THE ENTIRE world saw Mohammed Aldura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, killed by an Israeli soldier. What the world did not see was President Bill Clinton mourning this child and promising that such a thing will never happen again.
The U.S. role in the current crisis has been curious and puzzling. This country threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution that sought to condemn Israel for excessive use of force and that Israeli politician Ariel Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for allowing Lebanese Christian Phalangists to kill Palestinian refugees. After insisting on many changes, such as excluding direct references to Israel and Sharon, the United States abstained from voting on the measure.
The United States remains unwilling to condemn Israel, which makes one wonder how long the United States can pretend to be the peacemaker if it is unable to muster an evenhanded approach to the Mideast crisis.
When this year's Camp David accords failed, the Clinton administration singled out and unequivocally blamed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But now, when the Israeli army has killed over 80 and injured thousands of Palestinians, the United States refuses to utter a single word of condemnation against Israel.
Sharon visited the Muslim holy site, Al Aqsa, to underscore Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, which sparked the current battle. Sharon has a history of violence and terror against Palestinians. In 1982, as defense minister, he organized the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that destroyed Palestinian bases and refugee camps. During this invasion, the Israeli army massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians. In 1983, an Israeli tribunal held Sharon responsible for those actions and removed him from office. It is such a man that the U.S. president does not condemn publicly.
The United States plays a double role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Israel's staunchest ally and a broker of peace. It provides a security guarantee to Israel so that Israel may take risks for peace. To the Palestinians, it promised a homeland and development assistance if Palestinians recognized Israel and gave up their armed struggle.
The Palestinians recognized Israel, and after nearly a decade of peace talks, the Palestinians got nothing but a fresh taste of Israeli brutality.
It is the American policy that is singularly responsible for the failure of peace in the Middle East. Every time talks fail, Americans blame the Palestinians. If the Palestinians threaten to take unilateral steps, such as declaration of nationhood, the U.S. Congress passes a bill threatening to deny recognition and cut aid. But when Israelis back away, the United States merely provides more guarantees. And when Israelis use egregious and excessive force, Americans hedge about the blame and provide damage control. This policy of unlimited and uncritical support of Israel enhances its arrogance and reckless disregard for Palestinian lives, and undermines prospects for peace.
Israeli existence and well-being is dependent on American support. Even a suggestion that the United States will cut aid or reduce support will make Israel more willing to make peace and less inclined to use brutal force. Enemies of peace like Sharon can become persona non grata overnight if Americans condemn them publicly. Plus, U.S. willingness to discipline Israel will build more confidence in the Palestinians, who then also may be willing to trust the United States and make more sacrifices for peace.
Not only is American policy one-sided but its representatives are, too. Two of the most important people in Clinton's Middle East team, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and U.S. Special Envoy Dennis Ross, are both Jewish Americans. Indyk is a former lobbyist for a pro-Israel PAC. But Arab Americans are never included and rarely consulted in policy making. For Arab Palestinians, this symbolizes American one-sidedness and unwillingness to trust and include them.
In Friday's New York Times, former President Jimmy Carter wrote, "An important principle in negotiation is for the mediator to maintain at least the semblance of neutrality. Accolades for one side and condemnation of the other ...makes it very difficult to orchestrate future negotiation sessions."
If only Clinton would listen to Carter, the president who did make peace at Camp David.
In order that there be peace, it is not sufficient that Israel alone get what it wants. America will have to promise something to the Palestinians, too. It can begin by trying to be fair and evenhanded.
MUQTEDAR KHAN is an assistant professor of political science at Adrian College. Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org