All Writings
October 13, 2001

The War on Terrorism and The Palestinian Question

Arafat and Mubarak The question that has been much talked about in recent weeks is whether there is or there should be any connection between the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who claim there is no linkage are simply wrong. If a direct linkage did not exist before September 11th, it does now.

Many Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Sharon, have expressed deep concerns about the Bush administration's intention to recognize the Palestinian's right to statehood, fearing that such a move now would seem to reward the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Al-Qaeda. This assumes that Osama bin Laden is really interested in settling the conflict when, in fact, the precise opposite is true. The last thing bin-Laden wants is a settlement of the Palestinian conflict, for that will dry up one of the most fertile breeding grounds of Islamic unrest and antagonism directed against the United States and Israel. To do nothing about the Palestinian conflict now is to play directly into bin-Laden's hands and leave both Israel and the Palestinians hostage to his campaign of terror .

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began years before bin-Laden was born, and we must not wait until the day of his demise to resolve it. Arab frustration and despair, including that of the Palestinians, have been fully exploited by Muslim fanatics for several decades, especially since the Six Day War of 1967. Whether bin-Laden or his successors embrace the Palestinian cause now or sometime in the future must have no bearing on the urgent need to resolve that conflict as soon as possible. Resolving the conflict is not appeasement; on the contrary, it will rob bin-Laden and his successors of future resources and opportunities to manipulate the Palestinian misery to serve their own cynical ends.

It is true the that immediate and local concerns of various Islamic terrorist organizations differ from one country to the other. For example, Hamas' agenda, in Gaza and the West Bank is different from that of al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya in Egypt. Whereas the former seeks to end Israeli occupation, and if it could uproot Israel from the Middle East altogether, the latter seeks to undermine the Egyptian government and establish an Islamic state in its place. Despite these differences their common language, religion and culture creates, in many respects, a common cause. The leaders of these organizations, who have made a virtue of religious falsities and distortions, have learned very quickly how to make most effective use of mass communication technology to gather and disseminate information globally in a matter of hours. News of acts of violence and so-called martyrdom in one country are instantly fed to the next generating mass frenzy and a heightened sense of solidarity. It is, therefore, foolhardy to think that what happens in the West Bank has nothing to do with what happens in Cairo or Islamabad.

Add to this mix the generally deteriorated social and economic conditions of most Arab countries in the Middle East. A substantial majority of people in these countries suffer from a lack of basic freedoms, pervasive government corruption, dysfunctional judiciary systems, inadequate health and educational services and social and economic dislocation, while falling by the wayside of globalization. The United States is blamed for their worsening plight because we are visible in these countries, for we shield their corrupted and arbitrary regimes from internal and external danger to keep them in power to serve our own interests. It should be no surprise that the known terrorists that were involved in the September 11th attack were overwhelmingly of Middle Eastern origin, mainly from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Middle East remains the breeding ground of future terrorists from which bin-Laden and other twisted Islamists largely draw their suicide bombers, their killing machines, to do their bidding.

For these reasons the administration made a bad mistake by not including Hamas and Hizbullah among the organizations whose assets were frozen for alleged connection to or involvement in acts of terrorism. This omission suggests that the administration either believes that they are not terrorist organizations or that listing them would offend some Arab states' sensibilities. In any event it is a most contrived way to separate the Palestinian problem from the war on terrorism. It also sends a mistaken signal to Hamas and Hizbullah that terrorizing Israel is okay as long as we can maintain Arab support for our war efforts.

Tony Blair and Arafat As we continue to wage a relentless war on existing terrorist organizations, we must reassess our policies in the Middle East. The Bush administration is correct to consider a new initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, indeed, must be the core of our reassessment. The overall framework for a solution must be consistent with the Clinton/Barak plans which were offered to the Palestinians at Camp David in the Summer of 2000. Generally, the plans called for the establishment of a Palestinian state on 95-96 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, giving the Palestinians control over the Arab quarters in Jerusalem, along with Muslim holy shrines at Temple Mount, while maintaining the integrity of the united city, and compensation for the Palestinian refugees.

A solution along these lines may not be easy to achieve; it remains, however, the only viable solution. It will remove the perception and the reality of the ever-present Palestinian problem as an excuse for all the region's ills. It will mitigate the difficulty of enlisting countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to openly and actively support the war effort. It will give us greater leeway to pressure these countries to institute a visible process, albeit gradual, of social, economic and political reforms to allay some of the internal discontent that breeds terrorism. It will allow us to galvanize our human and material resources in the Middle East and channel them toward battling terrorism. Finally, we will no longer be accused of un-evenhandedness in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though our commitment to Israel's security must remain unshakable.