As we mark 20 years for the reason that 9/11 terror assaults and the following U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and different protracted parts of the ill-fated and ill-conceived “battle on terror,” it’s simple to miss different disastrous legacies of U.S. coverage within the post-9/11 period. That is significantly true within the case of the Israeli-Palestinian battle, the place Washington’s response to 9/11 successfully marked the start of the lengthy, tortured loss of life of the Center East Peace Course of, and with it hopes for a two-state answer.
The 9/11 assaults occurred within the midst of a violent Palestinian rebellion, or Intifada, that included waves of suicide assaults on Israelis, in addition to huge Israeli army reprisals that resulted in tons of of Palestinian civilian deaths and different destruction. Seizing on America’s post-9/11 trauma and the Bush administration’s “with us or towards us” rhetoric, Israel’s hardline prime minister on the time, Ariel Sharon, declared battle on Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat, whom he described as Israel’s “Bin Laden,” and the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) alleged “infrastructure of terror.”
Sharon’s job was facilitated by Bush’s sidelining of Arafat, whom the administration seen as an unrepentant terrorist, and his demand that Palestinians elect “new leaders” earlier than any progress could possibly be made towards peace or Palestinian statehood. Virtually in a single day, the Palestinian rebellion towards Israeli army occupation and the century-old battle between Israelis and Palestinians have been now subsumed beneath a broadly outlined and open-ended battle on terror. For the hawkish neoconservatives who now dominated the Bush administration’s international and safety coverage, together with the disastrous invasions and toppling of regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Palestinians have been simply one other entrance within the world, even civilizational wrestle, towards terrorism.
Some six months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, in March 2002, following a pair of lethal suicide bombings in Israel, Sharon launched his personal offensive within the West Financial institution and Gaza. Through the operation — the most important army offensive since Israel captured the territories in 1967— the Israeli military reoccupied Palestinian cities whereas laying siege to Arafat’s presidential compound in Ramallah. The size of the Israeli offensive prolonged effectively past armed militants and terrorists to incorporate the destruction of Gaza’s worldwide airport, quite a few authorities ministries, comparable to Well being, Schooling, Finance, and Agriculture, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and a number of other municipalities in addition to PA police forces. Regardless of voicing delicate opposition to the offensive, the Bush administration’s rhetorical and ideological alignment with Sharon following the 9/11 assaults gave the Israeli chief a comparatively free hand in his bid to quash the Intifada whereas systematically destroying Palestinian governing and safety establishments alongside the best way — from which the PA would by no means totally get well.
Furthermore, the 2005 election of a brand new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and subsequent decline in violence didn’t result in a revival of the diplomatic course of, as U.S. officers had promised. As a substitute, the Bush administration deserted its personal peace plan, the internationally-backed Street Map — the final severe peace plan to be offered within the Israel/Palestine context — in favor of Israel’s plans to unilaterally disengage from Gaza whereas offering Sharon with “assurances” relating to the destiny of Israeli settlement blocs within the West Financial institution, Palestinian refugees, and different points up for negotiation. The failure of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, ensuing within the closure of its borders, undercut Abbas’ nascent management and helped pave the best way for Hamas’ shock election victory in January 2006.
Whereas the election of a chosen “international terrorist group” to go the PA posed severe authorized and political challenges for Israel, the USA, and worldwide donors, it additionally offered a possibility to encourage reasonable parts inside Hamas and the group’s political evolution. Consistent with the zero-sum ethos of the post-9/11 period, nevertheless, the Bush administration urged Abbas to take the extraordinary — and unconstitutional — step of dissolving the federal government and calling for brand new elections. American and Israeli refusal to think about any situation in need of Hamas’ elimination from authorities ensured a lose/lose end result for Abbas and his management, finally paving the best way for civil battle between Hamas and Fatah in June 2007 and the present division between Gaza and the West Financial institution.
Whereas the Obama administration did repudiate lots of Bush’s insurance policies in Israel/Palestine, it left probably the most lasting and most enduring legacy of the Bush period — Palestinian division and political weak spot — intact. The 14-year-old schism, in the meantime, has paralyzed Palestinian politics, fueled instability and repeated outbreaks of violence in Gaza, and undercut the legitimacy of Abbas’ management. Furthermore, after 4 wars, 1000’s of lifeless, and two U.S. presidents, situations stay caught in a kind of “Groundhog Day” purgatory of violence and failed negotiations, whilst a cash-strapped, more and more authoritarian, and intensely unpopular PA drifts inexorably towards irrelevance.
Whereas all of those realities are theoretically reversible, doing so would require a severe rethink of U.S. coverage in addition to a significant funding of political capital, one thing the Biden administration has mentioned it has neither the need nor a political curiosity to do. In the long run, the peace course of and the two-state answer died a sluggish, tortured “loss of life by a thousand cuts.” Whereas Bush is prone to be remembered as having completed a lot of the “reducing,” Biden and his rapid predecessors could also be most remembered for letting “the affected person” bleed out.
Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow on the Center East Institute the place he additionally directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. The opinions expressed on this piece are his personal.
Photograph by Scott Nelson/Getty Photos