On a recent "60 Minutes," Andy Rooney declared with the certitude of a tenured academic that the U.S. should cut off all aid from Israel and the Palestinians "if [Ariel] Sharon and the Palestinian terrorists persist with their arrogance." His commentary was intended to show the difficulty of Secretary of State Colin Powell's recently failed mission in search of peace. Â Rooney prefaced his conclusion by asserting that Sharon loves this war and Arafat cannot stop the terrorists, as if both sides were equally to blame.
In searching for that chimera, "peace in the Middle East," the United States — like Rooney — is obliterating any meaningful distinctions between just and unjust wars. Compelling Israel to cease defending itself against repeated attacks on its citizens conflates legitimate self-defense with the wholly unlawful — and immoral — slaughter of civilians by homicide-bombers.
To be clear, the war between Israel and Palestinian terrorism is not morally equivalent. Let's look at some of those distinctions.
The difference in political regimes: On the Palestinian side, Yasser Arafat controls the Fatah faction, which controls the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Arafat has never been democratically elected and has never had to answer to the Palestinian people. Arafat's organization began and continues as terrorist organization, in which he alone can brandish a pistol at a dissenting member of his ruling coalition. Â Compare this to Israel. In the last decade alone, there have been six different Prime Ministers of Israel.Â Mr. Sharon can be voted out and is at considerable pains to maintain a ruling coalition, as any Prime Minister is compelled to do.
Political goals: The Palestinian Authority's official website tells it all: all maps of the region show only Palestine, not Israel. Its goals continue to be the eradication of the state of Israel. It was, after all, unwilling to accept the Barak proposal for 97 percent of the land. On the Israeli side, the goal is security and peace in that order, since peace is impossible without independence from constant war by the Arab Middle East.
Strategy and tactics: Under Arafat's leadership, the Palestinians have chosen the path of terrorizing Israeli citizens. In this, thePalestinians have refused any limits on the means they use. Their only restraint so far has been strategic, since they cannot defeat Israel with conventional military power. The Israelis, on the other hand, could wipe out whole enclaves of Palestinian terrorists, but have restricted themselves in this latest campaign to the limited objective of taking out the organizers of terror and confining Arafat to his compound (and providing him food and water).
Lately, the Palestinians have compared their struggle with the U.S. in 1776. But in what way are the two comparable? Only insofar as they both were/are asymmetrical wars. But in moral terms, they are radically different. The goals of the infant country in 1776 were never to eliminate Britain or to slaughter the wives and children of British soldiers. The Founding Fathers structured the political regime to be self-governing, answerable to its citizens, and predicated on the idea of finding a way to go from bullets to ballots in political succession. No such self-restraint, or check and balance against corruption, is in evidence by the current Palestinian leadership or its terrorists.
Palestinian apologists claim that Arafat cannot control his terrorists. The Israeli incursions into selected enclaves of terrorists prove that idea to be a lie. Beyond the problem of saying one thing in English and another in Arabic, Mr. Arafat actively encourages and promotes terrorism. He is supported and abettedin this by rogue states like Iran, Iraq, and Syria who support terrorism, through finance, weapons, charitable donations to "martyrs'" families, and propaganda.
No peace is possible with such a regime, because peace requires compromise. Israel cannot compromise with a Palestinian leadership that endorses lying as a tactic in negotiations (as Arafat has done), has Israel's destruction as a goal, and recognizes no limits on the means to that destruction. There can be no mutual interest in seeing oneself destroyed.
Just as the United States is justified in eradicating terrorism in the world by targeting states that sponsor it, so Israel is justified in taking out terrorist organizers in the West Bank. Political solutions short of military victory will only foster more demands, and more terror.
The first step in gaining any peace is replacing the Palestinian regime that knows no distinction between just and unjust war. The first step for us is in making moral distinctions.