Forget Sharon, Blame Clinton for Violence

In one of the most ironic remarks in recent history, President Clinton was overheard telling the Irish Prime Minister that he found the Middle East maddening. Now as violence in Israel has raised the specter of war, another irony has emerged, the man who believed his legacy would be bringing peace to the Middle East could go down as the person who sabotaged it.

When he first ran for President, candidate Bill Clinton said he supported moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. President Clinton, however, has obstructed construction of the embassy and resolutely refused to recognize the Israeli capital. This policy has led to the current impasse and the violence we are now seeing.

From the beginning of the Israeli withdrawal process, it was clear what the outcome would be: Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders with some modifications to incorporate most of the settlements. What always remained as the last stumbling block was the fate of Jerusalem. The Palestinians have always believed they could win a foothold in the city because of the lack of support Israel had from the international community for controlling the city. The key player, however, was the United States, because so long as Israel’s closest ally refused to support the Israeli position, the Palestinian hope remained alive.

If in 1992, or anytime since then, President Clinton had simply adopted the policy Congress approved, i.e., recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the issue would have been taken off the table. There would be no discussion of the Temple Mount or any other part of the Old City becoming part of Palestine. Contrary to the claims of critics, this would not have foreclosed any resolution to Palestinian demands, it would have simply made them more realistic. Instead of being in a position to turn down the extraordinary concessions Prime Minister Barak offered at Camp David, Arafat would long ago have realized getting a capital in Abu Dis was his best and only chance for a stake in Jerusalem. Instead, the Administration, fearing the outrage of the Arab/Muslim world, showed the same superpowerlessness it exhibited when it abstained on the one-sided anti-Israel UN resolution last week.

The current violence should have shattered the naive view that the conflict is between Arabs and Israelis rather than Muslims and Jews. What is the issue about the Temple Mount? If it is a political one, then the problem should be over who has the power to control the area and whether free access is provided. The issue, however, is that Muslims will not accept Jewish control over “their” religious shrines. Why else would this be an issue for other nations? While even the State Department understands that religion is a root cause of the Irish conflict, most people stubbornly cling to the idea the Middle East is different. It’s not.

And how did the Temple Mount become a Muslim shrine? It was the site of the Jewish Temple and the holiest place in Judaism for millennia. The Muslims built their mosques on top of the Jewish holy site and called it their own. Now they are doing the same thing at Joseph’s Tomb. The Palestinians destroyed this shrine and are now building a mosque on top of it. The idea that Israel should make concessions in Jerusalem or any other holy place because the Palestinians will guarantee access and protection was laughable from the outset. Jews saw how the Jordanians treated Jerusalem and their holy places for 19 years, desecrating the shrines and denying them access to the Western Wall. Now the whole world has seen that the Palestinians would be no different.

Listening to the Palestinians complain about the casualty toll it is clear that what they lament is not that innocents are dying, but that the Jews are not simply standing by and allowing themselves to be killed. Israelis are not supposed to defend themselves, they are supposed to die. Too many Israelis are dying now that Palestinian police, armed with automatic weapons, are turning their guns on Israeli troops rather then pacifying their population. The real question is how long it is before the Palestinian kids with slingshots are replaced with soldiers in tanks.

There has never been a “peace process” because the Palestinians don’t want to coexist when Israel completes its withdrawal, no matter how extensive. The Muslims will never accept a Jewish state in their midst. Israel still had an interest in the withdrawal process because it was important to remove its troops from territory that had no strategic value and required undemocratic measures to control a hostile population. Now Israel has completed most, if not all of the withdrawal necessary to accomplish that objective. The question was never whether there would be peace, only whether Israel would be better off overall and could defend itself from the more restrictive borders.

Clinton could still salvage his legacy. Just as Ronald Reagan recognized the PLO just before leaving office and eased the way for his successor to bring Arafat into the peace process, Clinton could take a dramatic step to end the Israeli withdrawal process. He should announce shortly after the election that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will immediately move its embassy there. Simultaneously, he should recognize the nation of Palestine with its capital in Abu Dis/Jerusalem and offer a generous foreign aid package contingent on Arafat fulfilling the terms of all agreements signed with Israel. Clinton should further make clear that any Palestinian grievances should be brought before a Palestinian-Israeli-American mediation committee and that the resort to violence will provoke an immediate cutoff of all U.S. financial support to Palestine and condemnation in all diplomatic fora.