When George Bush meets with Ariel Sharon in the White House on Wednesday, each leader will be doing his best to confer legitimacy on the other’s failed policies of occupation.
Sharon will give Bush’s declining popularity a boost when he helps the US President reframe our current war against the people of Iraq as a struggle against terrorism. For thirty-seven years Israeli governments have used that approach to justify their own occupation of the West Bank and Gaza–and it has worked politically to convince many Israelis to ignore the evidence that it is the occupation that causes the terror and not vice versa.
President Bush may hope that Americans can be convinced that the United States should follow Israel’s example and respond to both terror and legitimate resistance with heightened repression. Israel has just assassinated the leading sheik associated with Hamas terrorism, and the Sharon government has refined a technique of collective punishment so that over the years it has punished millions of Palestinians for the acts of a handful of terrorists. While Sharon’s policies have actually generated an increase in the number of Israelis hurt by terror, the impression of “standing tough” has worked to retain his popularity among many Israelis who have become convinced that Israel has every right to hold on to the West Bank. If the strategy works for Sharon, it might work for Bush’s adventure in Iraq as well–if Bush can find a way to convince Americans that the Israeli strategy America seems to be following in Iraq is precisely the way to stand strong against terror.
In exchange, President Bush is reportedly planning to give Sharon a written commitment that the United States will no longer push for a return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders. This concession would be the most significant accomplishment yet achieved by the Israeli right. For decades US policy has aimed at convincing Israel that it must live by the same principle that has governed international law since the end of World War II: that countries must not be allowed to increase their territory through armed conquest. It was that very principle that was used to justify US support for the autocratic government of Kuwait when it was attacked by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990, and it is the cornerstone of the hopes of the international community to prevent endless wars in the twenty-first century. If he abrogates that principle, Bush not only opens the way for Israel to permanently annex major sections of the West Bank and permanently end the hopes of the Palestinian people for an economically and politically viable state of their own; he also sets a precedent for national expansion through war as dangerous as his pre-emptive war strategy for Iraq.