Israel Report

July 2002         

U.S. Diplomacy: Even-Handed, Empty-Handed

by Daniel Mandel - July 2002 - Middle East Quarterly
Since the eruption of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in September 2000, the United States has faced the dilemma of formulating a policy response. The nature of the violence is clear, and almost predictable in its routine. Not so U.S. policy, which has been ambivalent-so ambivalent that it may well have become a factor in prolonging the violence itself.

While the causes of the Oslo breakdown are the subject of debate, even contradictory explanations tend to converge on a single point: the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Yasir Arafat refused to conclude a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.1 The hostilities, whatever view one takes of their immediate causes, have been characterized by Palestinian initiation of armed attacks against Israeli military personnel and civilians, both inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza. They involve shooting attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians; murder on highways through sniping and roadside bombs; shelling of Jewish residential areas; and, most destructively, suicide bombings in Israeli cities. The violence is carried out both by terrorist groups outside the PA structure (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and militias within it (Fatah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Tanzim, Force 17).

The "Al-Aqsa intifada" is not so much a popular uprising as a campaign of urban warfare and terrorism. Israeli forces have responded with a range of military measures designed to punish, inhibit and demoralize the terrorist groups and to deter the PA from participating in and conniving at the violence. They have sought to identify and kill the people who orchestrate, dispatch, and carry out terrorist acts, including many who were released from Palestinian jails after the eruption of hostilities. They have returned fire at Palestinian gunmen. Israel has withheld funds from the PA, and instituted roadblocks, curfews and restrictions on access into Israel for Palestinian workers. Israeli forces have also undertaken retaliatory operations inside PA-controlled areas for the purpose of rooting out terrorists.

Arafat's precise strategy is a subject of much speculation. Many Israelis believe he hopes to goad Israel into a massive response that precipitates international intervention; hence Israeli hesitancy about dismantling the PA or launching an all-out war. But speculation about Arafat's logic aside, few dispute this fact: it is the Palestinian side that opted for confrontation over negotiation and still favors a continuation of the "Al-Aqsa intifada" as a matter of strategic choice.

Yet the U.S. initially did not identify Palestinian malfeasance as the source of the violence. And as the battle enters its second summer, U.S. policy continues to be marked by ambivalence. True, the U.S. has not abandoned Israel, but it criticizes most measures adopted by Israel at any given time. It does not oppose Israel exercising its right to self-defense in principle-merely in practice. It regards terrorism as a distinctive "evil," but denounces Palestinian terrorism and Israeli retaliation as equally "unacceptable." It points occasionally to Palestinian failure to dismantle terrorist organizations, abandon the incitement that feeds them, and implement a cease-fire. But the U.S. also continually demands that Israel foreswear deterrent action aimed at bringing about precisely these results.

Why has the United States pursued so paradoxical a policy toward Israeli-Palestinian hostilities? How has that policy fared? How has it changed since September 11? And might there be alternatives that are more effective and consistent with U.S. vital interests?

The Clinton Policy
The ambivalence in U.S. policy can be traced to the last months of the Clinton administration. The outbreak of hostilities in September 2000 did not end Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; the United States continued to work to mediate a peace agreement, believing a deal to be within reach. Clinton had publicly identified Arafat as the party most culpable for the failure at Camp David. But his administration declined to cast Arafat as the initiator of the violence. The initial rationale for suspending judgment was the hope that the United States, as "honest broker," might deliver an agreement in Clinton's last hour. All components of the clash were thus deemed "unacceptable"-Israeli road closures no less than Palestinian sniper attacks-and as contributing to a "cycle of violence."

This familiar cliché from the vocabulary of international conflict appears to have been dragooned into service by then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright, in a Washington Post opinion piece. It has since become firmly entrenched in American discourse. A flawed policy is often reflected in linguistic imprecision. Hostilities are initiated by one side or another; cycles merely repeat themselves in a predictable pattern. As we shall see, the cliché tends to mystify the matter of responsibility, and results in U.S. admonitions being issued to both the aggressing and defending parties. That approach found extreme _expression in the passage - made possible by American abstention-in the United Nations Security Council (October 7, 2000) of a resolution that condemned Israeli "excessive use of force." The resolution said nothing about the armed assault that had been initiated against Israel.

In her Washington Post piece, Albright purported to "look into the causes of the recent violence with the primary objective of preventing a recurrence," but declined to produce a judgment on it, citing only an Israeli sense of "betrayal" and a Palestinian sense of "victimization." She studiously avoided mention of other possible factors in the making of hostilities, such as Arafat's unwillingness to conclude a comprehensive peace; his toleration of the open existence of terrorist groups; the incitement to violence in the Palestinian public square; the absence of a genuine Palestinian consensus supporting a two-state solution, and so on.2 Despite the sudden reversal of peace hopes that the violence signified, Albright claimed to discern "opportunities for progress."3

This impression was fortified when both sides agreed to the creation of a fact-finding committee, under the chairmanship of former U.S. senator George Mitchell, to inquire into the origins of the violence and to produce proposals for ending it and resuming negotiations. Albright enthusiastically endorsed the committee as likely to "alleviate the deep sense of grievance on each side" and provide a "pathway back to negotiations."4

The U.S. sought to end hostilities and resume negotiations, but to what end? To seek a comprehensive peace settlement is a different matter from striving for a sustainable cease-fire or a non-belligerency agreement. The first tends to cast the United States as a mediator, the second as a facilitator. Until literally the last hours of the Clinton administration, the U.S. pursued the elusive peace agreement. In doing so, it carefully apportioned blame in this manner:

. The U.S. condemned resort to armed violence by elements within the PA, but without identifying Yasir Arafat as an instigator or supporter of that violence.

. The U.S. also condemned Israeli retaliatory measures as excessive, disproportionate, or provocative.

. And the U.S. condemned "violence" in general as cyclical, and as a consequence of the actions taken by both sides.

In sum, the United States sought to appear even-handed, and the results soon became apparent. U.S. diplomatic efforts to produce calm produced nothing. At the Sharm ash-Sheikh summit (October 16-17), Arafat agreed in Clinton's presence to issue a public call for a cease-fire. But he never did, even though Albright believed at the time that both sides wanted it "to happen."5 A further cease-fire agreement emerged on November 1 from talks between Arafat and Israeli cabinet minister Shimon Peres, but Palestinian bombings and sniper attacks continued. Yet another cease-fire declaration by Arafat on November 17 produced a temporary lull but no cessation of shooting incidents.6 Five days later, Albright conceded that the Sharm ash-Sheikh cease-fire had not been carried out, but again did not identify which party had failed to implement its commitments, leaving the question of responsibility unanswered. She focused instead on ending the "cycle of violence," which would require "each side to act in parallel and in good faith, rather than as the singularly aggrieved party waiting for others to respond."7 This approach effectively discarded the distinction between terrorism and military action.

The Bush Administration
The Bush administration inherited this set of attitudes and priorities when it assumed office in January 2001. New administrations seek to put their own stamp on policy, and the Bush administration's abandonment of presidential-level engagement in efforts to produce a comprehensive peace coincided with a change of government and policy in Israel. The new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, differed from his predecessor, Ehud Barak: Sharon believed that a peace agreement with the PA was a pipe dream. But he thought that a limited non-belligerency agreement might be within reach. Resumption of negotiations to this end became Israeli policy. Yet Sharon also insisted that any further negotiations with the PA not be conducted under fire, a position that the United States (reluctantly) accepted.8

The dramatis personae in Washington and Jerusalem had changed. But the mediating instinct that inspired the attitudes and approach of the Clinton administration persisted in Washington's corridors, even though the policy objectives that animated it had become obsolete.

Thus, the Bush administration, like its predecessor, views an end of violence and resumption of negotiations to be feasible. When the Mitchell committee issued its report in May 2001 and endorsed that view, both sides formally accepted its recommendations.9 But the Mitchell report also declined to assign precise or singular responsibility for the eruption of violence, providing instead a detailed schedule of measures to be adopted by the parties, beginning with an unconditional cessation of hostilities. President George W. Bush "wholeheartedly" endorsed it, 10 and Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly affirmed U.S. commitment to the Mitchell report in successive statements, describing it as "an essential plan,"11 the "only item on the table,"12 the "only game in town,"13 and so on.14

The following month, CIA director George Tenet secured the "in-principle" agreement of the Palestinians to his working plan for implementing a cease-fire. The plan provided for the arrest of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members; the end of Palestinian incitement to armed violence; confiscation of illegal weapons; and prevention of terrorism. Israel in turn was to cease military operations in PA-controlled areas and then withdraw from them. As military analyst Ze'ev Schiff pointed out, Palestinian compliance would mean nothing less than the end of terrorist activity and warfare.15 The plan was never implemented, and the violence did not cease. Yet the persistent preference in Washington for suspending judgment remained unshaken. Powell, who had spoken of the need "not to point fingers at one another,"16 and described the violence is a "conundrum" that "is going to take two keys"17 to open, continued to complain of having "both sides accusing each other of not doing as much as they can."18

In these circumstances, the phrase "cycle of violence" carried over quickly into the vocabulary of the Bush administration. "We see both parties locked into a cycle of violence, provocation, and reaction" was Powell's formulation on May 5.19 On May 14, he found the "cycle of violence" to be "very disturbing . We keep appealing to both sides to be restrained,"20 a view echoed by President Bush on June 26: "we must all work to break this cycle of violence."21

On at least one occasion, Israel took the American "cycle of violence" evaluation at face value, instituting a unilateral cease-fire. That was broken by the Palestinian suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv discotheque on June 1, which killed twenty-one Israelis, all but one of them teenagers. A cease-fire announced the next day by Arafat led to no decrease in violence; indeed, mortar attacks increased.22

This might have been expected to prompt some rethinking in Washington. It didn't. A further inheritance from the Clinton administration has been an eagerness to take at face value successive PA statements indicating a readiness to institute a cease-fire that never actually takes hold.

Speaking on CNN on June 3, two days after the Palestinian bombing of the discotheque, Powell referred to the public declaration of a cease-fire by Arafat who "spoke yesterday in very, very strong terms. He said things I had not heard him say previously"-and said them to Palestinians, not merely to an international audience. Powell even celebrated the fact that "no serious violence" had occurred in the preceding 12-18 hours.23 In fact, this was one more false dawn, altogether similar to a string of much-vaunted breakthroughs that proved to be meaningless. A further commitment by Arafat on June 13 to a cease-fire saw a temporary drop in mortar attacks, but continuation of sniper shootings and bombing attacks.24 The cease-fire supposedly agreed to by Arafat claimed a further eight Israeli lives within three weeks,25 and mortar shelling of Israel actually increased from one to four attacks per day in the eight days that followed Arafat's cease-fire declaration.26 Israeli forbearance on specific occasions failed to break the "cycle," but this never triggered a review of U.S. policy.

This remained the case despite a deepening understanding in the Bush administration of Israel's predicament and the necessity for Arafat to end the violence. President Bush in particular has been willing to name Palestinian malfeasance, as on March 29, 2001:

The signal I'm sending to the Palestinians is, stop the violence. And I can't make it any more clear. And I hope that Chairman Arafat hears it loud and clear.27
Bush himself has shunned Arafat from his first day in the White House, while commending Sharon for displaying "a lot of patience,"28 as has Powell.29 And the United States has vigorously condemned specific Palestinian terrorist outrages, exhorting Arafat to suppress the terrorists and end incitement.30 Powell has called upon Arafat to re-arrest the terrorists he freed from jail when the violence first erupted.31 On June 26, Bush stated that
the one thing we are looking for is, first of all, it would be full cessation of hostilities, terror and incitement . we condemn terror. We condemn violence . [Powell will] urge Mr. Arafat to do more, to take better control of his security forces.32
The administration is crystal clear about what Arafat must do. But it is deeply opaque about what conclusions are to be drawn if he does nothing. Admonitions issued to Arafat are unequivocal, yet all lack what analyst David Makovsky calls an "or else" clause.33 Following the August 9 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria that claimed twenty-one Israeli lives, Bush observed that "it is very important for Mr. Arafat to show a 100 percent effort"34 in combating violence. The president did not indicate-and has not indicated on any occasion since-what would follow if Arafat did not make that "100 per cent effort."
The belated recognition of Arafat's responsibility for the hostilities did not alter the established U.S. tendency to suspend judgment and to seek refuge in even-handed criticism of both parties. This necessarily involves tarring Israeli military and counter-terrorist measures with the same brush as Palestinian terrorism. Washington has been careful not to call Israel's actions illegal, as some other governments and much of the world press has done, for the legality of counter-terrorism in various forms is firmly established. Indeed, it is the basis of the U.S. "war on terror." The alternative of condemning acts as "provocative" or "excessive" properly sidelines the issue of legality-but then a whole array of Israeli defensive measures are criticized by the United States as "provocative" or "excessive."35

Military incursions into PA-controlled areas, for example, though entirely in accord with Israeli-Palestinian agreements that guarantee Israel's on-going security rights, are generally deemed "unacceptable" in Washington.36 Thus, when Palestinian mortar attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot in the Negev resulted in a retaliatory Israeli incursion into Bayt Hanun in Gaza (whence the mortars had been fired), Powell called upon "both sides" to exercise "maximum restraint." Palestinian mortar attacks were deemed merely "provocative" whereas the Israeli incursion was "excessive and disproportionate." Both sides were then enjoined to "respect the agreements they've signed."37 (It was not disclosed which particular agreement Israel had violated by entering areas to which it had contractual right of re-entry for security purposes.) Powell's statement was widely regarded as decisive in inducing Israel to withdraw its forces immediately-after which Palestinians promptly resumed mortar attacks upon Sderot.38

Economic pressure, blockades, and boycotts are time-honored measures utilized against hostile regimes even in the absence of actual hostilities, as all Americans know only too well from the decades-long economic boycott of Cuba. Nonetheless, this option appears to have been ruled out for Israel. On February 25, Powell stated,

It is my view that economic pressure contributes to an overall deterioration in the situation here in the territories . it is necessary to lift the siege as soon as possible so that economic activity can begin again.39

The targeting of individuals who orchestrate, dispatch, and carry out suicide bombings has also met with U.S. censure. When Israel killed two Hamas operatives with missile fire, Powell stated that such operations are too "aggressive" and that "it just serves to increase the level of tension and violence."40 "We do not think that kind of targeted killing helps the situation," he observed on another occasion.41 State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has also indicated that the administration is "strongly opposed" to targeted killings.42

Targeted killings are perhaps the most contentious of all Israeli measures. Yet the consensus of informed opinion is that targeting military personnel during hostilities, including targeting of commanders, is lawful activity. (Not coincidentally, the Bush administration has generally avoided terming them "assassinations," which are patently illegal.43 This has not prevented various pundits jollying along their readers in harmony with the media blurbs on "assassination," "extra-judicial killing" and alleged "blood lust"-for example, former chief of CIA counter-terrorism, Vincent Cannistraro.44)

When American legal scholars discuss this issue outside an Israeli context, their views range widely. L.C. Green, the international legal scholar, notes that while customary law prohibits killing specific individuals in an enemy's administration or senior command, Article 23(b) of the Hague Regulations does not preclude attacks on individual soldiers or officers of the enemy whether in the zone of hostilities, occupied territories, or elsewhere. Equally, nothing prevents an attempt by members of the forces of one belligerent against an individual commander at his headquarters, behind the lines or outside the field of conflict, since he is regarded as a legitimate combatant in such circumstances.45

Such is also the view of John Norton Moore, director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia; Air Force Colonel Charles J. Duncan Jr., a U.S. military lawyer; and former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger.46 It also appears to be the view of current defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.47

The U.S. rejection of Israeli counter-terrorism as contributing to the "cycle of violence" is thus a demonstrable departure from American norms regarding self-defense. It promotes a national security doctrine whose universality would never be accepted by the United States itself, as is evident from the U.S. military response to the terrorist massacres of September 11 in New York City and Washington.

Aug.Post-September 11
The Bush administration, with a mind toward forming a broad-based coalition of Arab and Muslim states to dismantle al-Qa'ida and its Taliban hosts, has chosen to dissociate Israel from the military (though not intelligence) aspects of its "war on terrorism."48 Opinions differ on whether the post-September 11 situation militates in favor of stronger U.S. support for Israel (since it too is fighting terrorism) or greater pressure to restrain Israel (since Arab and Muslim allies are deemed essential to prosecuting the anti-terror war). At times, the administration has appeared to lean one way, then the other.

At first, the Bush administration leaned away from Israel. It continued to avoid drawing any conclusions from a year of Palestinian violence and nugatory cease-fires and chose to work with renewed urgency on implementing the Mitchell Plan. The United States did reject any linkage between Usama bin Ladin and the Palestinian issue,49 and it also issued unequivocal declarations of U.S. support for Israel.50 But a tone of renewed urgency crept into official statements. It could be sensed in Powell's press briefing on September 12, where he said that

we have all been waiting for Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres to find an opportunity in the very near future to meet and not have protracted discussions about where to meet.51
Powell continued to urge both sides to "exercise maximum restraint."52 He continued to condemn Israeli targeted killing of terrorists.53 And he continued to identify illusory breakthroughs towards a cease-fire (October 15,54 November 955) and express disappointment when they came to naught (October 21,56 November 26). Failure on Arafat's part to stem the violence, and even the accumulation of evidence of his co-operation with terrorist groups, evoked no U.S. warning, merely further calls for "100 per cent effort."57 When asked how the U.S. would respond were Arafat to form an alliance with Hamas and Islamic Jihad (terrorist organizations according to U.S. law)58 Powell responded only that "we would have to take, you know, a dim view of that."59

So much for continuities. There were also some changes. Most famously, Bush spoke these words in delivering a detailed policy statement to the United Nations General Assembly:

The American government . stands by its commitment to a just peace in the Middle East. We are working toward a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together within secure and recognize borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions. We will do all in our power to bring both parties back into negotiations. But peace will only come when all have sworn off, forever, incitement, violence, and terror.60
In fact, U.S. support for Palestinian statehood had been implied by seven years of abortive U.S. peacemaking. But the timing of Bush's speech left it sounding like a sop to Arab pressures and a reward to Arafat. Powell was perfectly correct to note that no Republican president had previously put himself on record in support of a Palestinian state,61 and Arafat could arguably be satisfied that his campaign of violence had not gone entirely unrewarded. Moreover, Powell amplified the president's remarks in his own address in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 19, in which he reiterated all that Arafat must do, even stating that he needed to be held accountable-but without an "or else." This was leavened with criticism of Israeli occupation of parts of the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli settlement activity.62

Perhaps the Bush administration hoped that a clear statement of policy in even-handed language would prompt a reduction in Palestinian violence. Perhaps it believed, against all evidence and experience, that Arafat wanted the violence to end and needed his own hand strengthened against the terrorists, who were operating without his knowledge and consent. If so, it was soon disappointed.
Plus ça Change On December 1-2, double suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa claimed twenty-six Israeli lives. Coming at a time of U.S. success in prosecuting the Afghan war, the administration adopted a noticeably more indulgent posture towards the Israelis. The Israelis at this point launched wide-ranging operations that targeted not only terrorist groups but also installations of the PA. This time, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer dispensed with the customary reversible raincoat call for mutual restraint, and endorsed Israel's right to conduct operations in self-defense, even taking a swipe at Arafat's revolving door policy on arresting Palestinian terrorists.

Yet even under these circumstances, Fleischer was careful not to implicate Arafat in the violence, or to endorse Israel's response. Fleischer declined to answer directly no fewer than seven questions seeking to clarify whether the administration deemed Arafat responsible for the terrorism and whether Israel's retaliatory strikes met with U.S. approval.63

It is true that the continued failure of Arafat to end the terrorism had irked the administration from the president down. The pique reached its peak in January 2002 when Israel intercepted the Karine-A, a vessel laden with Iranian offensive weaponry bound for the PA. At first, the administration doubted Arafat's personal complicity (though not the PA's involvement),64 a position it maintained for some weeks.65 Later, Bush observed that the Karine-A incident had "surprised, and then extremely disappointed"66 the administration.

However, the administration has shown great care to avoid a break with Yasir Arafat and the PA. Since Israel itself has not resolved to dismantle the PA, the administration has swung back to counseling even-handed restraint. A Saudi diplomatic balloon holding out the prospect of Arab recognition of Israel in return for its complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines was cautiously welcomed on the proviso that it not replace the Mitchell plan.67 President Bush sent envoy Anthony Zinni to the region in one more attempt to draw the two sides into implementing the Tenet working plan, as prelude to the Mitchell schedule. In the event, and as Powell fully conceded, the Israelis accepted Zinni's proposals, the Palestinians rejected them, and a wave of further suicide bombings followed.68

It is unclear whether Zinni's continuing mediation reflects a genuine belief that the PA might implement a cease-fire, or U.S. need to appear busy. It is not impossible that the administration is going through the motions of seeking a foredoomed cease-fire as it solicits support for a campaign against Baghdad, regardless of the contradiction of its own antiterrorist policy such an approach entails.

This rationale would explain why the United States has continued to wave the Tenet and Mitchell plans as talismans and called on "both sides to exercise maximum restraint."69 It explains why Bush chose to describe Israeli counterterrorist operations in Ramallah as "not helpful"70 on March 13 but as something he could "fully understand"71 on March 30 (after another suicide bombing). It explains why Bush is "disappointed"72 by Arafat's unwillingness to fight terror but also believes that "the path to peace goes through Chairman Arafat."73 And it explains why the United States has designated the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade-a component of Arafat's own Fatah movement, responsible for many of the recent suicide bombings-a terrorist organization,74 yet declined to indicate what consequences will follow if documents Israel seized in Arafat's Ramallah headquarters directly implicate Arafat in terrorist activities.75

Above all, it would explain why Bush, following the March 27, 2002 Passover eve massacre of twenty-two Israelis in Netanya, vigorously condemned terrorism and criticized Arafat for being in a "situation largely of his own making," yet simultaneously asked Israel to halt the military campaign sparked by that attack and to withdraw its forces.76 In line with U.S. support for U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1402 and 1403, this became within a couple a days a call for Israeli withdrawal "without delay."77

But there is also the possibility that this approach reflects genuine flaws in the U.S. understanding of the nature of terrorism. Terrorists do not kill and maim civilians so that, for example, Northern Ireland can institute a power-sharing elected assembly, or Basques can acquire regional autonomy within Spain, or Palestinians can enjoy statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. All these concessions have been either offered or made, without ending conflict or decreasing terrorism. Reasonable causes and just demands do not issue in planes crashing into skyscrapers or suicide bombers blowing teenagers to bits in a discotheque.

In fact, terrorism is the weapon of choice of those seeking precisely something larger than justice or reason can obtain for them. This insight is implicit in the Bush doctrine that there is no acceptable terrorism,78 though the conclusion that terrorism can only be defeated, not appeased, is still selectively applied, whether in Israel or Kashmir. ("What we are saying to the Indians, and to the Pakistanis," as Powell has commented, "is that there are other ways to solve this problem."79)

Consistency, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, is the hobgoblin of small minds, but matters of greater weight are involved than mere inconsistency. The idea that terrorism can be negotiated away rather than defeated originates in the notion that terrorists fight for legitimate ends amenable through negotiation, not illegitimate ones achievable only by force. For example, "Terrorists are criminals hiding behind legitimate causes,"80 declared Powell on January 21. "I fully believe," Powell further declared on February 14, "that the root cause of terrorism does come from situations where there is poverty, where there is ignorance, where people see no hope in their lives."81 The argument seems to derive from some general theory of society, and no particular familiarity with the Palestinian case. Indeed, in that case, it could just as well be argued that it is the Palestinian recourse to terrorism for illegitimate ends that has produced and magnified Palestinian poverty and misery. More importantly, it reflects the fallacy that Palestinians pursue terrorism to achieve a legitimate end-statehood alongside Israel-rather than an illegitimate end-the disappearance of Israel.

Powell's evaluation might be flawed, but it is at least consistent, for such a view explains his past insistence that Palestinian terrorism is not only an attack on Israeli innocents, but upon the Palestinian people,82 Palestinian dreams of statehood,83 even on Yasir Arafat himself. As he said on February 3, "The organizations that are conducting these terrorist activities, they're not just killing innocent Israeli citizens; they are destroying Mr. Arafat's authority and they are destroying a vision of peace for the region."84 All of which suggests that Powell is not cognizant-or is feigning ignorance-of what is actually happening on the ground.
Time to Reassess Nineteenth months on, the U.S. approach to the conflict is ripe for reassessment.

As of this writing, Powell has returned from a visit to the region, having failed to produce the ever-elusive cease-fire. Whatever follows, the only certainty is that Palestinian terrorists, spared by Israeli curtailment of its military operations under U.S. pressure, will have to be fought again at a later date after the deaths of yet more Israeli civilians.

By now it is obvious that conciliatory Israeli gestures are unlikely to transform the atmosphere and produce calm or a resumption of talks. As the abortive unilateral Israeli cease-fires and periodic easing of restrictions have demonstrated, confidence-building steps are only productive in a bilateral context of give-and-take. Israel may have no desire for war with the Palestinians, but if Palestinians continue to wage an armed campaign, the most pacific Israeli gestures will be entirely unavailing.

This being the case, U.S. admonitions issued to both parties have taken on a surreal quality, leaving the impression that the world's last superpower is mired in denial. Only a genuine decision by Arafat can end the terrorism. To judge from the record, there is little to suggest that he intends to make that decision and a great deal to suggest that he will not. Certainly, Israel must be ready to co-operate in restoring calm in the unlikely event that the Arafat moves to institute a cease-fire. But the United States must be ready with a response if he does not-and it must communicate that planned response to Arafat. In short, it must add the "or else" clause.

A final consideration: a tragic precedent has been set by the prolonged indulgence that has permitted Arafat's strategy of suicide bombing to be effective. As the leader of the war on terror, the United States can scarcely welcome a development that might now be adopted by other terrorist movements.

Accordingly, the United States should begin by phasing out the "cycle of violence" theme from its diplomatic discourse. The United States erodes its credibility when it confirms in one breath that the Palestinians have launched attacks, and then demands in the next breath that Israel stop retaliating. This kind of "even-handedness"-which is really a lack of candor-actually works overtime against vital U.S. interests. It helps prolong the conflict by maintaining it in a holding pattern that permits no dynamic change. In the absence of change, the casualty figures on both sides mount, fueling passions and pressures in the Arab world, ensuring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a chronic irritant in U.S. policy.

In the event the current American effort fails to induce Arafat to stop the violence, the U.S. should consider alternatives-up to and including the ultimate "or else," the severing of ties with the PA. The United States stands on the brink of a major commitment of U.S. military and political assets in Iraq. Yet putative "even-handedness" has landed the United States in a cul-de-sac: U.S. policy on the future of Iraq has become hostage to Arafat. He has pocketed every U.S. gesture, from the Bush speech to the American-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 1397 in favor of a Palestinian state, without lifting a finger to get the conflict off page one.

As a result, the United States may have to move against Saddam without the backing of Arab allies. True, Arab states would have been reluctant allies in any event; and true, the United States does have the capability of going it alone. But the question arises - what sanction should be applied to Arafat for his continuing defiance of the United States-a defiance surpassed only by that of Saddam Husayn? So far, Arafat has proven himself an obstacle to the successful pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. What if he becomes an obstacle to the successful pursuit of an American-led war? What if his actions-and inaction-indirectly raise the cost of that war in American lives? What if the next casualties of Arafat's strategy are not Israeli civilians, but American troops?

There is only one thing worse than a policy that is irrationally "even-handed." That would be a policy that leaves the United States empty-handed. In South Asia, the United States has gains to show for its "war on terror." But if the Bush administration does not extend its scope to the Middle East-something it has yet to do-its hands will remain empty. Only when the United States expands its definition of terrorism to include the violence of the "Al-Aqsa intifada" will there be a chance, however remote, of bringing it to a close. The reassessment should begin with the choice of words-and be backed up with the promise of deeds.

Daniel Mandel is a fellow in history at the University of Melbourne, and associate editor of the Melbourne-based magazine The Review.
1 Saul Singer, "Camp David, Real and Invented," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2002, pp. 3-12.
2 On all these issues, see Yossi Klein-Halevi, "The Asymmetry of Pity," The National Interest, Fall 2001, pp. 37-44.
3 Madeleine Albright, "Breaking the Cycle of Violence," The Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2000.
4 Interview, CNN, Oct. 17, 2000, at; The Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2000.
5 Interview, CNN, Oct. 17, 2000; The Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2000.
6 "Palestinian Cease-Fire Compliance: Dilemmas for American Policy," Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 1, no. 5, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Oct. 14, 2001, at
7 Statement on the situation in the Middle East, Nov. 22, 2000, at
8 Remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Borg El-Arab Airport, Egypt, June 27, 2001, at
9 Remarks on the Sharm-el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, May 21, 2001, at
10 Remarks, Meridian, Tex., Aug. 13, 2001, at
11 Remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, June 27, 2001, at
12 Briefing on Middle East Trip, en route to Borg El-Arab Airport, Egypt, June 27, 2001, at
13 Remarks with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Jerusalem, June 28, 2001, at
14 Remarks with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasir Arafat, Ramallah, June 28, 2001, at; briefing on trip to the Middle East, en route to Paris, June 29, 2001, at; remarks with British secretary of state of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, July 11, 2001, at
15 Ha'aretz, June 13, 2001.
16 Remarks with foreign minister of Egypt Amre Moussa, Cairo, Feb. 24, 2001, at
17 Remarks en route to Kuwait, Feb. 25, 2001, at
18 Interview by Tony Snow, June 17, 2001, at
19 Arab-American Institute Foundation, Third Annual Khalil Ghibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala, May 5, 2001, at
20 Interview, CNN, May 14, 2001, at
21 Remarks by the president and the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, June 26, 2001, at
22 "Palestinian Cease-Fire Compliance: Dilemmas for American Policy," Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 1, no. 5, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Oct. 14, 2001, at
23 Interview, CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, June 3, 2001, at
24 "Palestinian Cease-Fire Compliance: Dilemmas for American Policy," at
25 Evelyn Gordon, "No End in Sight," The Jerusalem Post, July 13, 2001.
26 "Palestinian Cease-Fire Compliance: Dilemmas for American Policy," at
27 Press conference, Mar. 29, 2001, at
28 Remarks by the president and the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, June 26, 2001, at
29 Interview, CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, at
30 Colin Powell, statement on the terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, June 1, 2001, at
31 Interview, CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, at
32 Remarks by the president and the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, at
33 David Makovsky, "The U.S. Must Issue Arafat an 'Or Else,'" The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2001.
34 Remarks, Meridian, Tex., Aug. 13, 2001, at
35 Colin Powell, remarks with British secretary of state of foreign and commonwealth affairs, July 11, 2001, at
36 "Israeli Operations in Area A: The State Department vs. the Oslo Accords," Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 1, no. 7, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Oct. 23, 2001, at
37 Statement on the situation in the Middle East, Apr. 17, 2001, at
38 The Jerusalem Post, Apr. 18 and 19, 2001.
39 Press Availability with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat (Ramallah), Feb. 25, 2001, at; testimony at budget hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (as delivered), Feb. 5, 2002, at
40 Interview, CNN, Aug. 1, 2001, at
41 Remarks with Attorney-General John Ashcroft, Mexican Secretary Jorge Castaneda, and Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel, Aug. 9, 2001, at
42 Daily press briefing, Mar. 8, 2002, at
43 On at least one occasion-to an Arab audience-Powell has referred to them as "assassinations." Interview, Middle East Broadcasting Centre (London), Jan. 9, 2002, at
44 Vincent Cannistraro, "Assassination Is Wrong-and Dumb," The Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2001.
45 L.C. Green, The Contemporary Law of Armed Conflict (Manchester: Juris Publishing, Manchester University Press, 1993), p. 145.
46 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 3, 2001.
47 Rumsfeld: "I think any time people are doing suicide bombings and blowing up your people at bus stops and in restaurants, you certainly cannot sit there and tolerate that . you have an obligation to your people to take action to try to reduce that level of violence or to eliminate it if humanly possible." The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 10, 2001.
48 Colin Powell, interview, al-Jazira (Riyadh), Sept. 17, 2001, at
49 Colin Powell, interview, ABC, Sept. 20, 2001, at
50 Colin Powell, interview, NBC's Today Show, Oct. 10, 2001, at
51 "On-The-Record Briefing (1430 hrs)," Sept. 12, 2001, at
52 Colin Powell, interview, al-Jazira, at
53 Colin Powell, interview, CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Oct. 21, 2001, at
54 Press briefing on board plane en route Pakistan, Oct. 15, 2001, at
55 Interview, CNN, Nov. 9, 2001, at
56 Press briefing, en route to Washington, D.C., from Shanghai, Oct. 21, 2001, at
57 Interview, Fox News, Nov.18, 2001, at
58 Colin Powell, interview, ABC's This Week, Sept. 23, 2001, at; idem, statement on redesignation of foreign terrorist organizations, Oct. 5, 2001, at; interview, Fox News, Nov. 18, 2001, at
59 Interview, Fox News, Nov. 18, 2001, at
60 Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly, New York, Nov. 10, 2001, at
61 Interview, NBC's Meet the Press, Nov. 11, 2001, at
62 Remarks with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, Washington, D.C., May 2, 2001, at
63 Ari Fleischer, press briefing, Dec. 3, 2001, at
64 Remarks with His Excellency Jorge Castaneda, secretary of foreign relations of Mexico, Washington, D.C., Jan. 10, 2002, at
65 Interview, The Lehrer News Hour, Jan. 25, 2002, at
66 President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon Discuss Middle East, Washington, D.C., Feb. 7, 2002, at
67 Ari Fleischer, press briefing, Feb. 25, 2002, at
68 Fox News Channel, Apr. 2, 2002, at
69 CBS's Face the Nation, Mar. 10, 2002, at
70 Press conference, Mar. 13, 2002, at
71 "President Calls on World Leaders to Condemn Terrorism," Mar. 30, 2002, at
72 Ibid.
73 Ari Fleischer, press briefing, Apr. 1, 2002, at
74 Statement on designation of three additional foreign terrorist organizations, Mar. 27, 2002, at
75 Ari Fleischer, press briefing, Apr. 3, 2002, at
76 "President to Send Secretary Powell to Middle East," Apr. 4, 2002, at
77 President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, press conference, Apr. 6, 2002, at
78 Address to a joint session of Congress, on Sept. 20, 2001, at; interview, BBC, Sept. 21, 2001, at
79 Interview, BBC, Jan. 4, 2002, at
80 Interview, NHK television (Tokyo), Jan. 21, 2002, at
81 "Be Heard: An MTV Global Discussion with Colin Powell," Feb. 14, 2002, at
82 Interview, The Lehrer News Hour, Jan. 25, 2002, at
83 Interview, CBS's Face the Nation, Feb. 3, 2002, at; interview, CBS's The Early Show, Apr. 2, 2002, at
84 Interview, CBS's Face the Nation, Feb. 3, 2002, at

©2002 - Middle East Quarterly

Send  To A FriendSend To A Friend       Return to Israel Report - July 2002       HOME
Jerusalem !
Recommended Links
  • C and M Law Corporation, the Los Angeles personal injury attorney firm, has been serving the city’s residents for over 45 years. People who think they do not need the services of an experienced personal injury attorney, invariably find out the hard way that they should have chosen that right lawyer in the very beginning. Regardless of the type of accident or injury, we have the experience to successfully represent you and your family. If you or someone you know has been injured through the negligence or recklessness of others, come see us. Voted in the top one percent of trial lawyers in the USA, our lawyers go the distance. We can help get you the compensation you and your loved ones deserve. The personal injury attorney Los Angeles firm of C and M Law Corporation has won an excess of 2 Billion Dollars in settlements!