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Israel: The Invisible Victim By: Gil Troy
GilTroy.com | Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The looming confrontation between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Israeli latitude in fighting Palestinian violence highlights a central contradiction in Bush's war against terror. While, President Bush recognizes Palestinian terrorism as intertwined with "international terror" more than most world leaders, he does not equate the two. To Bush, "international terror" (Bush-speak for Islamic fundamentalist terror) is completely irrational and must be crushed. However, according to Bush, Palestinian terror is rooted in Palestinian suffering and thus can be addressed diplomatically, as well as militarily.

Americans made this distinction clear earlier in the month when they signed off, with no public protest, on the Group of Eight leaders' statement condemning "international terrorism." The statement recognized that "The threat of terrorism remains serious, as has been seen in a series of terrorist incidents including in Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen over the past year." It was a stunning omission; on the eve of Bush's Middle Eastern summit, Israel - the home of the most violent terrorist attacks in the world - did not even merit a mention on the list of countries that suffered from terrorism last year.

This oversight recalls a statement from the Moscow Conference signed nearly 60 years ago by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Josef Stalin. In October 1943, the Allies had finally issued a "Statement on Atrocities" responding to "evidence of atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions which are being perpetrated by Hitlerite forces." The Allied leaders vowed to punish "Germans who take part in wholesale shooting of Polish officers or in the execution of French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages or Cretan peasants, or who have shared in slaughters inflicted on the people of Poland or in territories of the Soviet Union."

Back then the Allied powers could not unite in recognizing the special sufferings.imposed on Europe's Jews, just as today admitting that Jews are being targeted would prove divisive. Although the situations obviously differ, then, as now, Jews doubly suffered from being singled out by their enemies and overlooked by potential friends. This is the peculiar double-whammy of bigotry against Jews and others making the victim all too visible as a target to the haters and all too invisible to the supposedly innocent bystanders.

And yet, Bush, like most Israelis, treats Palestinian terrorism differently. While al-Qaida terrorism strikes him as so irrational that he and his supporters dismiss any discussion of "root causes" (let alone grievances) Bush wavers between treating Palestinian terror as unreasonable and reasonable, and thus unsolvable or solvable by peaceful means.

In his speech of June 24, 2002, Bush began with a typically global denunciation of irrational terror: "The forces of extremism and terror are attempting to kill progress and peace by killing the innocent. And this casts a dark shadow over an entire region." Yet in the next paragraph, Bush was more evenhanded. After saying, "It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror," he added: "It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. And the current situation offers no prospect that life will improve. Israeli citizens will continue to be victimized by terrorists, and so Israel will continue to defend herself."

Similarly, at Aqaba, Bush said: "The issue of settlements must be addressed for peace to be achieved. In addition, P.M. Sharon recognizes that it is in Israel's own interest for Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state." This terror-"occupation" equation, lying at the heart of the Road Map, leads Bush to treat Palestinian terrorism as different. That, in fact, is one of the keys to Sharon's conceptual impasse as well.

The Quartet's Road Map simplistically and obnoxiously equates settlements with terror, implicitly endorsing the Palestinian rationale for violence. Bush's statements have been fuzzier on this connection. Just how that equation is defined, and how much of a gap there is between Bush's recipe and Sharon's, will determine the state of American-Israeli relations as well as Palestinian-Israeli relations in the coming months.

By harping on the American inconsistency, Israelis will only succeed in annoying Americans, a particularly risky strategy with a president who acts instinctively but possesses full faith in his own consistency. At the same time, it would behoove the Americans to reassure Israelis that the difference in approach to terror is not because of a greater tolerance of Jewish suffering, but because there is a realistic chance for some kind of political rapprochement between Palestinians and Israelis.

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University and member of CIJR's Academic Council, is the author of "Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today."

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