Whichever candidate clinches the U.S. presidential election, Ariel Sharon wins.
George W. Bush (for whatever mix of political and – scary – religious reasons) has basically taken a what-Ariel-wants-Ariel-gets approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And John Kerry isn’t about to tick off the influential lobby group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), by allowing much daylight between his position and Bush’s.
Both men support the construction of the wall running
along and into the West Bank (Kerry recently agreed with Bush that the International Court of Justice, which recently ruled the
barrier illegal, had no authority to tackle the matter); both say Palestinian refugees
do not have the “right of return”; both say Jerusalem
must not be divided; and both say that Israel will hold on
to some of the land seized in the 1967 War.
Leaving aside questions of conviction, is this politically smart of Kerry?
AIPAC finds little to fault Kerry with, but Sharon’s policies
have been highly divisive among American Jews (who vote Democrat overwhelmingly). Witness the growing membership of
groups such Americans for Peace Now (APN), which wants the
Israeli government back at the negotiating table. Yet when
it comes to U.S. presidential campaigns, as the Nation reports:
“The unwritten rule,” says APN president
Debrah DeLee, “is don’t let anyone get to the right of you
on Israel.” The math is simple: Jews on the right will vote
on the single issue of Israel, but liberal Jews vote on a
range of issues. So for political candidates, tacking to the
right is all gain, no pain.”
Kerry has taken that philosophy to heart,
especially after getting in trouble with conservative
Jewish groups over some of his statements earlier in the
campaign. In October 2003, speaking to members of the
Arab American Institute, Kerry, called the infamous wall
“a provocative and counterproductive
measure,” and said, “I know how disheartened
Palestinians are by the Israeli government’s decision to
build a barrier off the ‘Green Line,’ cutting deeply into
Palestinian areas We do not need another barrier to peace.”
Kerry’s suggestion that former President Jimmy Carter (who
criticized the Bush administration for his neglect of the
Middle East peace talks in his speech to the Democratic Convention) or former
Secretary of State James Baker III — considered as
insufficiently pro-Israel in some Jewish-American circles —
should be sent to the region to restart the peace talks
also prompted a backlash. He hasn’t made that kind of mistake since.
Kerry, like Bush, has been (rightly) critical of Yasser Arafat, and the Democratic platform
talks about “promoting new and responsible leadership”
within the Palestinian Authority. The PLO’s missteps and its
rampant corruption must be acknowledged, but responsible
leaders are needed in Israel too.
Precisely because the United States does have a special
relationship with Israel, it has a responsibility to
criticize those Israeli policies that warrant criticism. The
outcome of the deep poverty and daily humiliation that
Palestinians of the new ghettos created by Sharon’s wall can
only yield catastrophic results for Israel’s security. Yet
Sharon keeps insisting that Israel can somehow seal itself
off from suicide bombings, be it via the wall or plans to
unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The fiction that
Sharon perpetuates is that peace can be achieved not by
negotiating with the Palestinians, but by acting as if they are not there at all.
It’s too bad commitment to Israel in this election
season has come to mean little or no criticism at all of
Sharon’s policies — which are against Israeli, Palestinian,
and U.S. interests. Sadly, it looks like this week’s
Democratic Convention will do little to supply some much-needed constructive criticism.