faulty balancing act

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Aug. 10, 2003
    Editorial: Faulty balancing act

    Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell made one of his clearest statements yet that a temporary cease-fire on the part of terrorist groups is not enough.

    Speaking to the foreign press corps in Washington, Powell said, "We can't have a situation where, during a time of a cease-fire, those [terrorist] organizations are improving their capability, testing new weapons, or creating new factories in order to build more weapons. So we are looking for a concerted effort on the part of the Palestinian security officials to go after the infrastructure, the terrorist infrastructure that exists within the Palestinian community." This is an important statement, particularly in the light of reports that the US was beginning to be persuaded by the Palestinians that there was no need, or it was unrealistic to demand, the dismantling of the terrorist organizations.

    What is disturbing is that, in almost the same breath, Powell confirmed reports that the US was considering deducting from its economic assistance to Israel amounts related to Israel's construction of a security fence.

    Local wishful-thinking hinges on the hope that Congress wouldn't buy into the view that funds spent on the fence can be construed as financing settlements.

    Powell alluded to the fact that the guarantees, approved last April in the framework of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for covering costs incurred by the war in Iraq, specified that settlement expenditures will be deducted from the $9 billion guarantee total. But it will not be so simple to blame the Congress for such linkage.

    The No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, said in Israel this week that he will "work to defeat" any such deduction of assistance if it is proposed.

    Whether or not such a step is politically realistic, it is diplomatically unwise. The US position on the fence teaches a lesson that is unhelpful to the prospects for a successful peace process. The US position teaches the Palestinians that an old tactic that worked wonders for them during the Oslo period still works with the Bush administration. Back then, they found that they could distract from their own blatantly insufficient compliance with fundamental commitments such as arresting terrorists, confiscating weapons, and ending incitement by raising extraneous complaints about Israel. The same is true today.

    When the Palestinians raised the issue of the fence, the US response should have been: Don't raise issues outside the road map, and if you don't like the fence, stop forcing the Israelis to build it by keeping the threat of terrorism alive. Instead, the US took the Palestinian complaint and reflexively put it on Israel's doorstep.

    It's disingenuous to equate a defensive measure, outside road map parameters, to total Palestinian failure to carry out the most basic road map commitments. It smacks of a compulsion to balance critical comment, even where no balance exists in reality. How Israel in fact conducts its affairs seems almost besides the question. In an effort to produce artificial equivalence, Israel is reproached regardless of its gestures of goodwill, above and beyond road map stipulations, such as releasing hundreds of convicted terrorists. It's high time the State Department reflected on whether it dispatches the right messages by giving Israelis the impression that, no matter what they do, some pretext will be found to upbraid them.

    The same goes for using aid to twist an ally's arm. No assistance should be taken for granted and we never naively assume that no strings are attached. It is even expected that economic aid cannot be divorced from the recipient government's economic policy. But linking aid to an issue of self-defense raises the specter of double standards. Why is aid, for instance, not used to bring leverage on Egypt in matters of human rights or the unabashed dissemination of the most noxious anti-Semitism?

    To use loan guarantees to squeeze from Israel concessions that could well cost numerous Israeli lives is not only unconscionable. It is also counterproductive from America's point of view, because it reduces the pressure on the Palestinians to do what really matters, which is to dismantle the apparatus of terrorism.

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