Back during the presidential election campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama made repeated reference to a “cycle of violence” in the Middle East. Although, thankfully, he no longer uses this particularly inappropriate term in describing ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, now President Obama continues to allege a basic symmetry between the warring parties. These disturbing allegations, whether explicit or couched in innuendo, are wrong and troubling. They encourage U.S. policies that can only revive and exacerbate Arab violence.
Before he can hope to make any real progress with plans for peace in the Middle East (and this would mean abandoning, finally, the wholly twisted cartography of the so-called “Road Map“), the president must first understand something very basic about law and justice: There can never be any equivalence between the expressly criminal violence of terrorism and the indispensable law-enforcing resort to counter-terrorism. Instead of worrying about a small number of Jews who seek apartments in their capital city of Israel, Mr. Obama should start worrying about the much large number of Palestinians for whom illegitimate violence remains an integral and ineradicable element of “peacemaking.”
Although not usually plain and explicit, Mr. Obama still seemingly accepts a manifestly crude symmetry between Arab terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism. This unfortunate and ironic acceptance (ironic, because he simultaneously regards similar insurgent threats against the United States as unambiguously terroristic) belies his announced intent to proffer a fair and honorable approach to the problem. Jurisprudentially, it also has the injurious effect of eroding crucial differences between crime and punishment, between murder and self-defense.
President Obama should now speak far more plainly on this vital issue. Words matter. There is still no cycle of violence in the Palestinian war against Israeli civilians. All Palestinian terror groups (Fatah, Hamas – there is no real difference) argue openly that their killings of noncombatants are in “retaliation” for Israel’s “occupation.” Even now, both organizations steadfastly refuse to renounce “armed struggle.”
President Obama still presses Israel to make further and far-reaching territorial concessions, urgings that amount to “land for nothing.” Fatah, in its very latest “Internal Order Document,” states at Article 17: “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine.” And at Article 19: “The struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine” (emphasis added). Of course, “Palestine” still includes all of Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964, three years before the Israeli “occupation.” What, exactly, was the PLO seeking to liberate from 1964 – 1967? And what about persistent Arab terror from the 1949 armistice until June 1967? During that time, Gaza was held illegally by Egypt and West Bank (Judea/Samaria) by Jordan. What was then the object of Arab (Fedayeen) terror?
More “moderate” Fatah’s present position calls officially for terrorism and genocide. From the incontestable standpoint of international law, there is no reasonable way that such a stance could ever be judged comparable to Israel’s own firm commitment to oppose terrorism and genocide. To argue otherwise – to suggest openly or even tacitly that there remains a “cycle of violence” in the Middle East – would be tantamount to accepting the following: (1) a duly constituted democratic state, and a criminal terror organization are of equivalent legal stature; and (2) terrorist leaders and defenseless civilians are equally permissible targets.
President Obama should finally clarify that he does not support such an argument. At a minimum, such clarification would greatly enhance his steadily eroding stature among Israelis. There are palpably vital differences between criminality and law-enforcement. Why not say so?
Even if the incessant Palestinian refrain of an Israeli “occupation” were not concocted, and even if the ritualistic claims of “stolen Palestinian land” made any historical or legal sense, there could still never be any legal justification for the deliberate Fatah and Hamas policies of terror and genocide. Significantly, on these common and unhidden policies, there is not a shred of difference between the two groups.
As long as President Obama continues to pressure Israel to travel the suicidal “Road Map,” Palestinian “suicide” bombers will begin to reemerge with new fervor. These uniquely cowardly terrorists who fight only for their own personal reputations and for their personal immortality (they actually fear death more intensely than ordinary human beings; the “suicide” that they expect to suffer is only a momentary inconvenience on their “martyr’s” way to “paradise”) will again pack explosives with nails, screws and razor blades dipped in rat poison.
These cowards are not militants. They are not revolutionaries. Their expected “martyrdom” is a desperate way to avoid death. They are therefore murderers.
There is no “cycle of violence” in the Middle East. Terror groups never have any right to “retaliate” under international law – no more so than does an individual criminal in domestic society have any such a right against municipal police authorities. Indisputably, on the basis of their own current statements and platforms, Fatah and Hamas are organizations that recognize absolutely no proper boundaries in the use of force. Such boundaries, however, are always a critical and binding component of humanitarian international law (also known as the Law of War or the Law of Armed Conflict).
What is Israel to do? There is no cycle of violence in the region, only a continuous and fanaticism-driven murder of Israelis on their own land. Left unchallenged by correct naming from Washington, this Jihad or coming war of extermination against Israel will also leave America unprepared for future attacks by new waves of Islamist suicide bombers. Such attacks are already being prepared, primarily in Gaza – where Hamas is now building new ties with al-Qaeda – and are ultimately likely to involve chemical, biological or even nuclear materials. Significantly, in this connection, Mr. Obama’s newly signed follow-on START agreement with Russia will be of no recognizable deterrent or preventive value.
There has never been a cycle of violence in the Middle East. For President Barack Obama, it is time to say so plainly, and to finally stop alleging any kind of equivalence between relentless Arab terror and unavoidable Israeli counter-terror.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, Professor of International Law at Purdue, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and publishes widely on terrorism and international law. He is author of many of the earliest major books dealing with nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, and also with Israel’s nuclear strategy. Professor Beres, who was Chair of Project Daniel, is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.