July 20, 2001
Yesterday, the Group of Eight foreign ministers gave Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat the prize he has been looking for. The Bush administration's support for the G-8's call for international monitors is worse than the evenhandedness inherited from the previous administration - it is a slap in the face for Israel's policy of restraint.
Let's review the record for a moment. Last October, the Clinton administration tried to broker a cease-fire at a summit in Sharm e-Sheikh.
Arafat was already pressing for international observers at that time, but all he got was the creation of the Mitchell Committee and the promise of a report. This result was considered favorable to Israel, since Israel got the internationally guaranteed cease-fire agreement it wanted, while Arafat failed in his bid for an observer force.
As it turns out, Israel was badly double-crossed when it came to implementing the Sharm agreement. Arafat's cease-fire never materialized, but the Mitchell Committee - which was expected to report after the cease-fire had taken place - forged ahead as if everything was going according to plan.
The Sharm summit tried to stick to the principle of not rewarding violence by insisting on a real cease-fire in exchange for what seemed to be a face-saving gesture for Arafat. The Mitchell Committee took a step away from Sharm's "no reward for violence" stance toward a more "evenhanded" arrangement: a cease-fire in exchange for a settlement freeze, but in a sequence that favored Israel. Mitchell, in effect, proposed a delayed reward for violence - no cease-fire, no reward.
Next came CIA Director George Tenet's framework to implement the cease-fires declared first by Israel, then by Arafat, following the massive pressure on him after the slaughter of 21 young Israelis at a Tel Aviv disco. The Tenet cease-fire was to be Step One of the Mitchell plan.
Though there is almost nothing left of the Tenet framework today, Israel gave the plan a serious chance. The US recognized this by indicating that, despite some actions that the US opposed, Israel had been restrained and the Palestinians were not doing enough to end the violence. In fact, the Palestinians had made a mockery of the Tenet plan by openly admitting that their "cease-fire" was limited to attacks within Israel proper, that attacks would continue against Israelis in the territories, and there would be no arrests of those behind the suicide bombings.
Armed with what seemed to be a crystal clear case, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres separately went off to Europe, but pressed the same message: Europe must stand with Israel against terrorism. Reports of "good meetings" in Britain, Germany, and Italy abounded. Thinking wishfully, it seemed like Israeli restraint might be paying off even in Europe.
Now the results are in. Britain, Germany, and Italy joined France in backing Arafat's proposal to send an international observer force immediately. The US backed the idea, but with the caveat that Israel must support it. And where is the reward for Israeli restraint? Zip. Nada. Not to be found.
The G-8 communique, then, is worse than evenhanded: It is an unadulterated, unmitigated, unilateral reward to Arafat for refusing to end a war of attrition that has cost the lives of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians.
For the Europeans, such misguidedness is par for the course - Israel made a mistake in hoping for better. But for the Bush administration, the communique represents a steep fall from rectifying some of Clinton's mistakes, to sinking below the previous administration's waffling in the face of Palestinian violence.
In the first months of his presidency, George W. Bush broke with Clintonism in three positive ways. Bush shifted the focus of Mideast policy from brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace to addressing Clinton's ignoring of the growing threat from Iraq. He vetoed a lopsided UN Security Council bid to send an international force to "protect" Palestinians from their offensive against Israel. And he linked Arafat's invitation to the White House to an expectation that he would "crush" the violence.
Even at its best, the Bush record was far from perfect, in that the US continued Clinton's morally and pragmatically bankrupt practice of lumping together Palestinian terrorism and Israeli responses in the same, equally condemned, "cycle of violence." Not once did Bush say that Israel, like any country, has a right to self-defense, particularly against the scourge of terrorism. But the evenhandedness of the Bush administration's rhetoric was partly compensated for by actions that distinguished between Israel and the Palestinians.
Now, of the three planks that distinguished the Bush policy from Clintonism, only one is left - the closed White House door. The Iraq policy is a Clintonesque embarrassment. The international presence that Bush courageously vetoed he now basically supports - with the fig leaf that Israel must agree.
The "arbitrary evenhandedness" that Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged to end not only continues unabated, but has been compounded by something much worse: a statement that punishes Israeli restraint by rewarding Palestinian violence.
Arafat now has more reason to continue attacking Israel than at any point since his offensive began. Thanks to the Group of Eight, including the United States, Israel and the Palestinians are today another step closer to war.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post