Home > Israel > U.S. policy on Israel, Palestinians may prove as troublesome at that toward Iraq

U.S. policy on Israel, Palestinians may prove as troublesome at that toward Iraq

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The 7 PM discussion on one of the major networks focused on what several commentators agreed were amateurish preparations for the Washington summit. The principals were still jockeying against one another, rather than acting as if the outline of an agreement had been hammered out in preliminary discussions. Americans seemed unsure about what would happen, and what they should do.

Palestinians have recorded statements meant to assure the Israeli public of their good intentions, but except for an occasional mention about them, those statements have not made it to Israeli media. 
The headline on the 8 PM news was that four Israelis, including a pregnant woman and her husband, were killed in a roadside ambush near the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Hamas was quick to  applaud the action.
The IDF has closed off Hebron and a nearby Palestinians village, and has begun going from house to house. A surgical extraction of the bad guys would be ideal, but even if that happens there is likely to be friction that works its way up to protests about occupation by ranking Palestinians. 
The area around Kiryat Arba and the adjacent Hebron is home to Israeli and Palestinian extremists who feed off one another. Most likely the instigators of this violence came from the area, and planned to kill there in order to trigger an escalation that would serve them and their Israeli counterparts. How else to damage the talks both groups oppose?
Baruch Goldstein lived in Kiryat Arba. He was the American born physician immortalized by like thinking people for killing 29 Muslims while they were praying in the mosque of the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. While the IDF patrols will be told to be wary of provoking Palestinian civilians in this time of political sensitivity, the folks of Kiryat Arba and nearby settlements will not care who they attack, if they can evade efforts of Israeli security forces to keep them away from Palestinians.
Only this morning (Tuesday), the New York Times correspondent in Israel described the progress made by Palestinians in the West Bank, which has brought them to the outlines of a state. One of his paragraphs quoted a Western security official who praised the Palestinians for imposing a level of control superior to anything they had been able to achieve in the past. However, he also commented in a way that makes this evening’s attack less than a surprise. 

“A Western security official . . . said Israeli interventions and troop numbers could and should be cut further. But he thought that the Palestinian forces, while making progress, were not yet able to take control.”

Also today, Paul Wolfowitz wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he compared the war he promoted in Iraq with the earlier war in Korea. He noted that large segments of the American public opposed both wars. He credits the Korean war for the subsequent peace and prosperity of South Korea, and is optimistic that a similar scenario can occur in Iraq.
One can hope so, just as one can hope that the American operation for Israel and Palestine will produce something good. But while I am pretty sure that Wolfowitz will not heed what I say, I would urge him to consider the element of Islam. It was not present in Korea, or among the Russian or Chinese supporters of North Korea, but is built into the fabric of Iraq. It is part of a culture that features bloody hostility between clans and tribes that is only partly a result of the historic enmity between Shiite and Sunni. Iran’s supplies arms and inspiration to Hamas and Hizbollah. Iraq is even closer and no less important to the Ayatollahs.

American headlines are featuring a presidential speech scheduled to mark the end of American combat operations in Iraq. Expectations are that he will not boast about unblemished success. 

Defense Secretary Gates has warned against  “premature victory parades or self-congratulations” with respect to Iraq, and has been less than optimistic about success in Afghanistan. 
A similar tone would be appropriate for the speeches at the Israel and Palestine ceremony.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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