- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2006

It isn’t working. Israel’s way of dealing with its neighbors is not making Israel safer, stronger or more prosperous.

The Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East have reduced American influence in the area and made the violence more intractable.

Yasser Arafat is to blame, because he refused to seize the moment at Camp David in July 2000. Israeli hard-liners are to blame, because since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — and especially since the defeat of Ehud Barak following Camp David — they have been determined to push Palestinians to the wall. Or even worse, beyond the massive walls Israel is constructing to barricade itself from its ever more impoverished and hostile neighbors.

Israel is forcing those who have no love of Muslim extremists, such as the Armenian-Lebanese Christians, into the arms of the Syrians and Hezbollah. And Hezbollah, Hamas, etc., are to blame because their success largely depends on Israeli excesses against Palestinian civilians, so they provoke Israeli excesses.

The Bush administration is to blame, because it paid no attention to the problem when something might have been accomplished. And when it has paid attention, it has been in lock-step with the hard-line Israelis.

Also, the administration has been distracted by Iraq, and its policies in Iraq have made it more difficult to get help from other Muslim states. So the U.S. now has virtually no credibility with any of Israel’s neighbors and is in no position to play honest broker. There is a lot of blame to go around.

In July 2000, only six years ago, Arafat and Mr. Barak came within an eyelash of reaching a wide-ranging accord. Things since have been spiraling downward in an ever-accelerating vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. Because of the mountain of bitterness the Israelis and Palestinians have piled up, it is now unimaginable that anything like Camp David can happen again in our generation.

Unless people on both sides stop the killing, stop the blaming and start looking ahead. Unless people on both sides recognize they are all people.

Of course, the crudest kind of Jew-baiting is common in newspapers and pamphlets and books published all over the Arab world. But on July 20, in response to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s call for a cease-fire, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Dan Gillerman described Israel’s adversaries as “animals.”

On both sides, at every turn, you hear people say of those on the other side: “Force is the only thing they understand.” Everybody is convinced those on the other side, “aren’t like us.” The fact is, they and we are all alike.

In 1940, with the Luftwaffe raining bombs in the “Blitz,” the English said, “London can take it.” They were convinced Berlin couldn’t. Of course the Berliners — and other Germans — wound up “taking” a lot more bombing than the English ever did. There are some lessons we can learn from history. Israelis have shown they can take. So can their neighbors.

Worse than not learning lessons from history is learning the wrong lessons from history. For the past two generations, American foreign policymakers have been obsessed by the lessons they learned from the collapse of the Western powers at Munich in September 1938. The key lessons, according to the conventional wisdom, are attempts to “appease” our adversaries only encourage them to demand more. We must confront them at every turn. We should fight them “over there,” because, if we don’t, we’ll have to fight them over here. Things will be better if we fight them sooner rather than later.

In Greek mythology, Procustes threw people onto his bed, and if they were longer than the bed, he chopped off the extra bits, and if they were shorter, he stretched them until they fit. Munich is an intellectual Procrustean bed used to justify U.S. adventurism all over the world, including Vietnam and Iraq. Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam was no Hitler’s Germany, nor was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Giving the Palestinians something to make life better for them is not the equivalent of destroying Czechoslovakia in 1938. Supporting Israeli attacks on anybody and everybody in the immediate area will encourage attacks on Americans, not deter them. We should not be eager to bleed or to make others bleed.

On July 20, members of the House of Representatives voted 410-8 to support Israel. House speaker John Boehner, Ohio Republican, cited Israel’s “unique relationship with the United States.” Perhaps Mr. Boehner and his colleagues, and some of those in the administration should re-read pertinent parts of George Washington’s Farewell Address, which warns us that:

“… [A] passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils…. infusing into one the enmities of the other, betray[ing] the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to … jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity….”

Some things never change.

George H. Lesser has reported for more than 30 years on international political and economic developments for both U.S. and European publications. He has been based in Washington, New York, London and Brussels, and lives in Washington D.C. and Florence, Italy.

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