- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

While fighting terrorism militarily, the United States needs to do more to win popular support in the Islamic world but not at the expense of Israel.

Terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is trying to make the Palestinian cause his leading justification for violence. The Bush administration should not accept his priority list as a way of winning Muslim hearts and minds.

It's a losing proposition, anyway. Bin Laden is aiming for the destruction of Israel, not peace, and, even if the Bush administration muscled Israel into concessions, bin Laden and other Islamic extremists would reject them as insufficient.

There are indications the State Department wants President Bush to return to former President Bill Clinton's peace plan including "sharing Jerusalem" as the basis of renewed Middle East diplomacy, but that's likely to lead to failure and help the terrorist cause, not undercut it.

Instead, to fight bin Laden on the political and propaganda fronts, various experts have suggested a series of other steps some of which are already being taken, some of which are not.

Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, recommends that the United States upgrade its media and public-opinion operations directed toward Arab and Muslim populations, using satellites, magazines and Web sites in local languages to convey American values.

"What most Middle Easterners really want is a U.S. visa," he said. "We can't give everyone a visa, but we should give them the intellectual equivalent better understanding of what we're all about."

He suggests establishing a U.S. equivalent of the Arabic Al Jazeera satellite television network, beginning American studies programs in Arab universities, and reforming U.S. democracy-building programs, which, he said, are largely ineffective.

Mr. Satloff said the U.S. international exchange program should stop sending out speakers to Arab nations with a "blame America" attitude and be more selective about the journalists and scholars it invites into the country.

As other experts recommend, America should also encourage economic and political reform in the often corrupt regimes of the Islamic world and get them to stop spreading anti-U.S. and anti-Jewish propaganda in their controlled media.

"The rage on the Arab street is nominally aimed at the United States and Israel," said the Nixon Center's Geoffrey Kemp, a former Reagan White House aide. "But it actually arises out of the frustration that young people feel toward the corrupt and inefficient regimes they live under."

Islamic extremism, Mr. Kemp pointed out, offers disillusioned young men an acceptable way of expressing their rage at their own governments.

As other experts suggest, we should increase economic aid to countries helping in the current struggle, especially Pakistan and Uzbekistan, and stay involved in the region when the terrorist crisis has passed.

The administration is furnishing food to starving Afghans, and, in a shift in policy, Mr. Bush has vowed to participate in United Nations-managed "nation building" in Afghanistan once the ruling Taliban is ousted.

Mr. Bush is doing everything possible to make clear that we are not fighting Muslims or Arabs and that we foresee no "clash of civilizations," but rather that we are at war with the "evildoers" of world terrorism.

Beyond that, the United States should start insisting that Saudi Arabia cooperate in the anti-terror campaign by sharing intelligence and cutting off bin Laden's funds and Mr. Bush should also stop pressuring Israel to appease the Oil Kingdom.

America should try to reduce violence between Palestinians and Israelis and get peace talks restarted, but not by muscling Israel or rewarding Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before he's decisively cracked down on terrorists in his midst.

Mr. Arafat last week arrested one top leader of the terrorist group Hamas and ordered his Palestinian Authority police to fire on pro-bin Laden rioters in Gaza.

Pro-Israel experts interpret such actions as proof that Mr. Arafat is capable of more forceful action to stop violence, but so far is taking it only to protect himself, not Israelis.

Martin Indyk, the Clinton administration's former ambassador to Israel, believes Mr. Bush should appoint a special envoy to the region ideally, former Sen. George Mitchell, Maine Democrat and author of the Middle East plan that the administration favors to negotiate a permanent cease-fire.

Mr. Indyk said Israelis don't trust Mr. Arafat enough to make concessions to him, but the State Department seems intent on pushing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to do so.

The Boston Globe reported that the State Department wants Mr. Bush to return to a plan favored by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Mr. Clinton, which includes the transfer of 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and "sharing Jerusalem" in one form or another.

Secretary of State Colin Powell did not deny such a plan was afoot, but guaranteed the United States would do nothing to threaten Israel's security.

However, the Clinton-Barak plan was decisively rejected by Mr. Arafat as insufficient, and violent protests followed. Going back to that plan and picking fights with Mr. Sharon might serve short-term U.S. propaganda goals, but it's long-term trouble.

Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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