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Reminder of Folly

December 24, 1987

As calm is slowly restored to the Arab territories under Israeli occupation, and among the Arabs who are citizens of Israel itself, the world will likely turn to other problems. And once again neglect and passivity will fuel the frustrations of the Middle East, building pressures for yet another bloody outbreak.

These riots are a tragedy measured in the deaths of more than 20 Arabs, among them children, shot dead by Israeli troops; in the mounting casualty lists, and in the growing numbers of Arabs deported or incarcerated, their animosity reinforced. But these riots also mark the signal failure of the state of Israel to come to terms both with its occupation and with its rapidly growing Arab population.

As Paul Johnson, the historian, argued so well in these pages on Wednesday, hopelessness was the critical motivating factor for the violence--hopelessness bred of Israel's inability to agree either on short-term or long-term goals for the Middle East. Each recent election in Israel has measured the absolute impasse that exists between those who would sue for peace and those who are determined to hold the occupied territories and expand beyond them.

The process of negotiations would be facilitated by agreement among the Arabs themselves to accept Israel and a peaceful relationship with the Jewish state. The inability of the Palestinians themselves to make an unqualified commitment to the U.N. Security Council resolutions has made more difficult the efforts of those within Israel who understand the danger of maintaining the occupation and appreciate the potential for negotiations. But Arab intransigence need not justify Israeli stubbornness, and certainly cannot excuse the rhetoric of Ariel Sharon, a cabinet minister, when he said on Tuesday: "First and foremost, we're talking about Jewish lives. It's about time we stop worrying so much about others, about everybody, about the Jordanians, about the Palestinians."

The United States has spoken firmly in recent days, decrying the widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli occupation forces, calling for an end to confrontation. The United States was right in refusing to veto the Security Council condemnation of Israel in this outbreak of violence. But the United States can take no pride in its role.

There has been no persistent push for peace. Both the White House and Congress have acted, overtly or passively, to encourage perpetuation of the Israeli occupation. The billions of dollars in aid now flowing to Israel, the largest recipient of aid in the entire world, carry few restrictions. There has been no demand for an end to the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights of Syria, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Pro-Israel advocates, perhaps the most effective lobby in Washington, can deliver almost instantly a congressional majority to block anything perceived as unfriendly.

The reason for supporting Israel is clear. Israel's survival is important to the United States and the world, essential to maintaining support of the principles of freedom, strategically important in a volatile region. But support of Israel cannot mean support for its mistakes and abuses. The error of such blind support is that it weakens Israel, encouraging the dangerous status quo, discouraging initiatives, reinforcing errors by throttling constructive criticism. The riots have served as yet another reminder of the fragility of security in the region, of the folly of postponing the peace process.

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