Israel must accept changed reality

October 31, 2001|By Jim Anderson

WASHINGTON -- Just after the World Trade Center attacks, Benjamin Netanyahu, the once and likely future prime minister of Israel, was asked what he thought their effect would be on U.S.-Israel relations.

He replied, "It's very good," and then quickly amended, "Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy."

In fact, the indirect effect of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on U.S.-Israeli relations has been very bad.

It has created strains that are reminiscent of the bitter aftermath of the 1985 Jonathan Pollard espionage affair.

As Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has been telling audiences during a tour of the United States, the Sept. 11 attacks have changed everything for the foreseeable future, including the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

For the United States, the Middle East conflict is no longer something that occurs over there.

It's over here.

The terrorists, whatever their real or imagined grievances, reflect a deep antagonism to the United States in radical Arab communities.

That should have been evident before Sept. 11, but U.S. intelligence and understanding about the Arab world have been in sharp decline for a decade.

As James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, says, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida may be a death cult rather than a theological or Arabic nationalist movement, but one of its recruiting appeals is anti-Americanism. The suicide bombers and their elaborate support network did not decide that morning or the week before to fly the planes into the New York towers or the Pentagon. They had been training and planning for that for years. There may be others behind them.

For Israel, there must come the realization that Israeli survival is not as important to the United States as the protection of the American people, cities and economy. Israeli causes are no longer sacrosanct in American politics if they conflict with American security needs, including a secure supply of Middle Eastern oil.

That has not been reflected so far in the distracted Congress, but it will be. Bin Laden and Yasser Arafat are not equivalent, even if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says so.

Mr. Sharon has conditioned any return to the status quo of six months ago to a total cessation of "terrorist" activity, a task that is clearly beyond Mr. Arafat's to achieve, given the growing radicalism among young Palestinians.

For the United States, building and maintaining a solid coalition, including key Arab governments, in the war against terrorism is paramount. That couldn't be done so long as U.S.-supplied Israeli F-16s were shown on Arab TV channels throughout the Middle East firing missiles at Palestinian targets.

The F-16s have been grounded temporarily in the battle with the Palestinians. But the battle goes on in other deadly ways, including the use of U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships.

So are the two sides in the Israeli-Palestinian collision destined to continue the killing until they drop exhausted in a kind of mutual suicide pact? Although it is clear that things will continue to get worse before they get better, at a certain point reality must prevail. Nobody can say when that will happen, but a lot more blood will be shed before then.

That is ironic, tragic and ultimately fruitless, because the shape of an eventual Israeli-Palestinian agreement is predictable and unavoidable. There will be a two-state solution. Palestine and Israel will live side by side, uneasily but peaceably.

Jerusalem will be a shared capital, and the lines of the future Palestinian state will be roughly along the June 4, 1967, border, except where large Jewish settlements in the West Bank will be absorbed into Israel in exchange for land swaps for the Palestinians elsewhere.

The right of return of Palestinian refugees will be recognized and be backed by an international consortium, including the United States and Israel, which will supply compensation to those refugees who will be encouraged to stay where they are and choose compensation rather than repatriation. The details have to be worked out.

But they are details, not principles worth dying for, except for zealots on both sides who will have to be isolated or ignored, including their wealthy and extremist adherents in the United States or Saudi Arabia who are willing to fight for their beliefs to the last Israeli or Palestinian.

This is not a diplomatic secret.

Jim Anderson is a Washington-based correspondent who has covered U.S. foreign policy for 30 years.

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