With the second Intifada and rise to power
of Ariel Sharon, Israel abandoned Oslo and land-for-peace. We will never again
negotiate with Arafat, said Sharon, because Israel does not negotiate with terrorists.
Two Israeli prime ministers, Rabin and Peres, had shared a Nobel Prize
with Arafat. A third, "Bibi" Netanyahu, had handed over Hebron to Arafat. A
fourth, Ehud Barak, had offered Arafat 95 percent of the West Bank and a capital
in Jerusalem. Yet, Sharon not only made his policy stick, he got George W. Bush
to sign on to it.
Where Arafat had been to the Clinton White House more times than Bob Dole,
he was blackballed by the Bush White House.
Sharon's distaste of Arafat was visceral and real. He would not shake hands
with him. But it was also politically astute. As security analyst Michael Vlahos
has written, nations often declare adversaries "terrorists" to delegitimize
them and absolve themselves of any obligation to talk peace with them. They
fall back on the time-tested formula: "We do not negotiate with terrorists!"
And it is surely true that Arafat's Fatah, as well as his PLO, had committed
acts of terror: the killing of the innocent for political ends, not only Israelis
but U.S. diplomats. Yet, Sharon, in 1953, led a force called Unit 101 into the
West Bank village of Kibya to avenge the Arab slaying of an Israeli woman and
her children. Sixty-nine Palestinians were massacred, mostly women and children,
as their homes were dynamited. Sharon was also the army commander when the IDF
let the Phalangists into Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, and fired flares
to light the night so the killers could get on with their work.
What of us Americans? Do we negotiate with terrorists?
At Tehran and Yalta, FDR ceded Eastern Europe to the Great Terrorist he
called "Uncle Joe." Truman at Potsdam affirmed the grant to Stalin. Three years
after Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution, Eisenhower invited the
"Butcher of Budapest" to Camp David and had him escorted on a 10-day U.S. tour.
In the year the Viet Cong perpetrated the massacre at Hue, going door-to-door
with lists and executing 3,000 South Vietnamese, U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman
sat down with the VC and North Vietnamese at Paris.
In 1972, Nixon went to Peking to shake hands with the greatest terrorist
of the century, Mao Tse-tung, even as Mao's Gang of Four, including his wife,
carried out the Chinese pogrom known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam Hussein on behalf of Ronald Reagan, and
we aided Saddam's Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran. Syrian leader Hafez
al-Assad was said to be a state terrorist. Yet, in 1991, Bush I made him an
ally in the Gulf War.
Gadhafi is responsible for the air massacre of American schoolkids over
Lockerbie. Yet, Bush let Gadhafi out of the sanctions box for giving up his
nuclear program and making restitution to the families of the murder victims
on Pan Am 103. After early careers in which each was accused of terrorism, Tito,
Begin, Shamir and Mandela were honored guests at the White House.
Which brings me to the point. America is a world power with a broader interest
in the Middle East than Israel's, and if we are to protect those interests and
play the role history has assigned us, we cannot allow any nation to exercise
veto power over whom we talk to. While most Americans wish to maintain our commitment
to the security and survival of Israel, we must declare our political and diplomatic
independence of Israel, as Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan all did.
Ike ordered Ben-Gurion out of Sinai. Nixon saved Israel in the Yom Kippur
war with the 1973 airlift, then told Golda Meir Israel must let Egypt resupply
its Third Army on the east bank. Reagan backed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon,
then ordered Israel to stand down, and sold F-16s to Saudi Arabia.
It is preposterous that, at the behest of Israel, we do not talk to a Palestinian
Authority led by Hamas, after an election in which Bush himself demanded Hamas
be included. And while Syria and Iran have been distant and hostile, neither
appears to want war with the United States, and neither has attacked us in at
least 10 years.
If we can talk to Gadhafi, who has the blood of Americans on his hands,
why cannot we talk to Bashar al-Assad and Ahmadinejad? Neither of them has slaughtered
hundreds of Americans in a terror attack.
Before he launched his democracy project, Bush was warned that free elections
would advance the fortunes of Islamic militants. At his insistence, the elections
were held. Results:
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the seats it contested.
Hezbollah swept south Lebanon. Hamas recorded a stunning victory on the West
Bank and Gaza. These were the freest and fairest elections ever held in those
nations. But Bush refused to engage the winners.
The painful truth is that, in the Middle East, democracy will produce,
as it does in the West, two dominant parties. One will be a state party, and
the other is going to be a party rooted in the Islamic faith.
Time to recognize reality and stop isolating America.
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