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"Peacemaker" who's out for blood

April 12, 2002 | Page 3

MANY NAMES come to mind when you think of George W. Bush. "Peacemaker" should not be one of them. But that's how Bush tried to appear as he sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East last week.

Bush called on Israel to "withdraw without delay" from the West Bank and Gaza. But Powell was less insistent a few hours later. "The president doesn't give orders to a sovereign prime minister of another country," Powell said. "But as one of Israel's best friends and most supportive friends, I think Prime Minister Sharon has taken very much to heart and understands clearly the message the president gave to him."

Wrong on both counts. The U.S. regularly tells "sovereign" powers what to do--or else. That's the meaning of Bush's pet phrase since September 11--"you're either with us or against us"--as Afghans who suffered under U.S. bombs know well.

Secondly, Washington's message to Israel has been "clear," but not in the way that Powell meant. The Bush administration waited a full week before demanding Israel's withdrawal--all the while condemning Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not "stopping the violence." This was a green light for Israel.

Whatever Powell does when he finally reaches the Middle East--nearly two weeks after Israel's invasion began--Bush sent his real message in the first days: Beat Palestinians into submission.

For Powell to pretend that the U.S. has no control over its "friend" is sheer hypocrisy. Israel is a monster that the U.S. created.

If the Bush administration were truly interested in ending the misery that Israel heaps on Palestinians, it could suspend the $5.5 billion a year that the U.S. spends on aid to make Israel the most fearsome military machine--and the only nuclear power--in the Middle East.

The U.S. doesn't want to anger its most important ally in the region. But it also fears that the regional political crisis Israel's war has caused could spiral out of control. The onslaught sparked the biggest pro-Palestinian protests in years in Arab countries, leading to clashes with riot police in several cities--and forcing loyal U.S. allies like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to demand action from the U.S.

All this means that Israel's war is starting to get in the way of Bush's plans to spread his own "war against terrorism"--next stop, Iraq. Bush and his favorite toady, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made this clear when they emerged from a meeting at Dubya's Texas ranch to tell reporters "Saddam needs to go."

If Powell spends his week in the Middle East trying to put a stopper in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it isn't because the U.S. cares about peace or about justice for Palestinians. The U.S. government's real priorities are clear: expanding war, not peace, in the Middle East.

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