Understandably, Monday's State Department rebuke of Israel over the death of senior Palestinian leader Mustafa Zubari and its policy of restricting the movement of Palestinians generally, has led to sharp statements in the Jewish community. There is a general concern that the United States is wavering in its appreciation of the Sharon government's need to get at those who are directing the terror against its citizens and to impede terrorist infiltration. Yet, while the State Department's statement was not at all welcome, we urge that matters be kept in context.
The State Department has periodically criticized Israel for what it said was an “overreaction” to terrorist provocation. That is, although it has remained largely silent when Israel has incremently increased the military pressure on the Palestinians, it has reacted negatively when Israel took an unusually bold step such as when it declared it would reoccupy parts of Gaza for a month, or when it used the American-supplied F16's the first time to retaliate against terrorist acts. The current episode can be seen in that light. Yet what is clear is that there was none of the Clinton-era pressure on Israel to act against what it perceived as necessary to protect its security interests.
Moreover, we would urge those who believe that Israel now has a problem with the Bush Mideast policy to consider some excerpts from President Bush's remarkable press conference last Friday.
We have made it very clear … that we will have no representatives there so long as they pick on Israel, so long as they continue to say Zionism is racism. If they use the forum as a way to isolate our friend and strong ally, we will not participate … [W]e will not participate in a conference that tries to isolate Israel and denigrates Israel…
In order for there to be any peace talks in the Middle East, the first thing that must happen is that both parties must resolve to stop the violence. The Israelis have made it very clear that they will not negotiate under terrorist threat. And if Mr. Arafat is interested in having a dialogue that could conceivably lead to the Mitchell process, then I strongly urge him to urge the terrorists, the Palestinian terrorists, to stop the suicide bombings, to stop the incursions, to stop the threats.
At the same time, we've worked very closely with Prime Minister Sharon to urge him to show restraint. Terrorism is prevalent now in the Middle East, and the first thing that all parties who are concerned about peace in the Middle East must do is work to stop the terrorist activities. The Israelis will not negotiate under terrorist threat. As simple as that. And if the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue, then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put a hundred percent effort into … solving the terrorist activity, into stopping the terrorist activity.
And I believe he can do a better job of doing that … I would hope that the Israelis would show restraint on all fronts. And we … continue to urge restraint with both parties….
We've got a framework … for a peaceful resolution. It's called the Mitchell plan. And our administration, as have most of the world, embraced the Mitchell plan. But in order to get to Mitchell requires there to be a cessation of terrorist activity ? if not a cessation, a hundred percent effort to get a cessation. And we haven't seen that hundred percent effort yet….
Do we hear the Palestinians' call for discussions? Of course we do. But my attitude is, if they are interested in peaceful dialogue, they ought to do everything they can to stop the terrorist activity that has … accelerated in recent months….
To our mind, in its apparent criticism of Israel, the State Department may well be going through the motions to maintain leverage with the Arab world. At worst, there is a real conflict between the White House and Foggy Bottom. And if that is true, we're glad that the President of the United States is on this side of the issue.