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America Must Get Tough With Israel



LONDON-- Short two and a half years ago, the then foreign minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, observed, "I don't think we have in the Middle East a process of peace. We have a war for peace, because it calls unfortunately for victims and casualties." Probably, not even in the most pessimistic moments of this melancholic man, did he himself forsee that soon after he spoke he'd witness the triple whammy of the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the subsequent victory at the polls of Likud's party Binyamin Netanyshu and the effective pacing of negotiations under the Oslo accords by terrorist elements on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

While Mr. Netanyshu may not have wanted the tide of events to move in his direction by such a route he and his Likud philosophy is the clear beneficiary. The political cul de sac that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians now find themselves manoeuvred into is where the grand strategists of the Likud right wanted them to be all along. In recent months the tables have been so turned on Arafat that the Israel he faces now demands from him its security agenda or nothing--and all that is left as bait on the Oslo hook is unrecognizable to the Palestinian eye. Even Stephen Rosenfeld of the Washington Post, columnist and chief foreign editorial writer, has now been provoked to nail his colors as a Jewish dissident, criticizing Israel for only offering to the Palestinians "a small dependent misshapen territory carved up by Israeli roads and vulnerable to Israeli intervention the first time a kid threw a stone." It would never be a Palestinian state. It would not even be a viable Palestinian economic entity. It would be a quasi refugee camp squeezed into the interstices of Greater Israel.

Doubtless, Israel has the military muscle to impose its interpretation of peace, at least in the short run. (In the long run the Arab world will find a way to subvert it.) But that would mean totally forsaking the Fourth Geneva Convention. Drafted in 1949 in the wake of Adolf Hitler's ethnic cleansing, paragraph 6 of article 49 reads, "The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Israel, however, has been establishing settlements on the conquered West Bank since 1967 and recently has been accelerating the process in the most provocative manner possible. How can there be "land-for-peace," the essence of UN resolution 242 and the heart of the Oslo accords, when Israel is manifestly determined to torpedo away the last stays and constraints of the Geneva Convention?

Only one power in the world at the moment can say "stop" or "no" to Israel and it mean anything and that is America. But since the dying days of the Bush Administration Washington has veered from inactive to passive. So passive indeed has been the Clinton Administration that on occasion it has put aside its self-described "neutrality" to get Israel out of a jam--as when in the first Clinton term the U.S. used its veto in the UN Security Council to halt what would otherwise have been a universal condemnation of Likud's aggressive settlement policy.

Now the new Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, seems intent on re-galvanizing Washington's role. But is Mrs. Albright prepared if necessary to make public a profound philosophical difference with Likud, or will it be more of fudge and smudge, of the same order as when Henry Kissinger described Netanyahu's election victory as "a call for change in the definition of peace." That was a classically anodyne statement that papered over the fact that the defeated Labour party would not rule out the eventual creation of a viable Palestinian state and Likud does.

Mrs. Albright should pay heed to the observation of James Noyes, a Hoover Institution research fellow, who argues that "Some of Washington's most useful contributions have come when the U.S. strongly disagreed with a particular Israeli action." Not surprisingly there have only been a handful of occasions when this happened but they do stand out as markers.

President Dwight Eisenhower memorably went so far as to insist on the abortion of the ill-conceived French, British and Israeli invasion of Egypt, following Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal. President George Bush took a telling stand when he refused to permit Prime Minister Yitshuk Shamir's Likud government to use American loan guarantees to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He suffered a torrent of abuse for this, but it changed the climate and made the Israelis more flexible in negotiation.

Although there have been some vicissitudes in the Clinton presidency, defending settlements one year, criticizing them the next, the basic stance remains in its main essentials supportive of Netanyahu's uncompromising rigor. That has to change and must do quickly if a de facto Greater Israel is not going to be locked in place in the next couple of years.

Washington must stop looking over its shoulder at the American Jewish lobbies who represent only a minority of the Jews in the diaspora. It should not feel in hock to the apparent mandate of the Israeli voter when the election was won by a mere 29,500 votes in an atmosphere that was anything from normal, following Rabin's assassination. Mr. Clinton and Mrs. Albright have to realize-- and very quickly too--that in this "war for peace" America cannot afford to give any more hostages to fortune. The time for getting singularly tough with the Likud philosophy has now arrived and can no longer be avoided.


August 27, 1997, LONDON

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

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