The United States has re-elected an enemy of Israel as its president. If George W. Bush's next four years in office are anything like the first four, the damage he will do Israel will be all but irreversible.
The headlines in the mass circulation papers here screamed, "The friend stays" and "Bush is good for Israel," but from Israel's point of view he is one of the worst presidents ever. An American president who will give Israel four more years of freedom to act as it pleases in the territories is not a friend of this country. A true friend would save Israel from itself, as some European leaders are trying to do by means of the criticism they hurl at Israeli government policy. In a situation in which Israel is not restraining itself, restraint imposed from the outside is a supreme national interest, even if it involves exerting pressure that at times can be brutal.
Moreover, a determined American president who really and truly wants to put an end to the century-old conflict would discover that precisely now it is far easier than may at first appear to be the case. To begin with, the present Israeli prime minister is in awe of America and genuine pressure applied by the world's superpower would have an immediate effect on him. If America wanted, it could bring about a dramatic withdrawal from the occupied areas and thus make a true contribution, not only to Israel and peace, but also to the struggle against regional and world terrorism. If Bush were really concerned about Israel's fate, he would have long since pushed it to the negotiating table. At the very least he could, if he wanted, bring about a reduction in the scale of the killing of Palestinians and the damage to their property.
Remember when Israel used to weigh carefully every violent move it made in the territories because of its fear of America? That period ended four years ago. The leader who is responsible for the killing of 100,000 Iraqi civilians is not moved by the deeds of the Israeli occupation. And, himself being familiar only with the language of force, he identifies completely with a country where that is also the only language. In our case, though, damage is being done not only to the population that is under occupation, whose fate is certainly of no interest to the American president, but also to the occupying society, whose secure future he purports to guarantee. From this point of view, Bush's first four years will go down in history as a calamity, as a period in which Israel discovered that there are no limits to the force it is allowed to exercise. It will take a great many years before Israel is weaned from this.
If the United States brought about the end of the Israeli occupation in the territories, its international status would also be enhanced, especially in the Arab and Muslim world. Europe would take a different view of an America that resolves conflicts instead of fomenting useless wars. The Middle Eastern conflict nourishes much Islamic terrorism and gives it a triumphant cause. The re-election of the person who on the one hand made it possible for the entire Palestinian people to be pushed into the cycle of violence by the infliction of collective punishment and the use of unrestrained force, and on the other hand allowed Israel to continue expanding the settlements, is bad news not only for peace but also for the global battle against terrorism. The resulting damage is long-term and both Israel and the United States will ultimately pay the full price.
The forecasts that Bush, in his second term, will step up the pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have no real basis. With his stereotypical view of all Arabs and Muslims and his view of war as a legitimate weapon, Sharon, like the proverbial leopard, is not about to change his spots. The Middle East is bleeding to death. There are no bold actors in the wings, not Israelis and not Palestinians, who can rescue it from the tragedy in which it is immersed. A courageous American president could have fomented a revolutionary change. Bush is good only for perpetuating the occupation.
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