Posted on August 25, 2003 in Washington Watch

I am continually struck by the cruelty and stupidity manifested by the many sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Last week provided a case in point.

Israel’s provocations, the bus bombing in Jerusalem, followed by the assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab can only be defined as astonishingly cruel and stupid. There is simply no other way to look at these bizarre and self-destructive acts.

Called upon by various networks to comment or debate, I felt, for a time, as if we were all characters in the American movie “Groundhog Day,” doomed to repeat this same tragic cycle of violence over and over again.

The cease-fire that had been negotiated by the Palestinians had produced a three-month opportunity for progress and change. It was stupidly squandered.

Israelis benefited from the calm (although Palestinians did not). Tourism increased and the public’s mood and sense of confidence improved. Reading the Israeli press in the days before the Jerusalem bomb blast, it was clear that the public’s attention had turned inward to discussions about the Sharon family’s scandals, the economic impact of fiscal reform and feeling that life had returned to normal after more than two and one-half years of violence.

Instead of taking steps that would have consolidated and expanded the peace, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was widely quoted in the Israeli press boasting “We haven’t given the Palestinians anything.”

During all this time, Sharon’s behavior was deplorable–stupid and cruel. He made a mockery of the Road Map. Instead of ending settlements and outposts and removing all those started after March 2001, he shifted attention to a mere handful of only those he defined as “illegal.” In other areas, settlements expanded. Confiscations of Palestinian lands continued, as did the demolitions of Palestinian homes. Almost across the board with regard to every issue, whether roadblocks, withdrawals or prisoners–“concessions” were redefined by force, killing Palestinian hopes for change.

What should have happened during the few precious months that followed the cease-fire was a dramatic change in the life of both Israelis and Palestinians. But that did not occur.

Palestinians continue to be killed in Israeli raids while the entire population remained locked into imprisoned towns and villages, unemployed or underemployed. No new opportunity was created to bring hope to this much beleaguered people.

Nevertheless, polls showed that a significant majority of Palestinians wanted the cease-fire to continue and had hope that their situation might improve. Should that have occurred, the Palestinian Authority would have been strengthened at the expense of extremists and further steps toward peace might have been possible. But instead of strengthening the hand of the new government of Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli behavior actually undercut the position of Palestinian moderates.

And then, instead of allowing the Palestinians to continue to work out the continued implementation of their internal cease-fire, in the past week Israel intensified its raids and killings of “suspected militants.” The result of these provocations was, of course, expected and tragic.

As cruel and stupid as Israel has been, one must truly wonder at the thinking of those who ordered, organized and claimed credit for the deplorable terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem. Shredding bodies and destroying the lives of innocents is a criminal act of absolute stupidity. Other than claiming victims, creating fear and mistrust and causing untold damage to the Palestinian image–what has all of this insane violence brought? It has denied the Palestinians the opportunity to define themselves–instead reinforcing the Israeli depiction of Palestinians as terrorists. It has denied the Palestinians the opportunity to describe their plight under occupation since the historically biased U.S. media becomes more focused on the compelling images of dozens of Israeli victims. Given the asymmetry of power here in the United States between those who support Likudnik policies and those who support peace, terrorism only serves to strengthen the hand and voice of the hardliners.

Some U.S. Members of Congress behaved predictably in ways both cruel and stupid. Those whom I debated praised Israel’s “concessions”, deplored Palestinian violence, ignored all of Israel’s misdeeds and Palestinian suffering and blamed Arafat for all that is wrong in the world while literally defending any and all Israeli actions.

To his credit, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell struck a more sane and somber note. But to be clear, the U.S.’s performance, to date, has not been stellar. After some modest signs of pressure on Israel, the Likud government has been allowed to run roughshod over the Road Map. Despite some initial U.S. objections, the outrageous Israeli wall continued to be built. One especially egregious section may now be modified as a result of U.S. objections, but steps have now been taken by Israel to construct an equally disturbing section of the wall in the area of Jerusalem. As in the case of most of Israel’s historically bad behavior, the issue ought to be the entire enterprise of the wall–but has instead become “painful concessions” over this or that piece. And so it was no surprise that last week the U.S. signed the agreement formalizing the underwriting of $9 billion in loan guarantees to Israel. What the U.S. will do is reserve the right to subtract from the $9 billion the amount Israel spends on the wall and settlements–about $1.5 billion. Meaning Israel will still net about $7.5 billion. This can only be described as a stupid and a cruel joke. As a result Israel’s entire colonizing effort will continue unabated. This too is a stupid and cruel policy that can only serve to frustrate peace and lead to more oppression and conflict.

And so here we are, two months after Aqaba, repeating, yet again, the same cycle. Palestinians continue to suffer. Israelis are once again afraid. The U.S. acts powerless lamely urging “the parties to return” to “whatever” it is they are to return to. And hope and the realization of peace and justice are again denied and deferred. All of this is so cruel and so stupid.

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