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U.S. policy of blaming the victim leaves Palestinians no hope

Published August 10, 2003

If the Jews are God's chosen people, then the Palestinians are God's cursed people.

I cannot think of a single, substantive, long-lived good thing that has happened for the Palestinians during my lifetime (I was born in 1945).

All people - even Palestinians - need a victory at least one time in their existence. At some point, all people need to be affirmed in their positive aspirations. All people need real hope, at least temporarily. People cannot withstand perpetual abuse without suffering irreparable damage to their individual and collective psyches.

For sure, the Palestinian diaspora has suffered in ways that we may never know. And nothing good will ever happen for these people until the United States develops the political vision and the moral backbone to lead the way. The state of Israel apparently has little if any genuine interest in empowering Palestinians with the tools to become self-reliant neighbors, neighbors who have legitimate claims to much of the land that Israelis now call their home.

What has been going on in the embattled region is the classic game of blaming the victim.

From the beginning, with the creation of the nation of Israel, Palestinians have been the victims of Israel's determination to keep them virtually powerless. Since 1948, successive U.S. administrations, citing Israel's need for security, have given the Jewish state carte blanche to implement undemocratic policies that dehumanize Palestinians. American would not tolerate such policies anywhere else in the world.

The most troubling result of this dynamic - America's unblinking alliance with Israel - is the birth and maturation of Palestinian organizations that use terror as their means of protest. The sooner the United States begins to earnestly listen to the Palestinian side, the sooner real progress will occur.

One of the biggest mistakes the United States made, under the leadership of George W. Bush, was to isolate Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the elected leader of the Palestinian people. Demonized by Israel and by most Americans, Arafat has been the unwilling victim of a sophisticated shell game.

Arafat is not blameless in the Holy Land's tragedy, but neither is he the prime source of the region's half century of carnage as many Israelis and right-wing Americans claim.

Arafat, like Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is a creation of Mideast politics and the violence of religious obsession.

Following the original Oslo accords, Arafat kept the lid on violence by developing a truce with terrorists. Slowly, though, the Israeli government itself undermined Arafat's authority in several ways.

One was the unabated construction of settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza. Each time Arafat met with U.S. and Israeli officials to talk peace, the Palestinian Authority leader was given a plan that did nothing to halt the Israeli land grab. When Arafat rejected these schemes, he was blasted for being an unreliable partner in peace. The truth is that Arafat was never handed a good agreement, one that considered the plight of the Palestinian diaspora.

Arafat simply refused to play the game. He is paying for his courage by being confined to a few rooms of his bombed-out headquarters.

Now, Israel is playing the same game with new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Propped up as a man of peace - the un-Arafat - by Israel and the United States, Abbas is now being handed empty agreements that will undermine his authority and transform him into an untrustworthy partner in peace.

Israel, for example, released more than 330 Palestinian prisoners the other day ostensibly as an unsolicited gesture of good will. But hold on. A large number of the prisoners were to be released in a few weeks and months anyway. Hamas and other terrorist groups are not fooled by this ruse, and Abbas will wind up looking like a fool if he pretends that Israel was generous.

Then, we have the fence (wall) that is snaking its way through Palestinian territory, that is turning some villages and towns into ghettos.

What is Abbas to do? What kind of credibility will he have with terrorists if he accepts a so-called road map that includes a wall that subverts Palestinian hopes of statehood?

President Bush has made noise that he might cut the cost of the fence from the $9-billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Israel if Sharon does not agree to modifications to the fence.

This is another shell game. The cost of the fence is so small that a deducting it from the $9-billion figure will not amount to a hill of beans.

This time the victim is Abbas, not Arafat.

What about the settlements? Even as Abbas talked to Israeli officials the other day about eliminating terrorism, Sharon was approving the construction of nearly two dozen more upscale settlements in the occupied territories.

Again, the victim of the shell game is Abbas, not Arafat.

Sharon and Bush will turn Abbas into another Arafat in short order if they do not stop dissembling. No fence or wall be able to contain the fury of the Palestinian diaspora.

If honest brokering does not enter the process on the U.S. and Israeli side, the chosen people will continue to prevail over the cursed Palestinians.

[Last modified August 10, 2003, 04:12:16]

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