NYTimes Op Ed about Israel - 16 Oct 2002
Shaping Strategy With Israel
As a potential target of Iraq's unconventional weapons, Israel is a crucially interested party in America's looming confrontation with Baghdad. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with President Bush today in Washington, the two leaders need to discuss ways that Israel can defend its citizens without undercutting American diplomatic and military strategy.
These are sensitive subjects. Mr. Sharon's recent loose talk about retaliation against Iraq could make things easier for Saddam Hussein. And while Israel's need to defend itself is obvious, it has been doing so in ways that are causing unnecessary suffering of innocent Palestinians, complicating America's relations with Arab and Muslim countries whose support is needed against Iraq.
When Baghdad launched conventionally armed Scud missiles against Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Israeli leaders wisely agreed to let Washington respond. Mr. Sharon has suggested that he might not be restrained if Iraq attacked Israeli cities again, especially if it used biological or chemical weapons. Raising the possibility of a devastating Israeli counterattack is one thing. Actually carrying one out is another. The last thing Mr. Sharon should want would be to let Baghdad shift the focus off its own illegal weapons and onto the possibility of a new Arab-Israeli war.
In the battle against Palestinian violence, Israel has increased its military pressures in recent weeks, especially in the Gaza Strip, leading to a corresponding rise in the suffering of Palestinian bystanders. In a letter to Mr. Sharon last week, Mr. Bush rightly urged greater restraint. Suggestions that Israel may soon withdraw troops from Hebron are welcome. Overall conditions in the territories have grown truly desperate.
Figures presented to Israel's cabinet earlier this week by the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, show that three in five Palestinians now live below the World Bank's official poverty line, and an even higher percentage depend on international humanitarian aid for survival.
It is not enough, as Mr. Sharon did Monday, to blame the disastrous leadership of Yasir Arafat for this suffering, although that is certainly a major factor. So long as Israel occupies the territories, it has a responsibility to ease the plight of the roughly three million Palestinians living there. It also has an interest in doing so. The democratic election of more enlightened Palestinian leadership is unlikely to emerge from such widespread misery.
It is reasonable for Mr. Bush, facing war in the Mideast, to ask his closest regional ally to contribute constructively toward the mutually desirable goal of disarming Iraq. Reducing unnecessary Palestinian suffering is one requirement.