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Administration Should Till Middle East's Middle Ground

Radicals' efforts to sabotage peace can be undercut by U.S. resolve.

June 23, 2002|DAOUD KUTTAB | Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

It was no coincidence that the latest spate of attacks against Israelis occurred as President Bush was about to make his policy statement regarding the Middle East. Among other things, the statement was expected to include a road map to solving this century-old conflict on the basis of an independent Palestine alongside a safe Israel within secure borders.

It was also no coincidence that the attacks by militant Islamic Palestinians occurred despite a plea by leading Palestinian intellectuals for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians. I signed the public statement drafted by the top Palestinian official in Jerusalem, professor Sari Nusseibeh, in the hope that we can show Israelis there is real opposition among Palestinians to these senseless killings.

The timing of the recent attacks against Israeli civilians seems to be aimed at thwarting U.S. attempts at peacemaking and to weaken Palestinian moderation.

While Israelis and Palestinians are suffering, those behind these attacks are benefiting from the status quo.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also benefits from this vicious cycle of violence. Israeli collective punishment, apartheid-like travel restrictions, daily tank incursions and assassinations of Palestinian leaders contribute to the sense of desperation and hopelessness that has produced these attacks.

The continuation of building illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas simply adds fuel to an already raging fire.

Ideally, Palestinian and Israeli moderates, who reflect the majority, should work together against the radicals. This has not happened because the hard-line Sharon government uses the attacks against Israelis as an excuse for making no effort on the political front.

Sharon, however, is very active on the military front. The harsh Israeli actions deepen the cycle of violence, killings and, most important, hatred between our peoples.

Terror and violence against civilians on both sides must stop. It is inexcusable not to immediately negotiate an end to the conflict.

The late Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin used to say, "We will fight terror as if there is no negotiations, and negotiate as if there is no terror."

A genuine peace leader would adopt a simultaneous political and security policy for the sake of his own people and that of regional peace.

Sharon has refused to talk politics, and Yasser Arafat has been unable to stop the militants. With Palestinians and Israelis unable to do what is needed, the role of the U.S. becomes that much more important.

The U.S. can't simply declare the vision of peace; it must do all it can to implement it, including publicly criticizing any party obstructing the way to a fair agreement.

Former U.S. peace envoy Dennis Ross has told me that what he regrets most is that he and the Clinton administration covered up too many transgressions on both sides.

In the interest of an overall settlement, he told me, the Americans overlooked the wrongs committed by Palestinians and Israelis. In retrospect, he said, the U.S. should have publicly exposed any side that failed to carry out commitments it made.

Such active U.S. involvement is needed now more than ever. Israelis and Palestinians are exhausted. We are unable to move out of the boxes we have trapped ourselves in.

The U.S., with its historical support for people's freedom and human rights, its strategic power and its special relations with Israel, can accomplish what no other nation in the world can.

What the Bush administration must do is lay out a fair deal, draw up a reasonable road map and timetable and work tirelessly on the ground until it is implemented.

Washington must know that radicals on both sides--within and outside the leadership of both peoples--will try to derail such a process. This should not deflect the Americans from pursuing their ultimate goal. If radicals see any hesitation, they will increase their destructive efforts. American resolve must be based on Washington saying what it means and meaning what it says.

The insanity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has to stop, even if foreign forces must be flown in for this purpose.

Palestinians and Israelis yearn for peace. The Middle East wants it, and the world demands it.

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