January 17, 2004

Tom Friedman Calls for Bush to Force the Immediate Withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and Gaza

Tom Friedman says that the big threat to the national security of the United States today is produced by the settlement/Palestinian policy of Ariel Sharon and his Likud government. Why? Because "the Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years." And as a result America will lose the war of ideas in the Middle East, for "to think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy."

Tom Friedman | January 18, 2004: Let's not mince words. American policy today toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insane.

Can anyone look at what is happening — Palestinians, gripped by a collective madness, committing suicide, and Israelis, under a leadership completely adrift, building more settlements so fanatical Jews can live in the heart of Palestinian-populated areas — and not conclude the following: That these two nations are locked in an utterly self-destructive vicious cycle that threatens Israel's long-term viability, poisons America's image in the Middle East, undermines any hope for a Palestinian state and weakens pro-American Arab moderates. No, you can't draw any other conclusion. Yet the Bush team, backed up by certain conservative Jewish and Christian activist groups, believes that the correct policy is to do nothing. Well, that is my definition of insane.

Israel must get out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as soon as possible and evacuate most of the settlements. I have long advocated this, but it is now an urgent necessity. Otherwise, the Jewish state is in peril. Ideally, this withdrawal should be negotiated along the Clinton plan. But if necessary, it should be done unilaterally. This can't happen too soon, and the U.S. should be forcing it.

Why? First, because the Arab-Muslim world, which for so long has been on vacation from globalization, modernization and liberalization, is realizing that vacation is over. There is not enough oil wealth anymore to cushion or employ the huge population growth happening in the region. Every Arab country is going to have to make a wrenching adjustment. Israel needs to get out of the way and reduce its nodes of friction with the Muslim world as it goes through this unstable and at times humiliating catch-up.

Second, three dangerous trends are converging around Israel. One is a massive population explosion across the Arab world. The second is the worst interpersonal violence ever between Israelis and Palestinians. And the third is an explosion of Arab multimedia — from Al Jazeera to the Internet. What's happening is that this Arab media explosion is feeding the images of this Israeli-Palestinian violence to this Arab population explosion — radicalizing it and melding in the heads of young Arabs and Muslims the notion that the biggest threat to their future is J.I.A. — "Jews, Israel and America."

Israel's withdrawal is not a cure-all for this. Israel will still be despised. But if it withdraws to an internationally recognized border, it will have the moral high ground, the strategic high ground and the demographic high ground to protect itself. After Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the Hezbollah militia, on the other side, went on hating Israel and harassing the border — but it never tried to launch an invasion. Why? Hezbollah knew it would have no legitimacy — in the world or in Lebanon — for breaching that U.N.-approved border. And if it tried, Israel would be able to use its full military weight to retaliate. Demographically speaking, if Israel does not relinquish the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians will soon outnumber the Jews and Israel will become either an apartheid state or a non-Jewish state.

Moreover, an Israeli withdrawal will strip the worst Arab leaders of an excuse not to reform, it will create more space for the best Arab leaders to move forward and it will give Palestinians something to protect.

In sum, Israel should withdraw from the territories, not because it is weak, but because it must remain strong; not because Israel is wrong, but because Zionism is a just cause that the occupation is undermining; not because the Arabs would warmly embrace a smaller Israel, but because a smaller Israel, in internationally recognized boundaries, will be much more defensible; not because it will eliminate Islamic or European anti-Semitism, but because it will reduce it by reducing the daily friction; not because it would mean giving into an American whim, but because nothing would strengthen America's influence in the Muslim world, help win the war of ideas and therefore better protect Israel than this.

The Bush team rightly speaks of bringing justice to Iraq. It rightly denounces Palestinian suicide madness. But it says nothing about the injustice of the Israeli land grab in the West Bank. The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks and has not persuaded Israel to give up one settlement in three years. To think America can practice that sort of hypocrisy and win the war of ideas in the Arab-Muslim world is a truly dangerous fantasy.   

Posted by DeLong at January 17, 2004 07:47 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Where is the best place on earth to be right now? (Not a joke question)

Posted by: aw on January 17, 2004 08:24 PM

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On the edge of a protected old-growth forest with no pollutants in food or rain (Not a joke answer)

Posted by: Lee A. on January 17, 2004 08:32 PM

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As to the item: Our unilateralism continues to repay us with new wrinkles! Could Bush & Co. make another bold move in the Middle East, this time being forced to do it, simply because they are already committed to taking things so far?

Curious that the liberal hawks (three items below) seem to miss the synthesis: that getting rid of a violent scumbag is a great idea for world freedom and American prestige, but that doing it unilaterally may be a very-long-term strategic error of astounding proportion.

It puts into question the matter of our own commitment to the principles of Western liberalism, which hopes for adherence to the letter of the law, including international laws. It cheapens our word because we once agreed to follow these laws. And it will invite other countries to justify their aggressions in the future.

Unilateralism is also a tactical error in the war on long-term terror-recruitment, where we need to juxtapose the call of the terrorist to the lure of a diplomatic community of peaceful nations.

Also, given the fact that there was no immediate threat and Bush knew it, going ahead without multilateral agreement appears to the rest of the world to have an ulterior motive--over oil, letís say.

And the fact that the U.S. government, to circumvent a 70-30 poll split against action without the U.N., lied to its own citizens about matters of their own life-and-death has certainly thrown a honking huge wrench into our own political discourse, and given pause to anyone concerned about the future of rights in this country.

Was it just rash? We tend naturally to distrust the intellectual and emotional validity of a course of action fraught with so much poor planning, shortsightedness and falsehood. The saddest part of it for me is that officers and soldiers predicted post-invasion losses in the line of fire because of lack of planning and sufficient forces.

Well the whole thingís just a great big fuzzy ball of muffleheadedness, no matter where you look. Friedmanís right. About the only way out of this horrible mix is for the U.S. to somehow make good on its most idealistic intentions in Iraq and Israel/Palestine--otherwise we may be destroyed by hatred from without, and cynicism from within.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 17, 2004 08:35 PM

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Hurray for Friedman.

Any analysis of the threat to security arising from the Arab world must find at its center the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If that goes away so will the war on terroism. Even if terroists would persist for other reasons they will have lost any basis of support in the Arab world which they now enjoy because of what that world perceives as overwhelming injustice on the part of the Israelis and bias on the part of America.

However we have arrived at a discussion of terroism where the vocabulary has now become disjointed from this core issue. One can now follow discussions of terroism in the popular press as if there were no connection with this on-going conflict, as if this conflict would exist without this context.

The inability of the US to be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute while pretending to be that has played to the hands of the extremists in Israel and Palestine. They are making policy in fact. For them there will be no Israel or no Palestine, no political compromise. There seems to be no calculus of the lives of innocents that can subvert these lofty goals. internal politics has been removed from the sane.

One would have hoped that 9/11 would have regalvanized Rabin's efforts to resolve this tragic argument. Instead we have become distracted with nation building and funding the new business of homeland security. Soon the lobbyists for such business will be making policy and the central issue will retreat further because its resolution does not advance this new market.

For the sake of the innocents who will pay the cost of this insanity a new leadership must exert itself in the current political run for leadership. I do not see it.

Posted by: honza on January 17, 2004 09:11 PM

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Don't worry President Bush is a man of great political courrage and leadership and we can all trust he will take this challenge head on. The President knows this is risky on an election year, but he is a man who knows how important it is to put politics behind what's important for the security of the American People.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 17, 2004 09:47 PM

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Friedman writes, "an Israeli withdrawal will strip the worst Arab leaders of an excuse not to reform, it will create more space for the best Arab leaders to move forward and it will give Palestinians something to protect."

To my mind, that's the weakest part of the column. It's more of Friedman's wishful thinking about Arab leaders, many of whom have absolutely no interest in reform if it means they're out on their keister. Moreover, suppose reform led to elections which put a theocracy in place, as nearly happened in Algeria a while back and could easily happen in Iraq? Those leaders are rightly worried about that possibility.

I don't have an answer, but I don't think Friedman's being honest with himself or his readers when he writes a paragraph like that.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 17, 2004 11:46 PM

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How does Friedman address the argument that withdrawal NOW will teach the Palestinians: "terrorism works."

Posted by: Julian Elson on January 18, 2004 12:38 AM

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Well, terrorism does work. We all know that, and the heirs of the Stern gang know it better than most. Terrorism won't get you all of what you want, and sometimes it won't get you any of it. But terrorism in a popular, nationalist cause does have a pretty good track record in the 20th century.

The argument that withdrawing from the occupied territories is morally wrong "because the terrorists want it" seems to me completely without force. It hands the terrorists a complete veto over Israeli and American policy. Of course, that is its purpose. It is only advanced by people who want the occupation to continue indefinitely; and who would, in any other context, spit at the idea of taking any notice of the desires of Hamas.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 18, 2004 03:37 AM

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Excellent points, Andrew!

Posted by: Barry on January 18, 2004 06:24 AM

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Regarding Julian's question... I belive that Friedman is so fond of his cutesy neologisms that he would have to respond "Some ideas are just good ideas, even if Hamas likes them."

Posted by: Naate on January 18, 2004 07:07 AM

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"The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks...."

At a fierce cost in lives shattered and money spent. And, why? And why can Thomas Friedman not stop imagining America can dictate to others so easily?

Posted by: Ari on January 18, 2004 07:38 AM

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"The Bush team destroyed the Iraqi regime in three weeks...". For somebody who supposedly understands global trade and prosperity and all that, Friedman sure does have a hard time understanding that it's easier to destroy than to create.

Posted by: Barry on January 18, 2004 10:06 AM

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Friedman does not address one reason for withdrawal that seems important to me. It will give Israeli society a chance to deal with its own internal problems. Israel faces economic problems, including those which arise out of the money spent to support the settlements.

Israeli society includes three large segments: secular Jews, deeply religious Jews, and Israeli Arabs. There are a number of differences among these groups, and their sub-groups, that need to be resolved, but that cannot happen in the current environment. Remember how complex those problems became in the mid-90's, when there was relative peace under the Oslo Accords.

Posted by: masaccio on January 18, 2004 10:51 AM

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Israel's settlement policy has always been in violation of international law, the Geneva Accords on War for occupying powers, and the US position has always been, since Carter's day, that the settlements were illegal.

Moreover, they stand in defiance of maybe 60 UN Resolutions like 242. Israel would be well advised to disgorge herself of the occupied territories, as even Sharon himself has admitted, just as she gave back the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in the bargain for peace with Sadat reached at Camp David, and just as she finally withdrew after about 20 years from the 'protective' zone in southern Lebanon, that gained her nothing but Katyushka (sp?) rockets from the Hizbollah and many dead IDF personnel.

When a Friedman makes such a point, it is sign of a tipping point having been reached, as the policy in place and accelerated over 37 years (under both Israeli major political party rule) has proven disastrous for Israel and the region.

As a comparison, one of bin Laden's primary goals was the removal of the large US garrison in Saudi Arabia. You know what? We DID withdraw those forces (or are on the way to implementing the withdrawal), for OUR OWN REASONS, not to placate or appease bin Laden, but because the garrisoning of US (infidel) forces in the country containing the holiest sites in Islam was unnecessarily provocative and offensive to many in Islam.

Posted by: sofla on January 18, 2004 12:01 PM

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Israel's settlement policy has always been in violation of international law, the Geneva Accords on War for occupying powers, and the US position has always been, since Carter's day, that the settlements were illegal.

Moreover, they stand in defiance of maybe 60 UN Resolutions like 242. Israel would be well advised to disgorge herself of the occupied territories, as even Sharon himself has admitted, just as she gave back the Sinai peninsula to Egypt in the bargain for peace with Sadat reached at Camp David, and just as she finally withdrew after about 20 years from the 'protective' zone in southern Lebanon, that gained her nothing but Katyushka (sp?) rockets from the Hizbollah and many dead IDF personnel.

When a Friedman makes such a point, it is sign of a tipping point having been reached, as the policy in place and accelerated over 37 years (under both Israeli major political party rule) has proven disastrous for Israel and the region.

As a comparison, one of bin Laden's primary goals was the removal of the large US garrison in Saudi Arabia. You know what? We DID withdraw those forces (or are on the way to implementing the withdrawal), for OUR OWN REASONS, not to placate or appease bin Laden, but because the garrisoning of US (infidel) forces in the country containing the holiest sites in Islam was unnecessarily provocative and offensive to many in Islam.

Posted by: sofla on January 18, 2004 12:02 PM

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I don't argue that just because terrorists want withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank, it's a bad thing. However, it might have consequences for Israel to withdraw during a period of terrorist activity. Semi-rationally, Islamic Jihad and all might conclude "Well, terrorism in the West Bank leads to international hostility toward Israel and, eventually, Israeli withdrawal. It worked in Southern Lebanon and in the West Bank. We can reclaim all of our land if we just intensify efforts in Israel proper!"

Basically, I don't object to giving terrorists what they want because it's inherently wrong, but because of the signal it sends. After all, there are still many Palestinians and other Arabs -- perhaps not a majority, but a majority isn't needed for a terrorist campaign -- that view Israel, the West Bank occupation aside, as being illegitimate.

Posted by: Julian Elson on January 18, 2004 01:18 PM

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Israel has to be tempted with a grand bargain. In exchange for withdrawal from all occupied territory, some form of internationalization of holy sites in Jerusalem, plus marking all established international borders, the deal should include invitations for both Israel and Turkey to persue EU membership, and for Israel to be invited into NATO. This would provide not only internationally critical security guarentees, but also address Israel's economic interests. EU membership would require Israel to conform to EU Human Rights law, and this would resolve many problems.

The object of this should clearly be to enable both Israel and the Arab world to massively disarm, and utilize resources for development. It is in everyone's interest that the Arab world modernize and develop, precisely because it is the lack of opportunity to participate politically and economically that is at the root of the terrorist attraction -- and when the US looks at the region in terms of our own "national interests" it is access to a normal market -- oil and the sale of commodities, that is first on that list (and always has been).

Posted by: Sara on January 18, 2004 01:40 PM

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"...one reason for withdrawal that seems important to me. It will give Israeli society a chance to deal with its own internal problems...."

The rationale for Likud policy is to postpone addressing those problems. All politics is domestic. There is no longer any such thing as "foreign policy", in Israel or in the U. S. Any conceptual exercise that appears to cross national boundaries is actually part of an allegory whose real subject is a domestic facitonal struggle.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on January 18, 2004 02:10 PM

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Frank Wilhoit wrote, "All politics is domestic. There is no longer any such thing as "foreign policy", in Israel or in the U. S."

I mostly agree with the sentiment, but what do you mean by "no longer"? My impression is that this consideration has been true since the dawn of humankind.

Re Friedman, he's usually fatuous. The URL
http://www.prospect.org/print-friendly/print/V11/13/devil5.html
has a hilarious parody of his writings.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 18, 2004 04:28 PM

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You have a point: America may never have had a foreign policy, as distinct from a domestic policy couched in overseas allegories. This is, nonetheless, a sweeping generalization and I will not (if only for lack of knowledge) commit myself to it as referring to the rest of the world.

I wasn't defending Friedman, of whom the best that may be said is that while he lives (as do so many of us) in a world of his own, at least he seems to like it.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on January 18, 2004 06:27 PM

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Arafat is still alive, and the US and Israel don't dare touch him. That's proof that terrorism works.

Israel grants partial autonomy to Gaza and portions of the West Bank, and violence escalates. That's proof that terrorism works.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on January 18, 2004 10:05 PM

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Alan, imagine you're retired outside of Austin, Texas. You're living on a modest pension, and on your gardens and your fields. You have your agrarian community of friends, and life is good.

Then on the radio, they announce Mexico has been granted The Alamo because they had historically owned Texas at one time. The Alamo is a holy church site for Spanish people to pilgrimage, and to remember the great battle fought there. Also, a group of religious zealots known as Alamoists are granted the right to settle there, to maintain the grounds and the concession.

Well, the Federal government is in a crunch, and it is Federal property, so what can you do?

Soon there are Alamoist condos sprouting up all around, and rumors abound of Texan farmers being pushed out of their homes in the middle of the night and being herded into "resettlement" camps, force to live in tents and adobe huts.
There's a bit of a public uproar, and people begin to gather with banners and baseball bats.

The Alamoists pre-emptively counter this uproar by seizing large tracts of land around Austin, and holding them with armed troops, razor wire, tanks and fighter planes. Wow, Mexican standoff!

The Federal government is powerless, they agreed with the UN that some place had to be found for these Alamoists, and after all, you Texicans did engage in illegal assembly and disturbing the peace, so you better just take your lickin'.

Soon everytime you go into town for supplies, you have to stop at an Alamoist checkpoint, and your grandkids have to wait for hours in the sun beside a locked gate to get to school. In fact, now you have to carry a special ID card saying you're a Texan, and you have to be back outside of Alamoist legal-and-seized territory by dark,
or Alamoist snipers will shoot people at random.

Worse, you're paying for roads and utilities upkeep, but the Alamoists hold the tax monies only for their own settlements, now grown into grand haciendas with wide boulevards. All you get is a gravel skidroad, and no water or sewer.

Now suppose Alamoists start building outpost condos in and around your place. Everywhere on the hills, the best ranchland and forests are being turned under the bulldozer. Texas property documents are declared invalid, they have to be written in Spanish, sealed by the Spanish crown, and conform to Spanish law.

A 30' concrete wall marches towards your land. You don't have valid title for your house, and now you're on the wrong side of the new wall.

One night the Alamoists come, flak-jacketed troops kicking in your door. You're forced off your land, outside the wall, and loaded into a truck with just your clothes and a suitcase full of keepsakes. As the resettlement truck takes you and your family away to relatives in Dallas, you see them bulldozing your home into rubble.

Now what was that about "terrorism working"?

Don't you suppose if WE were the Palestinians, SAC would be rolling out the B-52's already? Don't you suppose if Alamoists took the West Bank and Golan Heights of Austin, that First Cav would be HALO'ing down on them with deadly force?

It's only because we are so racist and apartheid ourselves towards our southern neighbors that we indulge a dialogue on the Israeli "condition". It's only because we mistreat minorities and have built a wall on our border that we gloss over the daily murder going on in Israeli occupied territories of Palestine.

Now our own troops in Iraq are getting trained. We just gunned down four Iraqi's throwing rocks, and gunned down another seven stealing oil. Even in the worst days of Judge Roy Bean, they would have had a trial before they strung them up.

Is that what you want our future to be like. Talking about displaced and dispossessed people like ants? Calling the individual pain and suffering in their lives "terrorism works"?

Posted by: Dale LePlace on January 19, 2004 01:37 AM

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The only weakness with the plausible strategy is to "most" of the settlements.

For withdrawal to have political momentum it has to involve all of the settlements. The improvement of relations with Lebanon would not have occured if Israel had withdrawn from "most" of Lebanon. And the injustice of the Israeli "land grab" applies to all the land grabbed.

Posted by: Will on January 19, 2004 06:51 AM

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Julian Elson: I take your point that it would send a message, and that this message might encourage further attacks on Israel. But that's a big might. Israel pulling out of Lebanon sent an unequivocal message that it had been defeated by Hizbollah. But it hasn't led to a huge wave of attacks across the border from Lebanon. In other places, the message of withdrawal would be entirely different. And, surely, it has been established by now that the Occupied Territories can't be held down indefinitely by military force? The only way that the Israeli occupation could be made secure in the long term is by a determined and concerted expulsion of _all_ the Palestinians. That may very well happen; I would rather it didn't.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 19, 2004 07:32 AM

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Tom Friedman should give up writing. He writes on topics that require a knowledge of history and of military science yet persists in a dilletante approach to everything. His need to fill the column is stronger than his ability to think.

The column in question is a series of slogans instead of a consideration of consequences. The steps he recommends are basically a roll of the dice to see what the new situation will look like. He cannot know what the results will be, yet he recommends them anyway.

The columns starts out by describing the current situation as absolutely terrible, and concludes that this means that doing nothing is "Insane". Doing nothing might be a mistake, but it isn't a mental illness. And doing nothing might well be the best thing to do if all the available actions are very very risky. Friedman uses the wrong words and then fails to even think a little about what he is saying. Sometimes doing nothing is the right thing to do as other dynamics play themselves out. And who says the Bush administration is doing nothing? Something moved Sharon to make his recent speeches on changes in policy, was that something the US? Friedman has no clue.

Then we come to the core reason for the withdrawal, the fact that the Muslim world is not prospering on oil money alone and "Israel needs to get out of the way and reduce its nodes of friction with the Muslim world as it goes through this unstable and at times humiliating catch-up."

It seems to me that the Muslim world needs this, not Israel. It makes far more sense for Israel to obtain concessions from the Muslim world (if the Muslims really need those frictionless nodes) before "Getting out of the way", than to give the Muslims a freebie.

The rejectionist movement among the Palestinians is not likely to be extinguished by a unilateral Israeli withdrawal. Friedman claims that an Israeli withdrawal will help the US win the war of ideas in the Muslim world. No evidence is given for this.

Friedman yammers about the "Injustice" of the Israeli land-grab with the Fence. It just shows he lacks basic understanding. The Fence is reducing Terrorist attacks against Israel by threatening the Palestinians with the one thing they fear: loss of territory. If the number of Terrorist attacks increases, the world support for the Fence will go up and the Palestinians lose land. If the rate of attacks stay low, the criticism of the Fence might turn it in another direction or even suspend construction. Yet Friedman has no hint of this basic dynamic, running on instead about grand schemes with no chance.

Friedman needs a long vacation.

Posted by: Warren on January 19, 2004 04:35 PM

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warren, I do agree that any U.S. Administration would be very low key in its demands from Israel, but I'm having difficulty determining exactly who in the world is supposed to support Israel's extention of territory. Despite enduring decades of terrorism Israel hardly has any legitimacy with the rest of the world as it sits.

I personally don't see this fence or the settlements selling politically in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceana, or the rest of the Americas. In fact, I cannot even see the U.S. supporting Israel's annexation of even one foot of land beyond UN mandates without Palestinian acquiescence.

Posted by: Stan on January 20, 2004 02:28 PM

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