Wed, 15 Jan 2003


CHANGE OF AMERICA / U.S. responsibility as M.E. mediator in question

Toshio Toma and Shinichi Hirano The Daily Yomiuri Asia News Network Tokyo

A long concrete wall divides a green hill covered with olive trees in Kfarsalem, northern Israel. Coils of barbed wire run alongside a fence parallel to the wall fitted with movement sensors. A trench and patrol road have been built alongside. Farmland was torn up to construct the 50-meter-wide security barrier.

"A touch of a finger activates the alarm immediately, and security guards will arrive in minutes. Don't touch the razor wire--it's extremely sharp," warned Moshe Berger, 49, an Israeli Army officer in charge of constructing the barrier.

From the high ground of Kfarsalem, the neighboring village of Rumane in the West Bank seems like a prison enclosed by high walls.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the construction of the barrier last June to prevent Palestinian militants from crossing into Israel from the West Bank after an Israeli Army invasion into the West Bank that lasted more than a month failed to prevent the incursion of Palestinian terrorists.

Construction of the first section of the security fence--a 120-kilometer stretch from Kfarsalem to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and 42 kilometers around part of Jerusalem--is expected to be completed in June.

To enter Rumane from Kfarsalem, you must make a detour to the northern tip of the barrier and pass though Jenin after several military checkpoints, a process that takes more than three hours.

Meanwhile, the Gilbo'a region in the north of Jenin started constructing a "private" security barrier last month because the area was not included in the first section of the construction.

Military confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians have intensified since autumn 2000, and the Middle East peace process, aimed at creating a system in which Israel and Palestine can coexist, has collapsed. Israel is now employing a scorched-earth policy to maintain security.

The United States has endorsed Israel's policy shift. In June, U.S. President George W. Bush urged the Palestinian Authority to stamp out terrorism, while demanding the democratization of the authority and the resignation of its leader, Yasser Arafat, whom Washington claimed was not serious about controlling terrorism.

Bush's move represented a shift in the U.S. stance from supporting the Middle East peace process to prosecuting the war against terrorism.

But if the United States aligns its Middle East policy with Israel's power politics, the whole Arab world will be provoked into retaliation, and Washington's prestige would decline. After that, a vicious circle of hatred will prevail in the region.

The Oslo agreement on Palestinian interim self-government signed by Israel and the Palestinians in September 1993 was realized when the two ethnic groups agreed to give up claims for exclusive possession of one land after endless bloody battles over it.

Instead of sharing the land, Israel obtained Palestinian approval of Israel's right to exist and of the basis upon which it would maintain its security, while the Palestinians obtained interim self-government and the right to draw a blueprint for an independent state.

When then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat held a signing ceremony at the White House, Rabin said he did not want to see any more bloodshed, and that he realized there were limits to maintaining security by force.

But after Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish rightist in 1995, the momentum toward peace was lost.

The administration of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has returned to the old power politics. Behind its move is the determination of Sharon to oppose territorial compromise and tear up the Oslo agreement.

A document exists that seems to have predicted Israel's policy about-face. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, headquartered in Jerusalem and Washington, compiled a strategy document titled "A Clean Break" in June 1996 as a proposal for the government of Benjamin Netanyhu, which was launched after the assassination of Rabin.

The proposal said the land-for-peace policy "placed Israel in the position of cultural, economic, political, diplomatic and military retreat." It said that Israel should give up the slogan of a "comprehensive Middle East peace process," and shift to a "peace through strength" policy by pressing Arabs to accept Israel's territorial rights.

It also insists that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein be removed from power and takes a hostile view of Syria, which it claims supports terrorism.

The latter part of the proposal resembles the policy the Bush administration is now advocating. The proposal reflects the thinking of Richard Perle, who was in charge of drafting the document, and later became chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory board to the U.S. Defense Department.

Under pressure from the United States and Israel, Arafat has become increasingly isolated.

Even Mahmoud Abbas, the No. 2 man in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Arafat had made a very serious mistake by not preventing the outbreak of the intifada and by letting himself become its figurehead.

However, if the United States makes incessant demands on the Palestinians, including seeking Arafat's resignation, without paving the way to peace, the situation will only get worse.

The U.S. Republican Party always expresses its opinions to Israel, a close ally, in no uncertain terms.

It is widely known that then U.S. President George H.W. Bush, father of George W. Bush, threatened to sever U.S. relations with Israel if Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was reluctant to take part in Middle East peace talks in 1991, did not attend the talks.

The administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, which is said to have been the most pro-Israel in U.S. history, also presented its own vision for peace and pressed both sides to make concessions so an agreement could be reached.

The United States' apparent lack of a vision of how peace can be achieved confuses Arab countries, too.

The governments of Egypt and Jordan, which already have concluded peace treaties with Israel, have been forced into a corner under pressure from their publics, which call for diplomatic relations with Israel to be severed.

Since the Six Day War in 1967, "land for peace" has become a basic principle for peace in the Middle East. Despite many twists and turns, Arab countries have made this the basis of their strategy toward Israel.

Since the principle seems in danger of losing its significance, the United States' responsibility as a mediator for peace in the Middle East is now in question.