[Reprinted with permission of the author from The Montana Standard, 7 October 2001.]
Since September 11, many on the political left have charged that America's ties with Israel helped spawn the World Trade Center attack by inspiring justifiable anti-American anger in the Muslim world. For example, a statement by a group called "The War Resisters League" urges America to respond to the attack by distancing itself from Israel and its "ruthless repression of the Palestinian people and...continuing occupation...of the West Bank and Gaza." Peace rallies all over the country have issued similar messages.
Are such allegations valid? Clearly, Osama bin Laden hates American support of Israel, a country he perceives less as an autonomous nation than an extension of American hegemony in the Holy Land of Islam. But the gaping flaw in the logic of the peace movement's argument is that it ignores the significant steps taken by both America and Israel to try to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in order to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Take the Oslo Accords of 1993. Here, delegates from the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization, meeting secretly in Norway for years, finally agreed on a plan that would allow Yasser Arafat and the PLO to return to govern the Occupied Territories, while initiating a gradual Israeli troop withdrawal meant to culminate in an autonomous Palestinian state. President Clinton invited Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to officially ratify the agreement on the White House lawn. Moreover, polls showed that a majority of Israelis supported Oslo, despite the obvious threat to Israeli security posed by the existence of a Palestinian state on Israel's borders.
At Camp David in 2000, American and Israeli negotiators strove to build on Oslo by enacting a "final status" agreement. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat a deal more generous than any previously considered by Israel's leaders: return to the Palestinians 95 percent of the Occupied Territories (with the remaining 5 percent to be compensated for by land within Israel proper), while granting the new Palestinian state a capital in East Jerusalem. By all accounts, Clinton worked literally day and night to try to get the agreement signed. And what was the Palestinian response? Arafat rejected the offer outright, not even making a counter-proposal to continue the negotiating process. And, soon after, the Palestinians erupted into a new, even bloodier "intifada," including suicide bombers. This point bears repeating: it wasn't Israeli militarism that inspired this Palestinian violence, but rather a generous, American-backed peace initiative.
Why does the left ignore this indisputable history? Because such realities muddle their partisan agenda. And why did the Palestinians blow their chance to have an independent state? Here, one cannot overlook the pernicious effect of Islamic fundamentalism--the fanatical belief in "jihad" against the Jewish "infidels," the twisted notion that anyone who murders civilians becomes a religious martyr and ascends instantly to Heaven. Arafat isn't himself an Islamic fundamentalist, but it seems that many of his supporters in the Arab world are, making it risky for him to cut deals with the Israelis.
Admittedly, the failure of the peace process isn't attributable exclusively to Palestinian intransigence. Many other factors--the Jewish settlements in the territories, the assassination of Rabin by a Jewish extremist, the thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Arab countries, the undeniable brutality of the Israeli occupation--all pose major obstacles to peace. Nonetheless, speaking as someone who has supported the peace process for decades, let me say firmly: When the Palestinians are willing to live in peace alongside a Jewish homeland, they will have their own state.
What lessons can America learn from Israel's struggles when we ponder how to respond to the heinous crimes of Sept. 11? First, even assuming that it's moral to seek reconciliation with mass murderers, it is naïve to imagine that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen will welcome us with open arms if we arrive proffering an olive branch. Islamic terrorism is driven not only by American militarism, but also by profound religious disagreements with the West's pluralistic, multicultural, democratic societies, as well as by envy of America's superpower status--grievances America can't assuage by any rational action. By all means, America should seek to remedy its misdeeds in the Middle East. But I fear that some kind of military action is also required if we are to deter this dire threat to our very way of life. America is not at war with the entire Islamic world, but we are at war with Militant Islam and its networks of international terrorism.