COLUMN: Middle East from the eyes of a student

Posted 3:24 p.m. April 8

by Robbie Friedman

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Stop the planet — I want to get off. Yes, it is true that the events that are taking place right now in the Middle East are extremely frustrating because the Israeli-Arab Conflict, as it has come to be known, is a vicious cycle to which there may be no end.

It has become such a complex situation that it would be nearly impossible for the violence to just cease. It would be impossible for most Israelis and Palestinians to just forget the events of the past 20 months, shake hands, and resume living together. The hatred between the two peoples, at least for the existing generation, is too deeply rooted. It is a stalemate in which the two parties involved are blind to repercussions.

“The most recent escalation of violence.” It sounds like someone says that catch-phrase every other week. It started last week on March 27 whena 23-year-old man, whom the Israelis previously asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest, walked into the Park Hotel in Netanya and blew himself up, killing 20 people and injuring 150 others who were celebrating the first night of Passover. Hamas, a Palestinian terror group, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Israel intelligence reportedly asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest the man before he could do anything drastic. The Palestinian Authority did not arrest him. In response, Israel blamed Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. In the most aggressive Israeli military action in years, troops stormed Arafat’s compound, cut off electricity, isolated him and arrested 70 men. At first Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan was unclear. Now, while it is still not lucid, it is understood that since Arafat is failing to eliminate suicide bombers like Israel wants, Sharon is relieving the Palestinian Liberation Organization of its duties. The Israeli Army has since arrested 700 more Palestinian militants and invaded six other Palestinian-controlled cities.

While riots are breaking out throughout the Arab world, in the United States President George W. Bush attempts to remain true to his mission since Sept. 11: rid the world of terror. But the Israeli-Arab conflict has weakened his efforts. It must be asked if the war against terror is a war that only Bush can wage; or is it one that every country should engage in.This question has made the U.S. position in Israel very fragile. Should the U.S. favor the Palestinian cause? Does Bush’s “war on terror” justify Israeli actions, too?

According to press reports, the Israeli army found documents appearing to be weapon orders from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian terrorist group, in Arafat’s headquarters April 3. While evidence shows a connection between terrorism and Arafat, the United States risks losing its Arab partners in the current war on terror if it sides with Israel.

And then there’s the real reason why the United States must have an active roll in the Mideast crisis: oil. The United States is dependant on the many oil fields in the region. The Mideast conflict is a lose-lose situation for America. When Israel launched the current “seek and destroy terror” mission, the United States understood.

“We have spoken out clearly and do so again now,” Secretary of State Colin Powel said in a recent press conference. “Chairman Arafat has to act, act against those responsible, to make clear terror and violence must stop now. All those who support peace must reinforce this message.”

But the following day Bush signed a United Nations resolution urging Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories. This left the world confused as to where the U.S. stood in the conflict. Bush clarified that Israel must “quickly finish” its sweep of Palestinian militants.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, explained that Sharon will ease up his current military campaign because he “cannot be resistant to America’s pressure. The only question is when America will give up on Arafat.”

Pipes continued to say that the Israeli-Arab conflict “is a war over Israel’s existence. I think that the Palestinians are pursuing a strategy that will fail them. They think that they can use violence to make the Israelis cry ‘uncle,’ but in fact it has only further unified them. I feel (the Palestinians) will give up within the next year.”

Stephen Shalom of Mideast Watch said “the basic problem in the Israel-Palestine conflict today remains what it has been for decades: the denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been living under a brutal and humiliating occupation since 1967 and no solution to the crisis is likely unless this fundamental reality is addressed.”

Last week Israel rejected a peace plan from Saudi Arabia that called for Israel to retreat to its pre-1967 borders. After the 1967 war, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for Israel to return land taken from Arab countries in exchange for peace. Israel refused, citing security reasons. The Palestinians and Arabs claim that Israel is “illegally occupying” their land.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said, “We urge the international community to assume its responsibility in putting an end to the Israeli military aggression and to call for the immediate and total withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the occupied territories.”

The Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres disagrees however, calling the Saudi Peace Plan “unacceptable,” “a non-starter” and “a plot to destroy Israel.”

After WWII, the newly-formed United Nations passed a partition plan forming separate states for Israel and Palestine. Tensions between Jews and the Arabs in the region have continued since then, escalating to the current crisis.

Extreme Palestinians see every Jewish casualty as coming one step closer to “freedom” and a direct pass into heaven; while extreme Israelis see every Palestinian male over the age of 14 as a terrorist that must be dealt away with.

It has come to the point where both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict can no longer see a future where Jews and Arabs live together. If there is a resolution, Israel and Palestine will not be the friendly neighbors that Canada and the United States. If Israel and the Palestinians separate themselves from each other now, they are setting the stage for an even bigger war in the future. The only difference would be Israel the country with planes and guns vs. Palestine with planes, guns and a whole world of Arab allies. If Arabs and Jews do not learn to live together, Israel will face a bloody defeat down the road. So, while it is both the Israelis’ and the Palestinians’ fault that the situation has become this bad, the responsibility is on the Israelis to stop the violence in any way possible. The Palestinians feel they have nothing to lose. Israel must know that their future is at stake.

It seems that now, more than ever, leaders are winning or losing their battles with words. Arafat is fooling the world by “condemning” terror attacks in English but then calling for “one million shahids (martyrs)” on Arabic radio. Sharon has jumped on Bush’s bandwagon and has labeled Arafat as “Israel’s (Osama) bin Laden.”That way, it almost justifies the sloppiness of his military campaigns. Reporters and protesters have been shot at, old men have been killed and ambulances have been denied access to the wounded. It is no secret that Sharon and the Israeli Army are under much scrutiny by almost every country in the world. The U.N. Security Council has twice voted for Israel to stop the current military campaign in Ramallah and Nablus, Israel.

One must ask the same questions of Arafat. He is encouraging the slaughter of innocent civilians every day. What does Israel, besides global consensus, have to gain by pulling out of the Palestinian areas if Arafat will not condemn the suicide bombings in Arabic?

The first step to peace is to get two new leaders on the table. Let’s start fresh. It is obvious that Arafat is doing nothing to stop terrorism and is failing to deliver peace to his weary people; and it is clear that Sharon loves to flex the muscles of the Israeli Defense force, sparking a new sense of anti-Semitism in the region and elsewhere.

The Palestinians must see that Arafat is not delivering and pick a new moderate leader to work with the Israelis. The Israelis must be able to find someone who can work with the Palestinians. Something positive must happen in Israel before all hope is lost, if it isn’t already.

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