The Peril of Pressuring Israel
Flying in the face of the contention that Israel must make unilateral concessions to Arab demands to relinquish land and make sweeping withdrawals from the territories are realities that, if not reckoned with decisively today, will certainly come back in blood and tears in the short term.
Unfortunately, the present American administration is being perceived as precariously close to abrogating its responsibility to take an unequivocal position on the matter of security and survival for the State of Israel. Instead, they have increasingly pointed a finger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s policies as the source of the breakdown of the peace process.
In a blame-someone-else-for-your-own-failures move, some have implied that Israeli policy is a primary reason for the failure to mobilize a coalition against Saddam Hussein following the humiliation handed the United States by the Iraqi strongman. Thus, there is talk of turning up American pressure on Israel in order to achieve a settlement acceptable to the Palestinians and their Arab cohorts.
No one can say with a straight face that U.S. negotiators and Western European leaders have held Israelis and Palestinians to comparable standards of accountability. When Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel took a long leap of faith in withdrawing from Hebron and conceding control of Bethlehem and other key West Bank cities to the Palestinians, what was their reward? It has come to them in the form of suicide bombers, demands for more withdrawals, and threats of a new, more violent intifada if they refuse to comply.
Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, has blatantly made a mockery of the Oslo Accords and has succeeded handily in getting away with it. Some notable examples:
- The Palestinian Charter, which calls for the annihilation of the State of Israel, has not been rescinded or altered. To say the least, Arafat’s failure to do so has not been met with appropriate outrage from international leaders.
- Arafat reportedly maintains a standing “police force” (army) in excess of 40,000. This force is nearly double the number to which he agreed in the Oslo Accords. Thus far, some 150 Palestinian police officers have been recruited from known terrorist groups. At least 25 are wanted for direct acts of terrorism against Israel.
- The latest maps produced by the Palestinians—displayed in Chairman Arafat’s office and to the far reaches of the Muslim world—do not include the State of Israel in any shape or form; it is all “Palestine.”
- Suicide bombers are lauded as martyrs, while muted lip service is given to shutting down terrorism.
These few examples of Arafat’s nearly universal disregard for obligations agreed to in peace negotiations with Israel expose factual and philosophical declarations of intent for the future. Such conduct makes the demand for Israelis to prove their credibility to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority exceedingly questionable.
The Rush Toward Statehood
It is assumed that Yasser Arafat will have his cherished Palestinian State in the not-too-distant future. The drive toward statehood seems to be accelerated in the minds of some by the chairman’s declining health. Reasoning for this appears to be based on the premise that Arafat should be rewarded for his earnest search for reconciliation and peace before he passes off the scene. As a matter of fact, he is now declaring that he will unilaterally declare a state by 1999 if he is not given what he perceives as his due from Israel.
For all of the good intentions behind such thinking, the granting of a Palestinian State holds the possibility of becoming one of the greatest errors made in a process plagued by mistakes. Consider at least two things:
1. A History of Non-Compliance
Yasser Arafat, as demonstrated above, is not a man who keeps his word. Or does he? That question turns on what word is being referenced. Before his entry into negotiations with Israel, the world’s foremost terrorist declared himself on the matter of future relations with Israelis: no negotiations; no recognition; no peace. But if necessary, as an interim measure, the Palestinians could carve out a state. Then territories under his control would be used as a staging area for the future annihilation of Israel. Has he mellowed since his implied change of heart when he agreed to talk peace with Israel? Allow him to speak for himself.
- 1993, in a radio address after signing the Oslo Accords: “It is a revolution until victory, until victory, until victory” (Voice of Palestine, December 31).
- 1994, at a mosque in Johannesburg, South Africa: “The jihad [holy war] will continue…You have to understand our main battle is Jerusalem…You have to come and fight a jihad to liberate Jerusalem, your precious shrine…No, it is not their capital. It is our capital” (Israel Radio, May 17).
- 1995, in a radio address: “The struggle will continue until all of Palestine is liberated” (Voice of Palestine, November 1).
- 1996, to Palestinian security forces in Gaza on September 24: “They will fight for Allah, and they will kill and be killed, and this is a solemn oath…Our blood is cheap compared with the cause which has brought us together…Palestine is our land and Jerusalem is our capital” (Maariv, October 4).
- 1997, addressing a crowd in Tulkarem (West Bank): “I now see the walls of Jerusalem, the mosques of Jerusalem, the churches of Jerusalem. My brothers! With blood and with spirit, we will redeem you, Palestine! Yes, with blood and with spirit, we will redeem you, Palestine!” (Voice of Palestine, April 28).
Based on the flavor of the Chairman’s own rhetoric, his non-compliance should not come as a surprise.
2. Present Friends; Future Prospects
If it is true that a person can be judged by his circle of friends, the possibility of a Palestinian State should throw a red flag in the face of every true peace seeker in Israel and the Western world. It is no secret that Arafat and his likely successors in the Palestinian Authority have warm relationships with some of the most notorious Islamic rogue nations in the Middle East. It goes without saying that their friends have no sympathy for Israel or the United States. A primary example is Iraq. A statement issued by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction of the PLO makes the point:
The Fatah central committee condemns the American escalation against Iraq and the disregard for the suffering of the Iraqi people for years…The movement called upon all the official and popular Arab forces to unite in order to face the challenge confronting the entire Arab nation…The U.S. began escalating tensions through the Americans in the international inspection teams, according to Washington’s instructions (Voice of Palestine, November 11, 1997).
Such present sympathies cast long shadows over what can become future realities. It does make a difference whether the Palestinians live as an autonomous entity or as a sovereign state. Assuming autonomy with close ties to Jordan, for example, presents a far different picture than independent statehood. An independent nation, regardless of up-front promises to the contrary, can put out the welcome mat for nations, military forces, or militant terrorist organizations as it sees fit. Furthermore, they can field an army sized to their ambitions. In this instance, with every city in Israel within easy reach of terrorist rockets or armed military incursions, it is too much to ask that Benjamin Netanyahu or any future Israeli leader stand aside for an arrangement that poses a malignant threat to Israel’s national security or, for that matter, American interests in the region. Negotiators would do well to remember that in Lebanon the terrorists of the Hizbullah are relatively few in number, but their bombs and rockets cause Israelis to bleed almost daily.
Radical Islamic Imperialism
Whether we like it or not, radical Islamic extremists are a contemporary fact of life with designs on Israel and, ultimately, aspirations for global domination. Their jihad-driven fanaticism is being vented against Muslims with whom they disagree—as in Egypt and Algeria—Christians—as in the Sudan—and most of all, Israel and the United States.
Voices from this contingent were raised at the Organization of Islamic [states] Conference held last December in Teheran, Iran. The OIC is composed of 55 Muslim nations representing a total of one billion people worldwide. Although Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah urged Muslim leaders to reject Islamic militancy, others called for a united front to move against Israel and the United States. It must be noted that this alliance is not predominantly an Arab organization. It is Islamic. Thus, many non-Arab but Islamic nations, such as Indonesia, are members of the alliance. Although there are fundamental disagreements on many issues among them, Arab and non-Arab Muslim nations alike are virtually unanimous in the conviction that Israel has no right to exist.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called for a pact to enable Persian Gulf nations to defend themselves without relying on “foreign forces.” “Right now,” he said, “the presence of foreign warships and more importantly the U.S. military muscle flexing in the Persian Gulf, which is an Islamic sea…, is a source of insecurity.” The OIC could, he reasoned, “force the aliens to dispense with this intervention and on the other hand eliminate the pretexts for this improper presence.” The president further stated that in addition to the odious presence of U.S. forces in the region, Israel threatened regional security through its “systematic and gross violation of international law, pursuit of state terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.”
Remarks by Iranian supreme spiritual leader Ali Khamenei mirrored the mindset of radicals whose hatred for Israel and the United States is an insatiable fixation.
After naming Israel and the United States as the main enemies of Islam, Khamenei called for unity. “What,” he boasted, “can the United States do vis-á-vis the united front of the Islamic countries, ranging from Indonesia to North Africa?” He commented further that it was time the Islamic world give more support to the front-line states who are waging an heroic struggle against Israel, the usurper of Arab lands.
Neither political appeasement nor Israel’s conceding more land will ever be an acceptable option with such radical Islamic elements. Theirs is solidified hatred draped in a religious rationale that cannot come to terms with the existence of Israel in any form. They are committed to a God-cause to kill or be killed.
Therefore, while pressuring Israel to concede territory as a step in the right direction may appeal to some people in high places, it will prove a totally vain exercise.
Resurgence of Russian Influence
Another factor that cannot be ignored is the resurrection of Russia as a major player in the Middle East. Symbolizing Russia’s quest for clout was the flight of a Russian cargo jet to Iraq last Christmas. According to news reports, the Russian jet was the first transport to land at the Baghdad airport since the Gulf War. The jet carried medical supplies and a group of Russian Parliament members. The calculated public relations photo opportunity made a statement: Saddam Hussein and Iraq have a friend—Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said in Cairo last November that Russia was committed to building strong relations with Iran, despite Washington’s efforts to isolate the Islamic republic. “Besides stressing the continuation of Iran-Russia cooperation, Primakov called for the Zionist regime’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon as well as measures by the international community against Israel’s aggressions” (The Islamic Republic News Agency).
Russian cooperation with Iran constitutes sending thousands of technicians to help the Iranians develop long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering warheads to targets of choice in Israel and other countries. Most ominous is the threat of Russia’s making nuclear components available to Islamic radicals in the region, such as Iran. An extensive list of Russian overtures and initiatives among Islamic countries in the Middle East is available for those who care to know what is developing.
The fall of the Soviet Union and a few intervening years have tended to shorten memories and cloud past historical realities. But the resurgence of Russian influence in the Middle East should stir memories of what was true when Russia was the foremost agitator in the region. The record of arms provided by the Soviets is there for all to see.
- 1955: Main supplier of arms to Egypt
- 1955: Main supplier of arms to Syria
- 1958: Main supplier of arms to Iraq
- 1962: Main supplier of arms to Algeria
- 1967: Main supplier of arms to Sudan
- 1967: Main supplier of arms to Yemen-South Yemen
- 1967: Partial supplier of arms to Iranian terrorists
- 1970: Partial supplier of arms to Libya
- 1971: Partial supplier of arms to terrorists in Lebanon
It should also be noted that Yasser Arafat was a devoted client of the Russians.
In other words, the Russians have made a lifestyle of providing the wherewithal for military attempts on Israel’s life to those Islamic nations within the regional ring of fire who cared to ask for it. That pattern seems to be experiencing a revival. For all of America’s aspirations to assist in the creation of a new democratic era in the former Soviet Union, we must recognize that imperialistic ambition has not been purged from the soul of the Russian system. The Middle East may well bring the first great test of the depth of their desire for dominion.
All of which leads me to say that the long-term interests of the United States will only be served by insisting on true reciprocity in negotiating the questions being addressed by Israel and the Palestinians, not in the wholesale giveaway of land for promises that will not be kept. Israel is the only bastion of democracy in the Middle East—a true ally. A consistent demonstration of strength and determination by the United States to assure that Israel will have secure and recognized borders will, in the end, enhance life for Israelis and Palestinians, encourage economic and social stability for the region, and reduce the risk that Americans will forfeit their lives because the United States is perceived to be weak and indecisive. True democracies, such as Israel, will respond to truth and reason. Others, unfortunately, will be controlled only when they are convinced that their targets are strong and determined to defend their right to exist, and that aggression exacts a price too high to pay.