60 Minutes produced a segment this week about a woman-an Iraqi Jew whose father was murdered by Saddam Hussein's thugs when she was a child-who investigates businesses and organizations in the United States that aide terrorists and reports her findings to the American government.
At one point in an interview, she said these terrorists are bent on doing harm to our "way of life."
That's a popular way to think of terrorist organizations these days. After all, many of us take our cue from President Bush, and those are the words he often uses when he talks about them.
Problem is, the organizations she was talking about were not groups tied to al Qaeda. No, they were groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are not out to attack Americans. Rather, they are committed to fighting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and they were doing their thing long before Sept. 11, 2001 was burned into the collective world consciousness. They're fighting against something that happened to the Palestinians 34 years before the Twin Towers came down.
In dealing with Syria this week, the Bush administration has, in effect, lumped all terrorists together (well, Middle Eastern terrorists, that is-we don't see the Bush people clamoring to deal once and for all with the Irish Republican Army). Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly told Syrian President Bashar Assad over the weekend that the U.S. will be assessing how Syria "performs" in falling line with the U.S.'s vision of a new Middle East. One of the performances the Americans are looking for is the shutdown of terrorist offices in Damascus.
There has been some debate about whether or not offices have begun to be shut down, but at least publicly, the Syrian government's response to U.S. demands has been to say that real peace in the region depends on a comprehensive solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian war.
Say what you will about Syria-yes, its officials have defended suicide bombings and supported Arab terrorists-but Syria's right. It's pointless to close down satellite offices of groups such as Islamic Jihad and, particularly, Hamas, which is extraordinarily well organized elsewhere in the region. That's treating a symptom.
It's great that the United States supports the so-called "road map" to peaceful resolution of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities (calling for creation of a Palestinian state by 2005). The Bush administration should be single-minded on getting Israel to agree to the plan, and stop threatening countries like Syria, which will only further inflame Arabs who are furious with the U.S. for imposing its Western will in their neighborhood.
Syria has expressed willingness to sit down with Israel and discuss a settlement to the Golan Heights issue, which should involve Israel withdrawing its military from Golan and Syria agreeing to demilitarize the southern part of its country to create a buffer that would give Israel a better sense of security. The United States should be working on making that happen. That's the real issue with Syria, and in that context, it's a waste of time to be worrying about whether or not Syria is shutting down the Damascus office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command.
At the same time, the U.S.-along with the European Union, the United Nations, Russia, the Arab states and all other interested parties-should be working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate for peace in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel, along with North Korea, remains a top priority (certainly a bigger priority than an invasion of Iraq ever should have been).
Terrorism in the Middle East is not as simple as the Bush administration wants us to believe. All terrorists are not out to ruin our "way of life." Terrorists didn't just wake up one day and say, "I think I'll be evil from now on." There are reasons for everything, and the causes of terrorism are complex. The question of terrorism begins and ends with Israel, and terrorism won't stop until the Palestinians get some satisfaction.