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A wider lens: A barrier for Mideast peace


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Aaron Okin
Columnist
By by Aaron Okin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
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One week ago, President Bush hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House. The Israeli head of government received American endorsement of his plan to achieve security and, hopefully in the process, peace for his country, while effectively placing the Palestinians in the position to have their own state.

In fact, the Palestinians haven't been this close to a state since Arafat walked away from a more-generous-than-expected offer from Ehud Barak in 2000. But as they have consistently done in the past, Arafat and his officials have rejected the path of negotiations and measures that would indicate a serious commitment to resolution. There continues to exist a terrible despotism built on a terrorist infrastructure fueled by gross miseducation of Palestinian youth and the blood of innocent Israelis.

As much as Arafat would like to claim he is helping the Palestinian cause, he does little more than sit in his Ramallah compound amassing wealth from funds stolen from his population and stifling their development by channeling resources to his underlings to conduct attacks against Jews instead of providing decent housing, health services and nutrition to a rapidly growing constituency.

In light of the actions of the man widely accepted as the Palestinian leader, what real options do the Israelis have? They lack a partner for peace and they have constantly been on the defensive defending borders that are not solid in terms of recognition or fortification. The inclination of the international community has thus far been to hold the Israelis to the borders they held before 1967's Six-Day War, citing U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. But as George Will aptly pointed out Sunday, the language of the resolution does not truly require reversion to such lines.

Sharon has proposed that Israel disengage from large portions of the West Bank and the majority of the Palestinians by building a fence to add to security measures already in place and removing settlements in the territory. That is in addition to removing all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, which has been wholly fenced in for some time now with a near-perfect record for eliminating terrorist attacks in Israel proper. The effect for Israelis is security; the effect for the Palestinians is control of land they've been claiming for decades.

Sharon himself was one of the biggest proponents of settlements. But he's now risen against pressures from his own allies in the government at a highly turbulent political time, with the intent to do what everyone considers the right thing and stop violence that takes lives on both sides of the conflict. For some inexplicable reason, Arafat is still the leader that gets the most international support, and Sharon is still perceived as a war criminal hawk that keeps peace in the region an elusive goal.

It is unlikely this view of Sharon will drastically change based on Bush's approval and show of solidarity for him, considering that many place the two leaders in the same category. Bush's display will likely be used by detractors as an example of Israeli domination of U.S.-Middle East policy. When new Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi was killed over the weekend, media outlets reported that there were Palestinians who blamed Bush directly for the attack and even some calling for Hamas to extend its operations to killing Americans.

In general, countries look to ensure the security of their citizens. Some, like the United States and Israel, take the approach of eliminating individuals or organizational elements of groups that pose threats, or by building fences to keep them out. Others, like Spain, choose to give their citizens a false sense of security by cowering and giving in to terrorists.

It is vitally important that allies remain unified in the fight against terrorism. And for the United States to give its approval to Sharon's proposal serves to strengthen the ties between the two countries even further. Past opponents of his plan in the Israeli government have even begun lining up to support disengagement.

Bush's bold endorsement was the right thing to do, and it shows effective leadership does not always follow public opinion. The value of standing solidly with an ally cannot be understated, especially when that ally is undertaking a dual task of defeating terrorism and seeking peace from too many years of war.

Aaron Okin is a regional development and political science junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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