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Targeted killings must end

Observer Viewpoint | Sunday, April 4, 2004

Since the start of the second intifada in September 2000, many Palestinians, frustrated by diplomacy’s failure to achieve any progress, have turned to more violent means to try to attain Palestinian statehood. In response, Israel has taken a more militant stance as well, using targeted killings and other confrontational methods to try to end the terrorist threat and provide a sense of security for its citizens. According to Israel, these operations are necessary in order to protect its citizens. From the Arab viewpoint, they are brutal murders of political leaders intended to suppress the Palestinians’ ability to organize a legitimate independence movement. This situation leaves the United States in somewhat of an awkward position. As Israel’s closest ally and primary supplier of weapons and economic aid, the American government typically does everything it can to help Israel. However, our nation follows a policy prohibiting assassinations of any kind. Therefore, should the global community reach a consensus that Israel’s targeted killings are indeed forms of assassination, the United States will be left treading a thin line of conflicting loyalties. Furthermore, even if such a consensus is not reached, it is important that our government be willing to take measures against Israel, should targeted killings put our interests in the Middle East at risk.In support of the Israeli policy, there is some evidence that targeted killings do inhibit terrorist operations. In the early years of Israel’s independence, terrorist infiltration from Egypt lessened as a result of a strike on Egyptian intelligence officers. In the 1960s, Israeli mail bombs sent to Egyptian scientists effectively terminated President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s plans to construct missiles capable of reaching Israel. Finally, the 1995 assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shikaki left a power vacuum in the terrorist organization that undermined the effectiveness of this group for several years.On the other hand, there are equally strong arguments that targeted killings are not only ineffective, but may actually encourage terrorism. As Israel has increased its use of targeted killings to a higher rate than ever, record numbers of Israeli civilians have become victims of Palestinian attacks. Numerically, about 600 Israelis have been killed during the second intifada, most of whom are civilians. Meanwhile, Hamas, the most radical group and probably the biggest obstacle to a peace settlement, has grown more popular with every attack. Polls indicate that Israel’s brutal tactics are pushing large numbers of moderate Palestinians towards the radicals’ camp, rather than the other way around. Targeted killings give Hamas ample political cover to continue suicide bombings – attacks that may not have been possible had Israel not provided them with a motive. In May 2003, for example, the Palestinian political organization “Fatah” declared a unilateral cease-fire, with the help of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia. Hamas, not wanting to look like the spoiler of a chance at statehood, called a temporary halt to its operations. However, Israel released only a small portion of the Palestinian prisoners that were proposed, and did not completely suspend its use of targeted killings. Just months later, suicide bombings were reinstated, officially said to be in direct retaliation for the targeted killings carried out during the months of June and July. The short window of opportunity was missed, and support for Hamas continued to grow daily. Although it may be politically unpopular, it is time for the U.S. government to condemn Israel’s use of targeted killings and, if necessary, apply diplomatic and economic pressures to try to change its policy. A two-state solution to the Arab-Israel conflict is the outcome that best suits America’s interests throughout the entire region. However, such a resolution will only arise if popular support among Palestinians shifts away from radical groups and towards more moderate leaders. Currently, Israel’s practice of targeted killings is reducing the power of moderate Palestinian voices and increasing the influence of groups like Hamas. The best way to defeat Hamas is to take away the reason that Palestinians support it. Most Palestinians desire peace and statehood, not the destruction of Israel (which is the stated goal of Hamas). They support Hamas because they admire the militants’ willingness to sacrifice their lives for the Palestinian cause. Therefore, significant diplomatic progress towards granting Palestine its own state would make the radical acts of Hamas unnecessary and even detrimental to the cause in the eyes of many Palestinians. In order to promote fairness and objectivity, the United States could simultaneously make a more systematic attempt to reduce corruption in the ranks of the Palestinian Authority. Penalizing the PA for corrupt and dangerous policies would lead to a more effective, powerful and more popular leadership. This is the leadership that must be in a position to negotiate with Israel once a cease-fire has been reached. The United States has historically been reluctant to condemn Israel. However, the issue of targeted killings is seen by enough people to be wrong that some amount of pressure could be applied without suffering terrible political costs. Temporary bitterness among Israel citizens and pro-Israel groups within the United States would be a small price to pay for subduing the violence and creating a chance for Palestinian moderates to gain power against the more radical groups. It is time to show the world that we are on the side of peace, not the side of Israel.

Greg Parnell is a sophomore political science and economics major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at gparnell@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.