Thursday, March 21, 2002

FAQ: Shouldn't We Be More "Even-Handed" in the Middle East?
(In response to a European friend)

A touchy subject so let's be clear on the basics. I don't want to put words in your mouth but I am assuming you mean treating the interests and motivations of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as equally valid and morally equivalent. If that is what you mean then I strongly disagree.

Israel recognizes the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The Palestinian leadership has never recognized Israel's right to exist. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority either tacitly or directly sponsors the targeting of civilians including schoolchildren with suicide attacks of unspeakable violence in order to achieve its political goals. Israel is a secular democracy that shares the values and heritage of western civilization.

The Palestinian Authority is not a democracy and does not share our values of religious freedom, press freedom, or even the equality of women in society. Moreover, the Palestinians are supported most vocally by brutally repressive theocracies that would rather channel domestic discontent with their rule toward resentment against the West.

On the world stage Israel is one of only a handful of nations that routinely supports the United States in multilateral organizations. It is arguable that Israel is of greater strategic significance to U.S. interests overseas than are many European allies that have refused to cooperate with the US on defense, environmental, and criminal justice policies.

At the risk of putting more words in your mouth, let me anticipate your response to that last bit about Israel's strategic role -- "what about the oil?" you might ask. It is true that many of the Palestinian’s greatest advocates and Israel's most vocal critics control vast reserves of oil. But those countries are also dependant on American purchases. Indeed, they are deeply in debt and the price of oil continues to drop as more crude from non-Mideast sources comes on line. Certainly this market reality and the destruction of the Taliban should signal to these countries that they have more to lose in a conflict with the U.S. that we have.

Why then don't the Islamic states respond rationally to international pressure? Why does the Saudi interior minister (more powerful than his title would suggest) tell Der Spiegel regarding the September 11th hijackings, "It's true that Saudi citizens were on those planes, but who can be certain whether they were behind the attacks?" Is this the sort of ally you think we should be cultivating rather than Israel?

My point is this -- we are now at war with Islamic fascism. The aggressors in this war make no distinction between Jew and Christian or see any nuance between Israeli citizenship and Swiss citizenship. We are all considered infidels and the leaders of radical Islamic nations such as Iran and supposedly moderate ones such as Saudi Arabia promote that worldview through state-sponsored news outlets, school curriculum, and public policy. The issue is whether they will allow we in the West to peacefully coexist with them. Should we be neutral in this conflict? It was a mistake to think so before and it is impossible to do so now.

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