Secretary of State Colin Powell headed off this week to the Middle East, and the land of make-believe, where Yasser Arafat is not a terrorist, and "our good friends the Saudis" have a new peace plan. Good luck, Mr. Secretary.
Meanwhile, an almost infinite number of arguments have been heard by now on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. There may very well be solid arguments for a Palestinian state in the West Bank; and arguably the Palestinian people have some legitimate grievances against Israel. Too often, however, these arguments turn into rationalizations for terrorism. We typically hear, "Of course, everyone condemns terrorism, there is never a justification for terrorism, but..." - and then a series of justifications for why suicide bombers have legitimate reasons for their actions.
The Palestinians have chosen a strategy of murder-suicide to further their cause. This simply cannot be allowed by the civilized world, under any circumstances, no matter the grievances, real or imagined. This means no negotiations, no appeasement, and no discussion of their grievances as long as terror is employed or supported as a strategy.
The most common justification offered by Palestinian spokesmen and their supporters is that the Palestinian people are so filled with hopelessness that the only alternative left to them is murder-suicide attacks against innocents. It's argued that they're no match for the Israeli army, so they must use the only weapons available to them.
Well, first, the Palestinians aren't attacking the Israeli army, they're attacking kids at bat mitzvahs and women at the supermarket. That is cold-blooded murder, and nothing more. But even if you grant that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances, does that really offer any rational explanation for the tactic of murder-suicide?
"Oppression, occupation, and helplessness" are not unique to the West Bank. So how have other oppressed and occupied people reacted? As a rule, not with murder-suicide attacks against innocents.
Tibet has been under Chinese occupation and control for fifty years. The Tibetan people have no way to fight the Chinese occupiers, just as the Palestinians are no match for the Israeli army. Yet when was the last time we heard about a young Tibetan walking into a Chinese market and blowing himself up, killing dozens of innocent Chinese shoppers?
Or what about South Africa? Black South Africans lived under apartheid for years. They were horribly oppressed by the white minority of that country. But when did we ever hear about a black South African going into a café in Johannesburg and blowing himself up, killing innocent men, women, and children?
How about Eastern Europe, under Soviet occupation? Half of Europe was under communist domination for a good part of the twentieth century. Did we ever hear of Czechs or Hungarians seeking out crowds of innocent Russian civilians, purposely targeting innocent women and children, to kill and maim them?
In the Middle East, the Israelis are not the only "occupiers." Most of Lebanon has been under the occupation and control of Syria for years. When was the last time you heard about a member of Hamas or Hezbollah walking into a pizza place in Damascus to blow himself up and kill innocent Syrian women and children? To the contrary, these terrorist groups are lobbing missiles into Northern Israel, not Syria.
After the PLO supported Iraq during the Gulf War, Kuwait expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. When have we heard about suicide bombers in Kuwait, killing innocent Kuwaiti children? Where are the demands for a Palestinian "right of return" to Kuwait?
A majority of the population of Jordan is Palestinian. Yet the Palestinian nationalist movement and "right of return" arguments are now aimed at Israel, not Jordan. When Jordan controlled the West Bank before 1967, other Arab states attacked Israel, not the Jordanian "occupiers". Why aren't Palestinian youths blowing themselves up in murder-suicide attacks against innocent men, women, and children in the restaurants and cafes of Amman?
No, the cause of murder-suicide bombing in the West Bank and Israel is not Israeli occupation. The cause is a culture that is virulently anti-Semitic, that embraces violence and celebrates the death of innocents. It is a culture that refers to murder-suicide bombers as "martyrs". Even among those that would never commit acts of terrorism themselves, there is support for those who would. As President Bush aptly said of the terrorists last week, "They're not martyrs, they're murderers."
Real, lasting peace in the region will be possible only when the people of the Middle East, and especially their leaders, begin to unequivocally agree.