October 22, 2001
Israel and the United States have both embarked on military campaigns, each country against the most immediate terrorist threat it faces. Though Foreign Minister Shimon Peres does not seem to like the analogy, the parallels between the Taliban and Yasser Arafat's regime are real.
Peres chided Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for making the analogy between Arafat and the Taliban, asking, "What does he want to do, start bombing the Palestinian cities the way the Americans are bombing Afghanistan?" This formulation is insulting to both the US and Israel, because it sounds like the US is bombing Afghan cities, and that Israel might contemplate such a step. Actually, the US is targeting, in as pinpoint a way as possible, the Taliban's military assets and bin Laden's training camps. Israeli closures unfortunately have a harsh affect on all Palestinians, but Israel has attempted to use lethal force very precisely, against specific targets and even specific terrorists.
If there is a strategic similarity to the US and Israeli positions, it is that both countries have been trying to force regimes to break with terror, while preserving the possibility of friendship with people suffering under those regimes.
The US is pursuing its dual policy with almost equal public emphasis on both parts. Once Afghanistan's air defenses were suppressed, among the first American priorities was to drop aid packages to the Afghan people. It is certainly not fair to say that the US is "bombing Afghanistan," when it is clear that the US is concentrating on military assets and terrorist camps, and going to considerable lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
The goal of the American military campaign is to replace the Taliban regime, but only because that regime refused to eject the terrorist network that it is harboring. Though the purpose of the US campaign is not really freedom for the Afghan people, if the US is successful, Afghans will have an opportunity to dig themselves out of their dark age.
Israel is in a very similar position with respect to Arafat's regime.
Israel has no desire or interest to be in military conflict with the Palestinians, but has been forced down this road to defend itself against terrorism. Israel also has no quarrel with the Palestinian people, assuming they are willing to build their state peacefully alongside Israel. But Israel, like the US, is now in a fight with a terrorist-supporting regime that must give up terrorism or fall.
Though Israel, like the US, is acting primarily in self-defense and not in an altruistic effort to help another people out of its oppression and suffering, the byproduct of the Israeli effort could be a better government for the Palestinian people.
Peres also frequently argues that the alternative to Arafat is Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which would hardly be an improvement. It is not at all clear, however, that this is the case. The Palestinians could be taken over by their own bin Ladens, but they know that the result would be a terrible blow to the Palestinian cause. It would be ironic if, following September 11, the Palestinians would adopt a regime that not only harbors terrorists but is run by the worst of them.
It is certainly a possibility, and perhaps even likely, that if Arafat's regime were defeated because it would not reject terrorism, that those who have argued that Arafat made a strategic error would come to the fore.
In any case, Israel's message to the Palestinians is similar to the American message to the Afghans: We wish, for your sake and ours, that you had a better government, but we have no choice but to fight any government of yours that attacks us or harbors terrorists who do.
With a degree of defeatism that is surprising in a leader who prides himself on vision, Peres sees only why Israel cannot make its case in the world. "I told Arik [Sharon]: you say there is no such thing as good terrorism and bad terrorism," Peres said in a televised interview. "That is true, but by the same token there is no such thing as good occupation and bad occupation. No one in the world will be prepared to accept the continued occupation of the territories." In other words, there is no parallel with Afghanistan, Peres argues, because America is not occupying Afghanistan, but in the world's eyes we are occupying Palestine. But it is the job of the foreign minister to explain the truth: Israel has been trying desperately to leave territories to which it also has legitimate claims, and has been prevented from doing so by the lack of a true partner for peace.
In other words, Israel has the same lack of interest in ruling over Palestinians that America has in ruling over Afghanistan. By the same token, both Israel and the US have an active interest in new or changed regimes that have abandoned terror and, incidentally, are better for the people they govern.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post