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Israeli-Palestinian Peace May Help Reduce Terrorism - 2003-01-31

Nearly three-thousand Palestinians and Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising or Intifada began in September 2000. Although the present fighting is less intense than in the wars of 1956, '67, '73 and '82, "The Economist" magazine calls the conflict more wretched now than it has been at any time since the late 1940's. Observers say both Israelis and Palestinians live in a climate of constant fear and hatred.

Analysts say the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict is a highly emotive issue that strikes at the heart of most Arabs and Muslims. Polls taken in Arab countries also suggest something else.

"Every survey we have taken shows the Palestinian-Israeli conflict plays a decisive role in how the Arabs and Muslims perceive the United States and the West," said Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. "To suggest otherwise is to neglect political realities in the region. Mr. Gerges believes by doing everything it can to resolve the conflict, the U.S. government can reduce one of the root causes of terrorist acts against the West.

"By helping to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, the U-S will likely remove one of the major fundamental Muslim grievances that is causing militancy and radicalism," he said. "This does not mean that terrorism will disappear overnight. It would mean that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would hammer a deadly nail in some of the militants' justifications to unleash terrorist activities against their own society and westerners as well."

But other analysts say many terrorist groups are fundamentally opposed to the existence of Israel and would not stop attacks if a peace settlement were achieved with the Palestinians. Steve Yetiv is a political scientist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

"I don't think that a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians will affect the agenda of radical terrorists," Mr. Yetiv said. "This is because radical terrorists in the case of Israel want to see Israel destroyed. They don't care if there is a peace treaty."

He argues that terrorist groups like al-Qaida are motivated by numerous factors to strike out against the West and that the IsraeliPalestinian conflict is only one of them. "I think al-Qaida's primary motivations are to get rid of the Saudi regime, to kick U-S forces out of the Middle East, to get economic sanctions lifted from the Iraqi people, to liberate Palestine and destroy Israel, and finally to replace Western-type governments with Taliban-type governments," he said.

However, Mr. Yetiv admits that a peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis would strengthen the war on international terrorism.

"What I do think will be affected is terrorist groups' ability to recruit in the Muslim world. I think their ability to gain funds through charities will also be diminished," Mr. Yetv said. "I think there will be a greater inclination of U-S allies to take even stronger anti-terrorism measures if the U-S has taken significant measures to solve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis."

The Israeli State was created as a homeland for Jewish people scattered throughout the world. After the Nazi Holocaust, pressure grew for the international recognition of a Jewish state and in 1948 land was carved out of the former British mandate of Palestine and Israel came into being.

Mr. Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College says the Israeli-Arab conflict has had a deep impact on the Middle East political landscape for the past half century.

He says the ongoing wars between Arab states and Israel have done damage to the political, social and economic development of Arab societies. He believes many Arab states have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to justify authoritarian rule that has ultimately stunted the growth of democracy and led to an embittered population more susceptible to terrorist tactics.

"Since the late 1940's, Arab politics have been dominated with this particular clash between the Arab world and Israel. By helping to resolve the conflict, you are removing one of the most important raison d'?tre for the authoritarian state in the region," Mr. Gerges said. "I think the Arab regimes would have to reorient their policies and their activities on empowering civil society, employment and education. This is because they would no longer have the Palestinian tragedy to sustain their power and to say we must continue to post-pone reform in order to focus on the military and security."

Furthermore, he says, the Arab populations within these countries have witnessed for decades what they consider atrocities carried out by the Israeli military against the Palestinian people. These grievances have fueled sympathy for terrorism as a legitimate weapon.

Most analysts agree that a U-S brokered peace deal in the Middle East would win over many U-S allies. Yet some say the Bush administration has held back.

Old Dominion University's Steve Yetiv says all the factors that go into the close United States-Israel relationship have, at times, prevented President Bush from directly challenging the Israeli government's policies.

"After the President came out one day and said that Ariel Sharon should be careful about using force in the West Bank, he received something like 100,000 e-mail from Christian Evangelicals," he said. "So you have the Christian Evangelicals and the American Jewish community. They do limit how much Bush can do against Ariel Sharon."

Mr. Yetiv says regardless of whether or not there is a peace settlement soon, the threat of terrorism will most likely remain. He says most importantly, this threat should not be overdramatized by the U.S. government.

"My personal view is the U-S should not do anything to aggrandize al-Qaida, in other words to have all of these terrorist alerts, all of the colors and all of that," Mr. Yetiv said. "That is what terrorists love to see - that there is fear in the heartland of the United States. I think terrorists should be treated like criminals, but I do think we need to deal with the problems around the world including the Palestinian-Israeli issue on its own merits, not because of al-Qaida."

As elusive as a Israeli-Palestinian resolution continues to be, recent polls show that a solid majority of Israelis favor a peace based on land exchange, dismantling many settlements and making room for an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza. Observers say chances for peace will be increased if leaders on both sides are open to sensible concessions and a neutral third party helps negotiate an enduring accord. They say this will ultimately weaken the scourge of global terrorism.