East Bloodshed: The U.S. Role
the violence escalates in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians,
the pressure for intervention by the United States or some other
force increases as well. I listen mostly to NPR while driving, but
the experts they have on repeat a drumbeat similar to what one gets
on the cable and network news. Greta Van Susteren's segment teaser
was "Is President Bush doing everything he can to stop the
general assumption is that the Israelis and Palestinians simply
can't solve this problem themselves. Sooner or later the U.S. or
the UN or somebody will have to impose a cease-fire. It's just a
matter of having the boldness, the courage, the patience, the perseverance
to do it.
of the few exceptions is Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute, to
whom I talked last week. He suggested that after some 30 years of
mediation and efforts to impose settlement from outside, those who
suggest that it is time for the United States to intervene should
face a strong burden of proof before they can be taken seriously.
We have had intervention after intervention, peace plan after peace
plan, and still the violence escalates. What evidence is there that
any of those who advise a "robust" U.S. role have a plan that will
bring peace this time?
Americans forgotten so quickly that the current 18-month Intifada
had its genesis, at least to some extent, in over-exuberant U.S.
efforts? In his haste to build a "legacy," former President Clinton
tried to force an agreement between Arafat and then-Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak. When the talks fell apart as anybody could
have predicted at the time and as I and many others did disappointment
and disillusionment reigned and the stage was set for a new round
of mutual violence.
makes at least as much sense and probably more to suggest that the
continuing conviction that the United States will eventually play
an increasingly intense and involved role, as former Democratic
Sen. Mitchell (along with many others) predicted on "Nightline"
Monday night, is as much a deterrent to peace as a goad toward settlement.
both sides believe that the United States (or the United Nations
with strong pushes or at least the tacit approval of the United
States) will eventually have to step in, then neither side has much
of an incentive to take the idea of negotiating very seriously.
Indeed, insofar as they are reasonably sure there will be intervention
in the near future, each side has something of an incentive to move
as aggressively as possible so as to gain as much as possible
in territory, corpses of enemies, strategic position, destruction
of the infrastructure and/or morale of the other side before
the intervention occurs. Take this thinking a little further. It
is just possible that the United States has been a major contributor
almost certainly unintentionally and not in a straight cause-and-effect
fashion, of course to the current round of violence. Here's
how that might be possible.
President Dick Cheney's trip to assess support for a possible attack
on Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq brought demands for more concerted
US efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian resolution. So the
United States sent retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni on one more
mediation mission. Not surprisingly, Palestinian radicals stepped
up terror attacks on his arrival. This has happened every time Zinni
has gone to the Middle East. It was predictable. The violence has
ratcheted up more than on previous occasions this time, but at least
some suicide attacks were virtually guaranteed.
is not to say that Israeli-Palestinian relations would have been
sweetness and light given benign neglect from the United States.
Suicide bombings and Israeli military action had been fairly common
before the Zinni visit. But it is at least possible that some of
the additional killings in the last few weeks stem from increasing
U.S. involvement, which stems from the desire of the United States
to attack Saddam Hussein. Perhaps it is too simplistic to say that
violence and the desire for violence always beget more violence,
sometimes in unanticipated ways. But the desire to do violence to
Saddam is not completely unrelated to the increased violence in
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict either.
we have seen since Gen. Zinni arrived in the Middle East is almost
certainly more than most observers bargained for, of course. On
Monday, as Israeli troops expanded their activities in Palestinian
territory in the West Bank, while keeping Palestinian Authority
leader Yasser Arafat penned in his headquarters compound in Ramallah,
a Palestinian bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint near an Orthodox
neighborhood in Jerusalem, injuring three Israelis, one critically.
was the sixth suicide bombing in six days. Palestinian gunmen killed
some 11 other Palestinians suspected of aiding Israel. The morgue
at Ramallah is overcrowded, with at least 25 Palestinians killed
and awaiting processing over the last day or so. At least one Israeli
soldier was killed, as were several Palestinians in Israeli-Palestinian
incident that seems to have ratcheted up the violence this time,
of course, was the Passover suicide bombing in the seaside city
of Netanya. That gave the Sharon government a reason (or a pretext)
to commence military incursions into the West Bank after pulling
back from military activity for a few days upon Gen. Zinni's arrival
the saddest aspect of the ongoing conflict is that outsiders with
good intentions seem unable to bring it to a halt; indeed, outside
efforts may well have contributed to the current round of terror
and retribution. Even more tragic is the fact that those who seek
to end or ameliorate the bloodshed are effectively held hostage,
at least for the short run, to individuals willing to commit suicide
and kill others in the process.
perceptions make anything resembling a settlement seem remote just
now. A Sunday New York Times article noted that the Israelis seem
to want a cease-fire as a precondition to talks on a more permanent
settlement including Palestinian statehood, while the Palestinians
want movement toward a political settlement. They believe that if
the Israelis get a cease-fire they will stall on political talks.
other Arab countries that met in Beirut have an interest in quieting
the Palestinian front, but it is difficult to see what they can
do. It is difficult to imagine them taking military action, and
or using oil as an effective weapon. But some face restiveness and
instability if they don't appear to be supporting the Palestinians.
approaches of the outsiders who might actually want peace seem especially
pathetic just now. President Bush says Mr. Arafat must do more to
stop the violence, but it is unclear whether he can do so. The United
Nations has condemned the Israeli incursions, but it has no power
to stop them. The Arab summit's adoption of a Saudi peace plan (which
might or might not have been serious) last week was undermined by
the Passover massacre and subsequent bombings.
may always be allowed to hope that at some point the residents of
the Middle East will have suffered enough terror, enough bloodshed,
enough horror that they will sit down and talk about ending the
violence. But that time has obviously not yet come. One hates
to think of bloodshed as a necessary prelude to serious negotiations,
but in this sad old world and especially in the Middle East
it is difficult to imagine the imposition of peace by an
outside force at this time or any time in the near future.
"Nightline" Sen. Mitchell, already the author of yet another failed
Middle Eastern peace plan, invoked his experience in Northern Ireland.
He made the point that even after the path of small confidence-building
measures had been mapped out, it still took months of negotiations,
with both sides fully apprised of what all the steps were likely
to be, to get an agreement. But it was important to have a plan
or a path from which to operate.
he failed to mention was that war-weariness had set in long before,
in Northern Ireland, and neither side had anything resembling a
realistic expectation that it would gain much more in terms of territory
or power (other than deaths on the other side counterbalanced by
inevitable deaths on one's own side) through further violence. There
is little evidence that kind of resignation is prevalent in the
have no way of knowing what is in Yasser Arafat's mind, but certainly
some Palestinian militants still believe that the destruction of
Israel as an entity is possible. And while I suspect that Ariel
Sharon himself has retreated from the idea of a permanent Jewish
presence on the West Bank, some elements of the Israeli polity still
see that as an achievable goal. Sen. Mitchell also failed to note
that the agreement he worked so hard to forge in Northern Ireland
has looked especially shaky lately and may well have fallen apart.
were signs before last week that Ariel Sharon's government in Israel
was losing popularity as military action failed to yield security.
Indeed, Yossi Beilin, the justice minister in Ehud Barak's government,
wrote an article saying that "the Israeli war against the terrorist
infrastructure will give birth to more terrorists, because the terrorist
infrastructure lies within people's hearts."
suicide bombings seem to have buttressed support for military action
among Israelis, but will it last if suicide bombings continue? If
it comes to seem apparent to many Israelis that military action
will not wipe out the infrastructure of terror will opposition to
Sharon grow again?
is important to remember that so far such opposition has not developed.
If either the Israelis or the Palestinians were close to the point
of war-weariness, we would expect to see much stronger and more
effective opposition to the respective leaders and from relative
doves rather than from critics who say Sharon and Arafat haven't
been tough or unremitting enough.
is sad to consider the likelihood that while most Israelis or Palestinians
are probably not pleased with the current level of conflict and
killing they are willing to put up with it, at least for now. But
if they weren't, both leaders would be facing much more effective
QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
wonders, what authority, if any, does Yasser Arafat have now? Could
he stop the bombings if he wanted to? By isolating him in his compound
have the Israelis, in effect, relieved him of responsibility? Unfortunately,
the situation is complex, volatile and unstable. A mistake or accident
could trigger a wider conflict nobody but radicals or those motivated
by hatred desires. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon apparently believes
(or hopes) that the current military mission will uproot or neutralize
the terrorist network, create a buffer zone and make it virtually
impossible for suicide bombers to operate. Well, maybe it will for
a while, although success is by no means assured and it is not a
solution for the long run. Any sensible person must pray for peace,
but short of a miracle it is difficult to see its shape.
this complexity and uncertainty, I submit, far from being an argument
for increased U.S. Involvement, is precisely an argument against
it. The United States has not been able to achieve peace in some
30 years of trying, and the evidence that the Bush team is more
sophisticated and skilled than all its predecessors is less than
scant. It might seem cruel to suggest that with the decline of the
Soviet Union the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is less geopolitically
significant than once it was. But it is true.
United States interests are no longer at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, and if they were it's still unlikely we could fix it.
The only reason for intensified involvement is not anything resembling
a realistic hope that the U.S. has discovered the key to peace,
but a desire to make war on Iraq. Perhaps the unexpectedly complex
and violent fallout of that desire and the Israeli-Palestinian
complication are only the tip of the iceberg will lead U.S. leaders
(or at least some citizens) to reconsider the necessity of taking
out Saddam with a military campaign.
doubts it, however. A great deal more blood will probably have to
be shed before the empire's desire to make permanent war is satiated.
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