A few days after the bombings, a former State Department Middle East
“expert” in the Clinton Administration was asked the inevitable question by
a radio interviewer: “Why do they hate us?”
In the meandering five minute answer that followed, never once did he utter
the word “Israel.”
On a special edition of the NBC White House drama The West Wing
dedicated to the crisis, one of the characters addressed the same question:
“Because they don’t like some of the countries we support,” he explained,
adding, “We support Egypt.”
The two incidents were emblematic of why they hate us. We can’t even bring
ourselves to say the word “Israel,” much less suggest that the
festering wound of the Palestinian conflict might be a primary source of the
infection which has now spread to the U.S.
It is this myopia which makes Osama bin Laden so dangerous. Make no mistake,
bin Laden is no Palestinian patriot. But, like a master of torture, he is
skillfully aggravating the pain the Palestinian conflict causes Moslems rich
and poor – a pain that forms a throbbing undercurrent to life in the Middle
By tapping this ocean of latent anger, bin Laden extends his appeal from the
tiny minority of Moslems who see the world through a fundamentalist prism,
to the vast majority for whom the agony of the Palestinian people is a stain
That bin Laden has co-opted the Palestinian cause as his own was evident in
the recent videotaped statement in which he vowed that America would know no
security “"before we live it in Palestine."
The U.S. is now at a critical juncture. For decades, American Middle East
policy has been driven by the Israeli government. Decisions have been made
not on the basis of what is best for the U.S., but what is best for Israel.
As a result, Arabs have come to see the U.S. not just as Israel’s ally, but
as its apologist; unquestioning in support of its every action, no matter
whether the work of a moderate Israeli government that seeks peace or an
extremist government, such as the one now in place.
Bin Laden alone is a threat with which the U.S. can deal. Bin Laden as the
poster-boy for a broad Islamic political uprising that feeds on the hated
borne on the West Bank is the stuff of Beltway nightmares.
Nothing is simple in the Middle East. The deaths of countless Iraqi children
to malnutrition and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions. The presence of
American forces – including women soldiers – in the shadow of Islam’s most
sacred sites. The pervasive influence of Western culture. Washington’s
support for undemocratic regimes from Algiers to the Gulf. These are all
factors in the hate.
But so too is the fact that while America supports the prosecution of
Yugoslavia’s Milosovich as a war criminal, it ignores Ariel Sharon’s role in
the 1982 slaughter of hundreds of Palestinians and Shiites in Beirut. Or the
fact that it was Sharon’s calculated and provocative visit to Jerusalem’s
holiest Islamic site that set off the current round of Palestinian-Israeli
violence, destroyed last year’s peace talks and led to the collapse of the
last Israeli government. America’s willingness to turn a blind eye to such acts leaves even our most moderate Arab friends shaking their heads.
As Sharon demonstrated when he equated the Administration’s
coalition-building with the appeasement of Hitler in 1938, Israel’s
right-wing prime minister is a loose cannon on the deck of America’s
By unleashing one of the biggest military assaults on the Palestinians in
the past year at what could prove to be one of America’s most sensitive
moments, Sharon sent a clear signal not just that his government would
“depend only on ourselves,” but that it cares only for itself.
The U.S. should take the hint and launch a diplomatic offensive in its own
interests – and the interests of Israel itself -- to finally begin tearing
out the causes of hatred and suffering at their roots.
President Bush says his administration was on the verge of recognizing a
Palestinian state before the bombings. Move forward with that act. At the
same time, remind both Sharon and Arafat that the “if you’re not with us,
you’re against us” injunction applies to them as well.
Each is a prisoner of his own radicals. Each needs to demonstrate that he
had no choice but to cut a deal. Drag them kicking and screaming to the
table. It is in our interests and the interests of the Israeli and
America is galvanized. The checkbook is open. Domestic politics are, for a
brief moment, being set aside. For the first time in a generation, the U.S.
has a real opportunity to achieve a balanced solution to one of the most
intractable problems on the face of the earth.
In return for signing the Camp David Agreement, Israel and Egypt were each
rewarded with billions a year in aid. A campaign of economic development for
countries that join in a new peace deal will allow Arab allies like King
Abdullah of Jordan to show their populations the tangible benefits of
cooperation and provide those leaders with a powerful tool to counter the
despair from which future terror will otherwise be borne.
Bin Laden has convinced young men from across the Islamic world to die for
his cause. Let’s give the next generation a reason to live.
Lawrence Pintak is a former CBS News Middle East correspondent
and author of Beirut Outtakes, a book on U.S. Middle East policy and
terrorism. He is based at the Center for Psychology and Social Change in
Cambridge, MA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.