Responding to Israel's attack late Monday on Palestinian terrorist positions in the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Colin Powell blamed the Palestinian side and their unprovoked mortar attack on Israel for the new outbreak of violence. He also blamed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon for triggering an Israeli attack on radar installations in Lebanon that are operated by Syrians. It was a welcome change from the "blame Israel first" behavior of previous administrations.
But then, in the usual moral equivalency that has characterized past administrations, Secretary Powell said Tuesday that Israel is failing to live up to its part of the 1993 Oslo peace accords and that her response to continued terrorist attacks and harassment, including the latest actions in Gaza, were "excessive and disproportionate."
Perhaps Secretary Powell would like to publish a handbook for Israel's military and political leadership that spells out what America thinks an appropriate response might be for a people whose enemies want to eradicate Israel as a nation and exterminate the Jews who dwell there. If a terrorist bomb kills, say, 10 Jewish civilians, what would Mr. Powell consider an appropriate response? Should it be the biblical formula of an eye for an eye 10 Palestinians for 10 Jews? Some would say a Jew's life is not worth that much.
Secretary Powell should enlighten Israel and the world concerning Israel's alleged "violations" of the Oslo agreement. In the May 1993 exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, recognition of the Palestinians was based on their halting violence. How can it be said that Israel, which has given up a considerable amount of land in compliance with Oslo, has not lived up to the accords while the Palestinian side, which has not halted the violence, is somehow in compliance? Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered virtually the entire West Bank and up to half of Jerusalem but that wasn't enough for Yasser Arafat.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quickly ordered his forces out of Gaza. He denied U.S. pressure was the cause but that's difficult to believe given the stated purpose of the Gaza incursion, which was to take out the mortar positions. Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey told Israeli Radio, "We are not speaking of occupation, we are speaking of taking control (of the Gaza Strip). We are speaking of a shifting of the Palestinian territory of a few hundred meters (yards) up to a kilometer (half a mile) in certain places." Kitrey said his troops could stay "a few more days" until the Palestinian Authority restored order among its own people.
That didn't happen when rhetorical missiles were launched at Israel from Washington. The violence, which the incursion was designed to stop, continued. Israeli Channel One reported Tuesday night that attacks against Israel resumed from inside the Gaza Strip and that heavy shooting occurred in Hebron, which Israel ceded to the Palestinians in 1997 as part of the land-for-peace mentality. Palestinians got the land. Israel is still looking for the peace.
President Bush has repeatedly stated that violence must cease before peace negotiations can continue. He has said the Palestinian side could stop the violence if it wants to.
The problem now, as it has always been, is that much of the world considers modern Israel illegitimate. Many people have such a poor view of history that they believe Israel is the cause of tension and instability throughout the region and if Israel would just do what its enemies want, they would be placated and peace would follow.
That approach was tried with another man who hated Jews. The man was Adolph Hitler. The appeaser was Neville Chamberlain. The result was World War II.
Peace through strength is all that dictators and tyrants understand. Israel should be allowed to defend herself and not be second-guessed until her enemies decide to beat their swords into ploughshares instead of beating Israelis into graves.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.