Enough blame to go around

Above: President George W. Bush condemns the bombing in Jerusalem upon his departure from Grant Park in Chicago Wednesday, June 11, 2003. (White House/Paul Morse)

One week after the Aqaba summit, the Israeli-Palestinian death toll climbed to 30 with no sign of the violence slowing. Many US commentators blamed the carnage on the Palestinian attacks of June 8, which killed five Israeli occupation soldiers.

In fact, there has not been a single day since the Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba summits that the Israeli Army stopped its attacks on Palestinians. For three days before and during the summits Israel attacked the Nablus and Balata refugee camps, wounding dozens of civilians, many of them children. The day after Aqaba, an Israeli death squad assassinated two Hamas activists in Tulkarm, and every day since, the occupying forces have been destroying Palestinian homes — all this before the attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used the June 8 attacks as an “opportunity” to try to accomplish with weapons what he had failed to achieve diplomatically. But when US President George W. Bush condemned Sharon’s attempt to assasinate Hamas spokesman Abdel- Aziz Rantissi, Sharon found himself cornered. Most of the Israeli, Arab and international press, not to mention the Bush administration and other governments, united to condemn what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to undermine Palestinian ‘prime minister’ Mahmoud Abbas, and provoke a cycle of violence that would end the “road map” and save Sharon from the commitments he had been pressured to make by Washington.

What made Sharon’s strategy so transparent — and therefore so infuriating to the US — was that it came after Hamas had put out a statement declaring: “We will study Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas) call for a dialogue while bearing in mind the interests of our nation, its rights, the strengthening of national unity, and first and foremost the question of the prisoners, the right of return, Jerusalem and an end to the occupation.” With the attacks on the soldiers, Hamas had lethally made the point that it would never accept Abbas’ Aqaba concession equating attacks on the occupying army with “terrorism” against Israeli civilians. Having done so, a wise Hamas would have quickly agreed with Abbas to immediately stop attacks. This, it appears, is what Sharon feared most. With an effective cease-fire, he would no longer have any excuse to delay implementing the road map, most notably the required freeze on all colony construction.

But unfortunately there is no evidence that Hamas is capable of acting wisely or restraining itself. If Sharon set out to provoke Hamas, one has to wonder why Hamas — stupidly and criminally — handed Sharon the ladder he needed to get out of his hole, with the reprehensible suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem. As Arab-American activist Hussein Ibish stated on Fox News in a debate with the Israeli consul-general in New York, “Sharon and Hamas have developed a strategic partnership against peace.”

But there is more than enough blame to go around. Abbas must also accept his share of the responsibility. His speech in Aqaba was a provocation to all Palestinians. He spent more time expressing sympathy with Israeli suffering than explaining to a listening world the needs and rights of his own people and to Israelis what they would have to do to end this conflict. He failed to defend the rights of refugees, or Palestinian rights to Jerusalem. Most damaging in the short run, he equated the fundamental right to resist military occupation — which all Palestinians recognize even if they do not all think it should be exercised with arms — with murderous attacks on innocents. This equation is wrong and untenable, and it is likely that it helped provoke the deadly June 8 attacks on the occupation soldiers.

The Bush administration, despite its new-found enthusiasm for peacemaking, must also share the blame. The road map is very clear that both sides must immediately stop violence and incitement. But Washington has only insisted on the Palestinian obligations in this respect, allowing Israel to kill, maim and demolish with impunity. Perhaps it was the fact that the US said nothing about Israel’s ongoing attacks after the Aqaba summit that encouraged Sharon to believe he could try to take out Rantissi without angering Washington. If Sharon miscalculated, it is because he was encouraged to do so by US silence.

It is not enough for Bush to condemn Palestinian “terrorism,” and call on Arab states to make sure that funding for “terrorists” is blocked. He must practice what he preaches — if he finds Israeli violence harmful to Israeli security and peace, then let him cut off the supplies of American helicopters and missiles. If Bush thinks settlements stand in the way of peace, then for heaven’s sake let American taxpayers stop funding them. Only when those things come to pass will we know that America is ready to be the honest broker Israelis and Palestinians so desperately need.