The Bush administration’s latest position regarding the Middle East is adding fuel to a raging fire. US vice president Dick Cheney told the Fox television network that the US understands Israel’s need to attack Palestinians which he called acts of self defense. Israel has been carrying out a declared policy of assassinations against Palestinian activists. In the latest attack Israeli missiles fired from a US made -apache helicopter killed eight Palestinians including two children. This extra-judicial killing is a violation of both US and international law. This US tacit support, (which was front page headlines in the Middle East) is contradictory to US values and hurts US interests in the Middle East. America should instead put its efforts in shoring up its own brokered cease fire agreement.
The United States which is the largest supplier of military hardware to the state of Israel has legally stipulated that these arms should be used for defensive purposes only. For Israeli pilots to use these apache gunships in numerous assassinations turns the Israeli military into judge jury and executioner. This can’t be explained away as an act of self-defense. It is no wonder that US law clearly prohibits acts of political assassination.
What is most troubling about the justification of these premeditated killings is the attempt to deny the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Those targeted are Palestinians who have been struggling for freedom and independence on their own land. Clutching to UN resolutions (which have been supported by the US and the rest of the world) Palestinians have tried to rid themselves of an illegal foreign occupation. Attempts at reaching a negotiated settlement has failed because Israel wants to be rewarded for its occupation by keeping a chunk of Palestinian territory and denying Palestinian refugees their internationally guaranteed rights. Resistance to occupation, including military resistance is sanctioned by international law. Assassinations and extra judicial killings are not.
The US must clearly differentiate between Israel’s illegal and immoral acts of occupation, settlements and assassinations and Palestinian’s insisting on their rights. After all the US itself is insisting on every item and clause in the UN resolutions against Iraq. Why should Israel not fall under the same guideline?
Morally speaking the Bush administration is making a grave error by condoning acts of state terrorism. When a sovereign country, recognized member of the world community, and the US’s special ally, assassinates people in broad day light Americans ought to stand up for the innocent victims and defend their human rights. At best the US should demand from both parties genuine effort to end the violence.
The Palestinian National Authority is not interested in the continuation of the violence, which its own people are paying a high price. Palestinians have committed acts of violence, including acts of terrorism, against Jewish settlers, occupation soldiers and Israeli civilians. Individuals or groups who are frustrated with the continuation of a 34-year illegal occupation and an aggressive illegal settlement policy carry out these acts. But unlike the assassination and other illegal acts of the state of Israeli these individuals and groups are not party to any binding agreement. One might argue that the Palestinian Authority is not doing enough to keep these individuals in check. This was a legitimate question when Israel was in the process of dismantling its occupation. Palestinians during the long seven years of the Oslo peace process criticized President Arafat repeatedly for his incarceration and repression of fellow Palestinians, sometimes referring to him as a traitor and an uncle Tom. The Palestinian leadership’s answer was that this was done for the higher Palestinian good. Now Arafat and his authority have a difficult time explaining any repression against their own people when Israel is refusing to sit on the table to negotiate an end of the occupation.
The present Sharon government seems to have doped the US administration to back impossible conditions for the resumption of peace talks. The right wing led Israeli government insists on months of Palestinian calm as a precondition to beginning peace talks. There is no talk of an end to Israeli assassinations, violence, closures, curfews, and house demolitions. And while Palestinians accept the international position of the need to a two-state solution, no realistic long-term vision of peace with Palestinians has ever been articulated by Sharon and his Likud party.
The United States has a political and moral obligation to defuse the situation, continue to work hard on implementation by both sides of the cease fire agreement and simultaneously insist on the beginning of serious political talks aimed at finding a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem. The main tenants for the solution were clearly articulated by President Bush Sr. in Madrid ten years ago when he called for the exchange of land for peace. Palestinian want, yearn and are willing to offer Israelis permanent peace, but in return Palestinian land must be returned to its owners and the refugee issue solved in a fair way.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.