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Imitating Israel is Dumb U.S. Policy
Published on Monday, December 15, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Imitating Israel is Dumb U.S. Policy
by Ira Chernus
 

"Recent U.S. methods in Iraq increasingly mimic those Israel uses in the West Bank and Gaza: setting up impromptu checkpoints, keeping militants on the defensive with frequent arrest raids and, in at least one case, encircling a village and distributing travel permits," the Guardian reports.

Pretty dumb, don't you think? Martin Van Creveld, a conservative Israeli military expert, thinks so too. He told the Guardian that Israel has been unsuccessful, and the United States will fail too. ``They are already doing things that we have been doing for years to no avail. The Americans are coming here to try to mimic all kinds of techniques, but it's not going to do them any good,'' Van Creveld said flatly.

You know what's even more dumb? The U.S. is imitating Israel not only in the way it makes war, but in the way it fails to make peace.

The Israeli model is simple. When the other sides signals that they are ready for a compromise peace, ignore them and ratchet up the military force. The result is predictable. The other side ratchets up their force too. Eventually, both sides realize that no one can win through force. Then it's time to negotiate.

But the compromise that once looked like a good deal to the other side will no longer work. Having shed so much blood, they demand a better settlement in return. Having suffered so much humiliation, they fear another humiliating defeat. The killing that makes it imperative to break the cycle of violence also makes it much harder to break that cycle.

This is what happened to the Israelis. When their negotiators sat with Palestinian negotiators at Taaba, in January 2001, they came very close to nailing down the same terms that are in the recently unveiled Geneva Accord. If the Israeli government had made those terms a definite offer, most Palestinians probably would have swallowed their pride, shed some tears, and agreed to sign on the dotted line. The current Intifada would have stopped almost before it got started.

Now, with three years of Intifada and some 2500 dead behind them, many Palestinians are in no mood to accept such a compromise. Why give up a full right of return? Why give up the right to have their own army, like any other nation? Having been demeaned and humiliated for so long, they understandably hesitate to risk more of the same. Having suffered and lost so much, they understandably demand the full measure of justice.

Many Palestinians don't trust that Israel would make good on the Geneva Accord, even if the Sharon government endorsed it. They don't trust the motives of the Israeli liberals who are boosting the Accord. Some don't trust the motives of the Palestinian leaders who negotiated with the Israelis, either. So a peace plan that once would have been widely applauded is now widely debated, suspected, and often condemned.

U.S. leaders should find this a sobering lesson. Today, many Iraqis are ready to have a prompt census, free elections, and a democratic process leading to a new, secular constitution. Instead, they get an occupying army using Israeli-style tactics in escalating urban warfare.

Eventually, as Van Creveld says, the U.S. will have to give up its war and agree to make peace. But by then, the Iraqi people will be more demanding. They may very well reject the same deal they would accept today. They may demand, for example, not merely a constitution that respects the ideals of Islamic law, but one that enshrines Islamic law as the law of the land.

U.S. leaders should also pay attention to the peace and justice community here at home. Those are the folks who start antiwar campaigns that can bring huge crowds out into the streets.

Three years ago, U.S. peace activists would have cheered something like the Geneva Accord as a great victory for peace, justice, and the Palestinian cause. Today, they are just as suspicious as many Palestinians of anything coming from the Israeli side. At least that's what my e-mailbag tells me. When I wrote a column recently urging U.S. progressives to support the Geneva Accord, most of the response was decidedly negative, for the same reasons so many Palestinians mistrust the Accord.

I think that's a shame. But it offers a powerful lesson for U.S. policy in Iraq. If the Bush administration makes compromises and softens its stand now, it can probably blunt the growing "bring the troops home" movement.

But the administration does just the opposite. It follows the bizarre "wisdom" of the U.S. officer in Iraq who said, "With a heavy dose of fear and violence,.we can convince these people that we are here to help them." This is so obviously counterproductive, opposition to Bush's policies is bound to grow. It will be led by the Democratic nominee for president. Next October, when the polls show Bush headed for defeat, he will be scrambling to get the Iraqis to make peace. But neither the Iraqis nor the U.S. antiwar movement will be in any mood to accept the same compromise that could be acceptable today. Then Mr. Bush will realize that imitating the Israelis was very dumb, indeed.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. chernus@colorado.edu

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