem. Both sides term their attacks “retaliation.”

It is easy for Palestinians and Israelis to stand across from each other and point fingers. But the real solution is to acknowledge that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis are victims of extremists on both sides who use violence to block peace.

It is a simple analysis, an alternative to the commonly held belief that many Americans have as a result of a heavily pro-Israel media spin.

The conflict is not between Palestinians and Israelis. It is between those who support peace through compromise and those who don’t. The real dividing line separates extremists from moderates. On one side are the Palestinian and Israeli extremists using terrorism to prevent peace.

Their goal is to block an accord that would require concessions. That is the purpose of the violence that has taken place on both sides in the past two years.Extremist Israelis don’t want to surrender land they occupied in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a fundamentalist extremist who also seeks to destroy his longtime foe, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Extremist Palestinians don’t want to surrender what they insist is their right to lands occupied in 1948, and they also want to undermine Arafat’s government, the only Palestinian authority that has ever publicly recognized Israel’s right to exist in the context of land-for-peace compromise.

In the middle are the majority who are willing to compromise but are held hostage by the growing fanaticism around them.

Others are responsible, too. President Bush blames Arafat, but he says nothing about Israel’s use of violence. In this one-sided approach, Bush panders to pro-Israeli extremism. His refusal to meet with Arafat fans the flames of violence by reinforcing the belief by Palestinian extremists that their violence is achieving their goal of blocking peace.

Bush’s approach is different from his predecessor, President Bill Clinton who torpedoed the Middle East peace process himself by striving not for a just and lasting peace, but one that would put a shine on his “legacy.”

Bush lacks the experience to lead effective foreign policy. His most significant change in policy was to walk away from the process at a time when the process needed leadership, only to return in the wave of emotional hysteria that followed the unrelated terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

It was President Bush who gave Sharon the green light to launch an unjustified military assault against the civilian Palestinian population already burdened by years of a brutal military occupation.

The United States has the right to dictate terms and order both sides to stand down. After all, American taxpayers underwrite billions in dollars primarily to the Israelis and to some extent to the Palestinians.

When an Israeli government uses terrorism as a pretext to acquire more Palestinian land and destroy a longtime foe, and when Hamas killers use terrorism to undermine peaceful compromise, we all suffer. The conflict destabilizes the world and exposes Americans to violence.

It takes real courage for Palestinians, Jews and other Americans to stand up together and call for an end to the conflict that is fair to both sides.

Is there anyone else out there who agrees?

(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN). His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)

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