The terrorist attacks against us on September 11, 2001 taught us a great many lessons. One of the lessons we learned — or relearned — was that democracy is not just disliked by Islamists, it is hated. And one way to give in to terrorism, rather than fight it, is to concur with the basis for that hatred and weaken democratic institutions, and democracies.
We in the United States did no such thing. Rather, we decided to brook no tolerance for terrorism, and we sought to root it out by going after cells in our own country and elsewhere and by changing the terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. We may yet have to change other regimes, we may not. But one thing we will not do is consent to weakening our resolve, our defenses, or our national commitment to the democratic way of life.
We also learned who our true allies were on September 11 and its aftermath. They are the countries that expressed their sympathy with us and help us in our war against terrorism. We will never forget the strength and resolve evidenced by the leadership of some of our European allies, allies whose own countries’ very existence is not threatened. But one ally does live under the cloud of daily extinction and has lived so since its very creation: Israel. Israel, ironically, is also one of the world’s greatest exemplars of democracies.
In the wake of September 11, many argued that we brought the attack upon ourselves because of our support for Israel. Even were this true, we should no more end that support than we should eliminate religious freedom and women’s rights in our country — hallmarks of our democracy that also engage the wrath of the terrorists who attacked us. And it beggars belief to think our support for Israel played much of any part for the attack upon us.
First of all, complaints about Israel ranked low with Osama bin Laden until he realized that ratcheting up those complaints to the top of his list would earn him more support within the Arab world. Second, if Israel is responsible for Islamist or Arabist wrath, I cannot imagine just what Israel did to encourage Syria to swallow Lebanon, to encourage Saddam Hussein to unleash a bloodbath against Iran, to encourage Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, to encourage Kuwait to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, to encourage the Taliban to destroy the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, to encourage the slaughter of Christians in the Sudan, to encourage the bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, or to encourage church bombings in Pakistan.
An honest look at Islamist or Arab wrath (or both), requires an honest conclusion: Israel’s existence, or our support for it, simply cannot be responsible for the terrorism and violence we have born witness to over the past several decades — or, for that matter, the terrorism we suffered on September 11. What these terrorists and thugs hate above all is liberal democracy, religious freedom, and any alternative claim to God or land that they, themselves, claim. This list includes America, Israel, Christianity, moderate Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. It is a long list, a list which makes our task all the more difficult but also a task that makes our resolve all the more important.
When it comes to “Peace in the Middle East,” most people think immediately of Israel and Israel’s requirement to make peace with its Arab neighbors — even as its Arab neighbors seem to have a very hard time of making peace with themselves. Nonetheless, Israel does stand out; and it stands out for three reasons: 1) It is the only country in the region that has a majority of Jews; 2) It is the only country in the region that gives people of all faiths and nationalities full religious, civic, and political freedom; and 3) With two exceptions, it is not recognized by any other Arab states.
Thus we come to how we can help broker a peace deal between Israel and her neighbors as well as Israel and the Palestinians. First, we need follow the principle of the Hippocratic oath: Do no harm — we should not put any pressure on Israel (a democracy) that it believes it cannot handle in negotiating with those who show very little respect for democracy. Second, we should require a signed affidavit — in English and Arabic — from Yasser Arafat declaring that foreign policy, peace negotiations, and security are under the sole bailiwick of the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas. Third, Abbas needs to make guarantees to the settlers in what will become the Palestinian state: At a minimum, they should be given the choice of where they want to vote — in Israel or in Palestine. Arabs in Israel-proper, after all, vote for and serve in the Israeli parliament. Fourth, Abbas needs to cleanse all official maps, and all state-sponsored schoolbooks, of the lie that his state, proposed or otherwise, encompasses Israel in toto.
These requirements would go a long way toward clarifying much confusion about what a new state in the Middle East will be, and look like. Israel, after all, will be making an ultimate sacrifice: land. Palestinians should, thus, be willing to make these much less painful adjustments. If they cannot, statehood and the conveyance of land from a democracy to a who-knows-exactly-what should not take place.
Finally, the United States has a moral and legal obligation to maintain its embassy and ambassador in Jerusalem. That sentence comes from the 2000 Republican-party platform. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. That sentence comes from the 2000 Democratic-party Platform. Just so, in the 2000 election, both major parties in America articulated their commitment to the only democracy in the Middle East — a commitment that had, by then, become a commonplace understanding. Indeed, most Americans today would be surprised to learn that, in fact, the U.S. embassy in Israel is not in Jerusalem. If we, as a nation, want to maintain our moral clarity in supporting democracy, we should be very clear that we will not tolerate any other capital for Israel, and we shall not maintain any other location for our embassy. If the United States would comply with what both major parties in this democracy have agreed to, that would send the most morally clear message we could: Israel is our ally, Jerusalem is its capital, and we will not cave in to the demands of terrorists.
— William J. Bennett is the chairman of Americans for Victory Over Terrorism and the author of, among other books, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.