Amy Goodman said it (speech in Albuquerque, Saturday, January 18). Robert Fisk wrote it (The Independent, same day). Much of the U.S. Peace Movement talked about it (in demonstrations around the country, same day). On that day of all days, when the peace movement went into high gear around the United States, just about everybody seemed to emphasize, as Amy put it, “a three-letter word, O-I-L” as the real reason the Bush administration wants war in Iraq. Some peace advocates also mentioned the U.S. drive for global domination as a related reason. Few (we heard none) discussed Israeli policy and the increasingly close partnership between the Bush and Sharon governments as a factor at least as important as oil in pushing the U.S. toward war.
Some people who oppose war in Iraq undoubtedly have a strong and sincere belief that no connection exists between the Israel-Palestine issue and U.S. policy on Iraq. More people, however, perhaps the vast majority of those who oppose the war, believe it is wise tactically to soft-pedal any Israeli connection to the war. The peace movement, after all, needs whatever support it can get, and many supporters of Israel also oppose war on Iraq even if the present Israeli government does not. Supporters of Israel tend to bristle at any effort to link Israel to the U.S war effort. So the thinking most likely goes like this: Why bring up the issue? We need the biggest coalition we can cobble together. Let’s bury other differences where we can. (No one would ever charge either Amy Goodman or Robert Fisk with coddling Israeli or Jewish-American sensibilities, but they may indeed believe that stopping the war is the number-one priority and that oil is the best and most unifying issue we have.)
But this approach is shortsighted and mistaken. Why?
First, the evidence that Ariel Sharon has since the 1980s fervently desired the ouster of Iraq’s present government and other troublesome Arab regimes as part of “transforming” the entire Middle East to Israel’s benefit is crystal clear. The evidence is equally clear that strong supporters of a Likud-led government in Israel exist among the neo-cons at very high levels of the Bush administration in Washington. Over the years, these people have not talked or written much for the record about oil and the Middle East, but they have written a lot about strengthening Israel’s position through transforming the Middle East. No one can deny that Bush and Vice President Cheney have deep and lasting interests in oil, but the close political relationship that seems to have developed between Sharon and Bush makes it likely that Bush has by now accepted the transformation argument as being just as important as oil. It is also logical that Bush would see his acceptance of this argument as increasing his chances of obtaining more Jewish-American votes in 2004 than he received in 2000. If Bush (and Karl Rove) are in fact thinking along these lines, those of us who oppose war on Iraq should be facing this issue of Middle East transformation head-on, not ignoring it for tactical reasons or out of fear of charges of anti-Semitism.
Second, and more important, by not talking about the link between Israel and Iraq, the peace movement is making it easier for Israel to continue its almost 36-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Every day or week that passes with little discussion in the media of the occupation is a plus for Sharon and his Likud government, because the absence of discussion makes it easier for Israel to slip its new proposal for large-scale aid from the U.S. through Congress while continuing its harsh and unjust actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Furthermore, talk is continuing to mount in Israel of “transfer,” that is, expelling the Palestinians in the West Bank to Jordan, leaving the West Bank open to total takeover by the Israelis. This transfer is an integral part of the Middle East transformation that the peace movement seems not to want to talk about. If the war comes, the peace movement’s present silence on the subject will also make it easier for Israel actually to carry out the process of “transfer.”
In short, the peace movement should not, because of a preoccupation with Iraq, allow the Palestinians once more to be sold down the river because nobody cares.
Kathleen Christison worked for 16 years as a political analyst with the CIA, dealing first with Vietnam and then with the Middle East for her last seven years with the Agency before resigning in 1979. Since leaving the CIA, she has been a free-lance writer, dealing primarily with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her book, “Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy,” was published by the University of California Press and reissued in paperback with an update in October 2001. A second book, “The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story,” was published in March 2002.
Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. They can be reached at: email@example.com