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Wednesday | June 11, 2003

How Congress hinders mideast policy

Bush Under Fire in Congress for Criticizing Israel
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN and JAMES DAO


WASHINGTON, June 11 Supporters of Israel in and out of Congress assailed President Bush today for criticizing Israeli attacks on Palestinian militant groups as the administration worked to protect its Middle East peace initiative from a new cycle of violence.

On a day of new attacks and counterattacks by Israeli and Palestinian militant forces, diplomats said there was concern in the administration that without dramatic improvement of some kind, the peace initiative known as the road map could founder.

A day after he criticized Israel for its attempt to kill a militant Palestinian leader, Mr. Bush today denounced a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem that killed 16 people and wounded more than 100.

"I strongly condemn the killings," he said, "and I urge and call upon all of the free world, nations which love peace, to not only condemn the killings, but to use every ounce of their power to prevent them from happening in the future."

At a hearing of the House International Relations Committee, Representative Gary L. Ackerman, said that Mr. Bush's rebuke might lead his critics "to think of the word hypocrisy."

"How can we take certain actions in response to terrorism, and then tell others that when they do the same exact thing that it is not helpful?" Mr. Ackerman, a New York Democrat, said during questioning of William J. Burns, the State Department's senior diplomat for Middle Eastern affairs.

The influential pro-Israel lobbying group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, issued a rare criticism of Mr. Bush, if only obliquely. Israel, it said, "will and must take the responsibility to fight terrorist organizations" and "it should be the policy of the U.S. to support" such actions.

Bush's long overdue criticism of Israeli asassinations gets him sandbagged by Congress. Exactly how is that supposed to help bring peace to the region?

Let's admit something: Israel and the Palestinians are in a stalemate as deadly and pointless as the Western Front, 1916.

Every time the Israelis run through the West Bank, Hamas or Islamic Jihad or Al Aqsa sends some kid across to Israel and he or she blows themselves up and gets called a martyr.

How come they can't be stopped? Because Palestinians look like Israelis. How come the Palestinians can't stop Israeli assassinations? Because Israeli agents look like Palestinians.

The only difference is language and religion.

Sharon keeps applying force and Hamas answers right back.

And what does the US Congress do? Ignore the self-destructive pattern of both sides and heap all the blame on the Palestinians.

Then the Israelis, after destroying the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, demand they stop terrorism.

You know, if Palestinians had a future with jobs and basic human rights, the appeal of human bombship might lessen. At the same time, if you blow up the buses, the Israelis, having learned well the lessons of the Middle East, know those who don't strike back get no respect.

The US Congress wants a simple story where the Palestinians are the bad guys. If you illegally use a Apache helicopter to kill children, expecting a human bomb is not irrational. We sold those weapons to Israel for their defense, not to kill Palestinians who happen to be next to their targets.

How anyone could refrain from criticizing Israel after this amazes me. What's even worse is that the Congresspeople who do this don't realize they're being played by the Israelis. As long as the US government cannot pressure Israel to use some restraint, nothing changes.

Also, the Palestinians know that since Congress is in the Israelis pocket, they cannot trust our word.

If, for once, if the Congresspeople who "love" Israel decided to love the Israeli people and do something to end the bond of terror they share with their Palestinian neighbors, they would let the president pressure Israel and be seen as an honest broker for the Palestinians. Until both sides feel pressure and Congress shutting up would allow us to lean on Syria, Iran and the Saudis to drive the Palestinians to the peace table, that pressure will not exist.

Because as long as Israelis assassinate Palestinians, the supply of martyrs will be virtually unlimited. We know that the Palestinians are both desperate and wrong to kill civilians. Until we alliviate the desperation, they will still use terror.

Until the both sides feel they have to accept a peaceful settlement, the killing will continue. Congress should realize that and realize how their unlimited support of Israel hurts Israel and chances for peace. No one wants an undefended Israel, but state assassination is the road to ruin for any democracy, especially when your enemy can answer for each death.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 11, 2003 09:09 PM | Comments (215)





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