Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Moves from Condemnation to Tacit Approval of Sharon's War on Palestinians

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Moves from Condemnation to Tacit Approval of Sharon's War on Palestinians

Article excerpt

"With talk of all-out war resounding in the Holy Land, the Bush administration has granted Israel its widest military freedom of action since--in an ominous precedent--a Republican administration turned a blind eye to Ariel Sharon's 1982 invasion of Lebanon... Washington's tacit approval of IDF military moves, coupled with its continuing pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to crack down on militants in his midst, represents a marked departure from nearly two decades of nominal American even-handedness toward the battling sides... The Twin Towers and Pentagon terror strikes, as manifest in U.S. domestic politics, are at the root of the sea-change in U.S. policy toward the conflict, observes Ha'aretz commentator Akiva Eldar...In the new perception, Israel is seen as the equivalent of New York and the Pentagon, an identification only reinforced by recent news footage of Palestinian gunmen killing civilians celebrating a bat mitzva in Hadera or returning home from work on a main Jerusalem thoroughfare."

--Ha'aretz, Jan. 29, 2002

With the election of George W. Bush to the White House, many Americans and their friends in the Middle East anticipated a more balanced, even-handed foreign policy and--perhaps naively--possibly even an end to violence between Israel and its neighbor, Palestine. Certainly the more than 72 percent of Muslim-American voters, as well as a great number of Arab Americans, who supported Bush hoped that the new president would be moved only by his conscience when it came to peace in the Middle East. Bush, after all owed no favors to the Israel lobby--its supporters having voted overwhelmingly for Bill Clinton's vice president, Al Gore.

While no groundbreaking changes in U.S. Mideast policy occurred in the first months of his administration, hopes were still high when Bush recognized the need for a Palestinian state and surrounded himself with advisers who were considered open-minded on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Eyebrows were raised, however, when the first Middle East leader Bush invited to the White House, on March 20, 2001, was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It soon became obvious that, at Israel's request, a similar invitation would not be issued to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Nonetheless people of conscience were relieved the following month, when the State Department condemned Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders, its plans to expand Jewish-only settlements, and its April 17 invasion of Gaza.

Then, on Aug. 29, the State Department warned Israel not to violate U.S. law by using American-made weapons to kill Palestinians. Spokesman Richard Boucher said, "Washington has made it clear that Israel's use of heavy weaponry, especially in the densely populated areas, is a very grave issue and threatens to take the lives of civilians. This is the stance the U.S. has adopted for several months."

Less than two weeks later, on Sept. 11, the Israeli-Palestinian issue was pushed to the back burner following the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks. Nevertheless, on Oct. 2, President Bush said the creation of a Palestinian state had always been part of Washington's vision for the Middle East. "The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right of Israel to exist is respected," Bush told reporters after a meeting with congressional leaders. He also said, however, that it was vital to first reduce the violence in the region.

As the world's media was otherwise occupied with the fallout from Sept. 11, Sharon and his media-savvy advisers began turning up the heat. They and Israel's supporters in the U.S. media began equating the terrorist attack on America with Palestinian terrorism against the Jewish state. Sharon's strategy was simple--and effective: When things got too quiet, he'd assassinate a leader of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group once supported by Israel to give Chairman Arafat some serious political competition. …

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