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Commentary

Bush Must See Past the Acts of Terror to the Root Causes

January 29, 2002|GRAHAM E. FULLER | Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation has moved into what can only be described as a stage of collective madness. And Washington is walking right down that same path, apparently unaware of or unconcerned about the abyss yawning ahead.

Two basic schools of thought exist. One says: Unacceptable terrorism is running rampant in Israel and nothing can be done until the terror is brought under control or eliminated. The other view says: The core of the problem is 35 years of harsh and humiliating occupation. Ending the occupation is the sole means of beginning to attain peace.

The first view has triumphed; the second has been largely silenced. And things are deteriorating fast.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is committed to the first view. He believes he can crush Palestinian terrorism and is using extreme military power to do so. The Bush administration over the past month seemingly has accepted this rationale--a tragedy for Washington, Israel and the Palestinians because the terror isn't abating but increasing. Washington is treating only the symptoms of the massive Palestinian frustration: bitterness, impotence and rage.

Does Israel face a problem of terrorism? You bet. It is appalling that Israeli citizens are being blown up in discos, pizza parlors and public streets. Israelis justifiably are bitter and angry.

But conditions in the West Bank and Gaza also have never been worse. Palestinians are reacting violently as the rat cage tightens.

Tragically, the most unspeakable terrorism against Israelis will be applauded by virtually every Palestinian until their own desperation is alleviated and their sovereign state has been established.

In treating the symptoms and not the cause, President Bush is participating and contributing to the isolation, humiliation and destruction of Yasser Arafat.

Sharon believes that Arafat's elimination is desirable, and most of the Israeli Cabinet is ready to assassinate him. Washington effectively acquiesces to the Sharon strategy.

Few have sympathy for Arafat, who has made more than his fair share of stupid mistakes in his long political career to preserve the Palestinian cause. The problem, however, is not Arafat but the Palestinian reality he reflects. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt and ineffective. If Israel is about to eliminate Arafat, fine, as long as Sharon and Bush are convinced that what succeeds him will be better, more malleable.

To disabuse yourself of this view, read Khalil Shikaki's analysis of the next generation of Palestinian leadership in January's Foreign Affairs. That generation is more aggressive, more determined to move to armed struggle and more willing to cooperate with Hamas as an indispensable political and military ally. Hamas has never been stronger, thanks to current conditions.

Did Arafat or his lieutenants seek to import arms to bolster the armed struggle? Almost certainly; all national liberation movements do.

Is terrorism on the rise? Of course, because the Palestinians have no other vehicle of resistance. That does not justify it, but terrible political violence is emerging from the Israeli side as well, even if not technically terrorism. Bush's own war on terrorism is hostage to the situation.

Lest these views appear one-sided, listen to Ami Ayalon, for four years the director of Shin Bet, the Israeli version of the FBI: "Israeli society, top to bottom, is sinking into confusion.... People mask this reality with swaggering slogans: 'We will vanquish terrorism!' There are today more Palestinian terrorists than a year ago and there will be even more tomorrow....

"In Israel, no one is in touch with reality.... Why is the problem not resolved? Reoccupying the Palestinian Authority lands, and killing Arafat, what would that change? Those who want victory want an unending war....

"Anyone who [equates] Arafat with [Osama] bin Laden understands neither Arafat nor Bin Laden.... We say the Palestinians behave like 'madmen,' but it is not madness but a bottomless despair....

"I favor unconditional withdrawal from the territories--preferably in the context of an agreement, but not necessarily."

Should Bush listen to these powerful insights from Shin Bet? Or is he hostage to an agenda that looks only at the terror and not its cause?

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