Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will President Bush Have the Courage to Stand Up to Ariel Sharon?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will President Bush Have the Courage to Stand Up to Ariel Sharon?

Article excerpt

The other day, I heard my friend, Chris Matthews, refer to our President George Bush as a "a gutsy guy."

Certainly the president has the guts to take on Saddam Hussain and Osama bin Laden.

Hopefully he will soon, as his father did, have the guts to take on Ariel Sharon. Should he do so, it could be an effective blow against terrorists who throughout much of the world see us as the chief support for Prime Minister Sharon's long-standing determination that the Palestinians shall never have the separate state guaranteed by U.N. Resolution 242.

Perhaps the greatest motivation for suicide bombers today is what is widely perceived in the Muslim world as Israeli-U.S. terrorism against Palestinians. Every time an 8-year-old Palestinian child is killed, with weapons furnished to Israel by the United States, the seeds of future vengeance by terrorism are planted in someone's mind. The battle against future terror is less related to weapons of mass destruction than it is to the world's perception that the U.S. supports continuing Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory in violation of U.N. resolutions and international law.

It was not always so. Until the presidency of George Bush the younger, every American president since 1967-and George Bush the elder in particular-had strongly opposed expansion of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. Until the election of George W. Bush, every president had had the guts to say that the settlements and their expansion violated international law.

If our president has the courage to fight terrorism in all its ugly aspects, why not take on the terrorism of Ariel Sharon?

It is over 20 years ago that one of our greatest diplomats, Philip Habib, took on Sharon, then Israel's defense minister.

Sharon had invaded southern Lebanon, ostensibly to protect Israel's border from Hizbollah rockets. Once started, however, he went far beyond rocket range and drove all the way into Beirut, where PLO forces were penned in the Muslim portion of the city. Much of the Muslim sector of the city was destroyed by Israeli air, artillery and tank bombardments using U.S.-supplied armament. Yasser Arafat stayed alive only by nightly movements from one underground bunker to another.

Habib's job was to negotiate removal of the Palestinian forces, restoration if possible of a Lebanese government free of the presence and control of Syrian forces, and, finally, the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

For several months, Habib shuttled between the various participants in the Lebanese government, the PLO and the Israelis. Foreign military units from France and the United States were invited in, and it was finally agreed that the PLO fighting men would be escorted out of the country. A key point in the negotiations was that the Palestinian dependents who were left behind-several thousand old men, women and children, situated in two refugee camps in the Israeli-occupied section of Beirut, Sabra and Shatila-would be protected from retribution by the Israelis or the Lebanese Phalange.

That Habib could negotiate this agreement was deemed almost a miracle by Secretary of State George Schultz and President Ronald Reagan. It earned Habib the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian award. His victory turned to ashes, however, when, once the PLO armed fighters had departed, in September 1982, Sharon ordered Israeli troops to stand aside and allow Lebanese Phalange forces to enter into the refugee camps and, in an orgy of killing, slaughter over two thousand unarmed men, women and children. …

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