The Bush administration's war in Iraq has been the perfect cover for Israel's move against the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza. Southern Gaza, the worst example of ethnic cleansing since the Serbs in Kosovo, is a "humanitarian catastrophe," says the U.N. representative for refugees.
For Kosovo, the West was horrified enough to send NATO planes against Belgrade, and today former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic stands trial in The Hague.
What has been President Bush's response to Israel's Gaza demolitions, which have destroyed an average 104 homes a month so far this year?
At the height of last week's demolitions, Bush was getting cheers of "four more years" at a Washington meeting of AIPAC, the main U.S. pro-Israel lobby. Ignoring the Gaza catastrophe, Bush praised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and said Israel "has every right to defend itself against terror."
Coming in the midst of Gaza's humanitarian catastrophe, Bush's comments were an embarrassment.
Tommy Lapid, Israel's justice minister, had this to say of Gaza:
"We look like monsters in the eyes of the world. It makes me sick."
Why couldn't Bush have said that? Because the U.S. occupation of Iraq robs his administration of all moral authority.
Bush hopes to win more Jewish votes in the November election. The Bush-Cheney campaign was boosted by a recent poll showing Bush support among Jews up to 31 percent, compared to only 19 percent in 2000.
AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, is not representative of Jewish opinion. Thirty-one percent is better than 19, but still shows that more than two-thirds of American Jews do not support Bush-Cheney.
On Iraq, Pew polls show that Jewish opinion is less favorable to Bush's war than is the U.S. public at large.
Bush's silence on Gaza coupled with U.S. abstention during the U.N. Security Council vote last week condemning Israel's operations in Gaza shows how much cover Iraq is giving to Sharon.
No other American administration would sit mutely by while such destruction took place, in Gaza or anywhere else.
But when front pages carry photos of Americans torturing Iraqi prisoners and the daily killing of Iraq resisters, how much moral capital is left to condemn Israeli actions?
It is left to Israelis like Lapid to do that. On Gaza, the newspaper Haaretz said this week that Sharon's onslaught is the action of "a politician eager to please a handful of fanatics."
Sharon pulled a fast one on Bush. When Bush signed on to Sharon's plan for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, he was not told the plan involved the destruction of hundreds of homes and 12,000 homeless Gazans.
He was not told of the trapping of 140,000 Palestinians in a desert cage cut off in the south from Egypt, in the west by the sea, in the east by Jewish settlements and in the north by Israel tanks and bulldozers.
Because Palestinians took no part in the negotiations, who would have mentioned such things?
"Neither," wrote Haaretz, "did Sharon keep his promise to President Bush to have illegal settlements removed immediately."
Ten days ago, 150,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv in favor of a complete pullout from Gaza. Sharon is reportedly revising the plan to give his Cabinet veto power over the withdrawal. Such a veto would leave Bush holding the bag.
Are there other examples of American diplomacy giving up all leverage and accepting a plan later altered to the taste of the negotiating partner?
Are there other examples of a foreign state advancing such a plan for American acceptance without stating that it involves actions that violate previous agreements on the destruction of homes and creation of refugees, and which, as "collective punishment," is illegal under international law?"
Echoing Lapid, Israel's media and public opinion are raising anguished questions about the Gaza destruction, questions reflecting what outside observers have reported.
Contrary to Sharon's claims, says Amnesty International, destruction "is not limited to houses used as cover for tunnels for smuggling weapons from Egypt. It has been progressive, targeting row after row of houses."
To address the smuggling issue, Egypt is offering to join in security arrangements along the Gaza-Egypt border if Israel stops its demolition.
The U.S. abstention during the U.N. vote condemning Israel's actions in Gaza is a sign of how far U.S. leverage with Israel has been eroded under Bush. The abstention, which carried the mark of Secretary of State Colin Powell, was intended to reflect the administration's "displeasure" over Gaza. The gesture was futile. The resolution passed 14-0.
The roots of the Gaza disaster lie in the wreckage of Bush foreign policy. For a decade and a half, U.S. diplomacy nudged Israelis and Palestinians closer to a negotiated settlement. In cutting America off from one side and joining himself at the hip with Sharon in a search for the U.S. Jewish vote, Bush has wrecked chances for peace.
I doubt even a majority of Israelis would vote for Bush.
© Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.