When Colin Powell took over as U.S. Secretary of State, many welcomed this as a constructive and promising appointment. After all, Powell had been a no nonsense general, who had led the first American military invasion of an Arab fascist country in modern times, despite an early episode of McClellanism. (To be fair, even President Reagan had responded to the mass murder of U.S. Marines by shelling the positions of the Hizbollah terrorists, rather than a ground invasion.) Powell is said to have grown up on intimate terms with Brooklyn Jews and even spoke some basic Yiddish. True, the U.S. government of the elder President Bush had bullied Israel into responding to Saddam’s SCUD missiles by turning the other cheek, but few thought Powell deserved the blame for that. Powell was also one of those responsible for leaving Saddam on his throne in 1991, in an Iraq that had not been defanged. But the administration of the younger President Bush seemed to have learned the lessons of that folly.
Unfortunately, despite these hopes, in office Powell has shifted closer and closer to the traditional State Department position of knee-jerk hostility to Israel and fantasies about courting the Arab fascist regimes. Powell, in short, has been one of the great disappointments of the Bush Administration.
This past week Powell’s offices announced that the Administration is going to deduct from its aid package to Israel any money spent on “settlements,” most of which are simply neighborhoods of Jerusalem that happen to lie across the pre-1967 “Green Line,” the same “border” that Arabs never recognized and from which they repeatedly attacked Israel even when it did not have any “occupied territories.” Moreover, as part of the U.S. economic sanctions, Powell and his people have announced that in the view of Foggy Bottom, this “settlement activity” includes the construction of Israel’s “security fence,” a barrier designed to prevent Palestinian “militants” from murdering Jewish women and children.
It is all a bit ironic to represent this as somehow part of “settlement activity,” because the security fence does not even protect the Jewish West Bank or Gaza settlers, most of whom live on the other side of it. It protects Israeli civilians living in Tel Aviv and Haifa. But then again it is the Arab position that those cities are also illegal Jewish settlements on “Arab lands.” Do not bother to ask where there are legitimate Jewish lands, because the Arabs insist there are none. The State Department under Powell has repeatedly denounced the “fence” as a violation of “Palestinian Rights,” but the only “Palestinian Right” it violates is their “right” to murder innocent Jews at random.
The sanctions against Israel for building its security fence need to be placed in their proper perspective, by noting that there have been no similar penalty offsets in the funding the U.S. has been pumping into the PLO, which by and large means into Yasser Arafat’s not-so-secret bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere. (Arafat has set up his spouse in Paris on a household budget of $120,000 a month, all of it stolen from the aid the Palestinian Authority collects.)
The U.S. has not offset any of the funds it bestows on the PLO in similar “fines” for the Palestinians having murdered 1,300-or-so Israelis after the PLO had signed the Oslo accords pledging to end all terror and violence. More generally, the PLO has not lost a dime in funding for its having violated each and every punctuation mark in those Oslo Accords. Nor has the State Department responded to notorious PLO drug trafficking by cutting off funds.
But the hypocrisy regarding the budget sanctions is only the tip of the Powell iceberg. Powell’s Middle East policy is in need of a serious Colin-oscopy. More generally, ever since Powell has taken charge of the State Department, his policy has been governed by the following surreal principles. The first of these is that there are “good” terrorists and “bad” terrorists. Like a parody of the "Good cop/Bad cop" routine on TV, Powell has insisted ever since September 11 that some terrorism must be coddled, pandered to, and appeased. This is the terrorism that is directed against Israel. Other terrorism is the epitome of evil and must be fought on all fronts. This is the terrorism directed against the United States. The State Department has a long history of turning a blind eye to the mass murders conducted by terrorists under Arafat’s direct command and control. It cannot even bring itself to denounce their activities as terrorism.
The second principle of Powell’s diplomacy is an extension of the first. It is a policy of “Do as we say and not as we do,” regarding Israel and terror. The U.S. can target terrorist leaders anywhere in the world, and shoots missiles at them, regardless of whether or not there are civilians nearby. The U.S. assassinated the two sons of Saddam, taking out two innocent civilians along with them, and splashed photos of the corpses all over the news. It targeted terrorists everywhere from Yemen to Afghanistan with missiles.
But when Israel assassinates terrorists who have perpetrated mass murders of Jewish children, this in State Department Newspeak is "aggression," "unhelpful", an "obstacle to peace," "useless military action," etc. Virtually any military operation by Israel is ritually denounced by Powell’s State Department as having used “excess force.” Israel must never kill terrorists and murderers if there is any chance of any civilians nearby getting hurt -- and there always is such a risk. Therefore Israel is expected by the State Department to fight the mass murders of its civilians through aggressively turning the other cheek and trying to appease the terrorists into abandoning their jihad. While holding hundreds of terrorists in Guantanamo without trial, the U.S. Administration regularly demands that Israel free the Palestinian mass murderers and terrorists it has in its prisons.
Indeed, the State Department under Powell has difficulty even using the “T” word when it comes to Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists, terrorists murdering Israelis. Bin Laden and his gang may be terrorists in State Department reports, as are the Taliban, and the Baathists in Iraq. Even the bombers of Istanbul and Bali can be named terrorists. But Arafat and his stormtroopers are “activists” and “militants” in State Department terminology, as if they were campus protesters for animal rights. Powell’s people have even demanded that Israel not publish any documents on the PLO’s behavior that might make it look bad.
The State Department under Powell continues to pretend that Arafat is not responsible for the carnage. It congratulates Arafat on really, really trying to curb the terror, even when the bulk of the murders of Israelis are carried out by the Tanzim, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Fatah, all terrorist squads under the direct personal command and control of Arafat. The only thing for which Arafat’s stormtroopers have ever used all those arms they were liberally granted has been to murder Israelis. Powell’s calls on Arafat to try harder to stop the terror are a bit as would have been calls to Hitler in the 1940s to do everything he can to stop those Germans who have invaded Poland and France.
Powell has become the foremost spokesman for false moral symmetry in the Middle East. He repeatedly equates random Palestinian mass murderers of Jews with Israel building some housing for Jews on land the Jews legally own in the West Bank and Gaza. He grants credence to the notion that Israel must agree to the ethnic cleansing of Jews from those areas as part of any peace accord with the Arabs. Why Jews should be prohibited from living in areas that might come under Arab control as part of a peace deal, and doing so before any such accord is reached, is not at all clear; let us note that Powell is not calling for equivalent ethnic cleansing of Arabs who are now living in Israel after such an accord is implemented.
Responses to incitement to violence are a good indication of Powell’s false symmetry. The State Department has never made an “issue” out of the horrendous anti-Jewish propaganda filling the PLO-controlled media nor in the textbooks used in the Palestinian schools. Let us note that all this is a direct violation of the Oslo Accords, in which the PLO pledged to end such filth. The most Powell has been willing to do is to call upon both Israel and the PLO to end all belligerent propaganda, as if the operation of a free press in democratic Israel, a press by the way under the solid hegemony of the Israeli Left, can be compared to the propaganda being proliferated all over the world by the PLO, down to and including Holocaust Denial. When Powell was trying to boost the nomination for PLO terrorist Abu Mazen as Palestinian “Prime Minister,” he never uttered a word about Abu Mazen’s long history of praising Nazi German and denying the Holocaust had taken place.
The Powell false symmetry is also evident when it comes to human rights. The State Department under Powell has never spoken out against the brutalization of Arabs by the PLO, against the torture, rape and execution of anyone Arafat wishes to accuse of “collaborating with Israel,” the murder of homosexuals, nor the operation of goon squads that terrorize ordinary Palestinians. Instead, it has denounced Israel for ”violating Arab human rights,” such as their right to murder Israelis with impunity without ever having Israel’s army engage in retaliation or incursions. In reality, the only place in the Middle East where Arabs have any human rights is where they live under Israeli rule, but you would never learn that from any State Department pronouncements.
Powell refuses to label the PLO a terrorist organization. He refuses to draw the conclusion that the PLO has been leading or cooperating with the mass murderers and suicide bombers. Powell’s “tests” of PLO intentions have always been meaningless ones, tests that the PLO can never flunk, no matter what its crimes and misbehavior.
Consider the following statement by Powell:
“To begin with, Palestinians must accept that, if there is to be real peace, Israelis must be able to live their lives free from terror as well as war. The Palestinian leadership must make a 100 percent effort to end violence and to end terror. There must be real results, not just words and declarations. Terrorists must be stopped before they act. The Palestinian leadership must arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts. The Palestinians must live up to the agreements they have made to do so. They must be held to account when they do not.”
All very nice. But there have been no results at all! The PLO continues to sit back and wink when the Hamas and jihad suicide bombers do their genocidal work, while PLO-controlled militias continue to murder Jews non-stop. The PLO has repeatedly pledged in past accords to stop all the terror, in exchange for all the concessions it received from the U.S. and from Israel. But in exchange for the largess, it delivered nothing. Powell’s response to this duplicity has always been to demand that the PLO be rewarded with even greater concessions, with ever increasing generosity, including piles of cash.
Powell appears to have nothing but contempt for Israeli democracy. When a group of Israeli far-leftists met in Geneva recently and “negotiated” a “peace accord” with reps from the PLO, an “accord” based incidentally on complete Israeli capitulation to PLO demands regarding everything, Powell officially endorsed that “accord” and demanded that the Israeli government agree to consider it as a starting point for official peace talks. The seditious “Geneva accord” is the exact equivalent to some “accord” negotiated falsely in the name of America by Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, had they gone to Baghdad or to Kabul before the U.S. invasions and had they negotiated “deals” based upon complete U.S. capitulation to terrorist demands, then attempting to impose them on the U.S. Let us note that this Geneva “accord” would have been a violation of the U.S. Long Act had it been done by Americans. But when it comes to a group of Israeli far-leftists, Powell endorses their treasonous “initiative.” In addition, the U.S. evidently is quietly pumping funds into the “peace activist” groups involved, all in violation of Israeli campaign finance laws.
These funds are in addition to the massive pumping of huge amounts of money into picayune extremist leftist Israeli organizations by U.S. and European NGOs (at times with winks or with direct funding from the State Department, such as U.S. funding of the propaganda activities of UNRWA). These groups even include PASSIA, the Palestinian Arab lobby organization which trains professionals to lobby Capital Hill for the PLO cause. The PASSIA training manuals thank US AID for their generous sponsorship. The Ford Foundation has pumped huge amounts into the so-called “New Israel Fund,” an American far-leftist institution that finances the activities Jewish leftist and Arab anti-Israel pro-terror political groups inside Israel, down to and including the legal representation for a PLO terrorist on trial for murder in an Israeli court. Some U.S. funds shell out money to explicitly treasonous groups in Israel, such as those organizing military insurrection and mutiny by Israeli leftists in the army. All if this is gross violation of the sovereignty of a democratic country. Powell has never spoken out against it.
Powell has repeatedly demanded that Israel itself continue to pump funds into Arafat’s kleptocracy, much of which Arafat is of course stealing, this in spite of the PLO’s track record of atrocities. When the PLO tried to smuggle in ships full of heavy arms and explosives, in the grossest violation of the Oslo Accords, Powell asked Arafat to arrest those responsible, a bit like asking Stalin to arrest those responsible for liquidating the kulaks.
Finally, there is the matter of broken promises to Israel. The Bush people had run for election on a platform pledging unambiguously to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is Israel’s Capital. We are still waiting. Powell repeatedly declared that U.S. policy regarding the Palestinian Authority would be conditioned upon PLO compliance with its Oslo obligations, and specifically with an ending of the terror.We are still waiting. Bush and Powell promised to hunt down Islamist terrorists everywhere in the world. We are still waiting for them to add the PLO and its affiliates to the list. The PLO is currently not on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.And who is on the list of terrorist organizations? Some small harmless groups of Israeli Rightists, followers of the late Rabbi Kahane, who may be guilty of scribbling uncouth graffiti on some walls in Israel! The State Department has officially declared them to be terrorists.
In short, Colin Powell’s policies regarding the Middle East have been designed to weaken and delegitimize the only democracy in the region, while granting recognition and funding to the worst Islamofascist terrorists the region has produced, all this in the midst of the American “total war” against world terrorism.
Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa and is author of The Scout, Gefen Publishing House.