arab foreign minister298.
(photo credit: AP)
"Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a 'convenient temporary solution.' Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism."
- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, October 4, 2001
Thus spake Sharon weeks after 9/11, when, as the United States gathered its coalition to strike back in Afghanistan, the Bush administration seemed poised to woo allies at Israel's expense. Although we have come a long way since then, there are concerns that the US State Department is attempting to repeat this same mistake.
Back then, Sharon's outburst came after five Israelis had been murdered in separate terrorist attacks in Afula and in Elei Sinai. President George W. Bush had just said that the US should "have no compassion... for any state that sponsors [terrorism]." But when it came to the then-year-old Palestinian terror offensive raging against Israel, Bush said, "In order for there to be peace, we must reduce the level of violence."
It is hard to remember now, but back then, the US spoke not of Israel's right to self-defense, but continued the same pre-9/11 talk of a "cycle of violence." The Bush administration was urging Israel to stay out of Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, even as the IDF tried to thwart terror there, and pressing Sharon to allow foreign minister Shimon Peres to meet with Yasser Arafat. The US mindset was that it needed the Arab states to form a coalition in the war against terrorism, and the price for that was to pressure Israel.
Bush, slowly but surely, subsequently changed track - by almost 180 degrees. Speaking at the UN on November 10, 2001, in a clear message to Arab states, Bush said, "There is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle, trying to pick and choose its terrorist friends, will know the consequences."
And on June 24, 2002, facing similar pressure from many in Europe to "deliver Israel" as the price for supporting the pending war in Iraq, Bush shocked the world by calling on Palestinians to remove Arafat and conditioning US support for Palestinian statehood on rejecting terror and embracing democracy.
Today, it is far from clear what the coalition the US is gathering will actually do to confront Iran, some in the State Department are already echoing what is now the third Arab attempt since 9/11 to deflect Western coalition-building efforts into pressure against Israel.
In a speech before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Friday, State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow said, "For the Arab moderates and the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is the sine qua non for them to cooperate actively with the United States on the things that we care about... It is a fact... That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems."
Give us a "peace process," runs this message from State, if you want us to deliver on Iran.
Yet the Arab states have no veto in the Security Council. Moreover, they have as much interest in stopping an Iranian nuke as do the US and Europe. Why should the US pay Arab states for, once again, taking their chestnuts out of the fire?
If anyone should be making demands, it is the Americans of the Arabs, not vice versa.
Bush's speech at the UN tomorrow would be a perfect opportunity to remind Arab states of their responsibilities to ensure that Lebanon does not fall again into the hands of an Iranian proxy, that Gaza is not flooded with smuggled weaponry like southern Lebanon was, and that the Palestinians fully adhere to the Quartet's conditions for renewed Western support.
Unilateralism is dead and there is no peace partner in sight. There is little that Israel can do for peace that it has not already done or made plain its willingness to do, only to be handed war and terror instead. If the US wants, as Israel fervently does, progress on Iran and on Mideast peace, it is the Arab states, not Israel, that must be pressed to deliver.