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Ties to Israel Make America Poor Mediator

As riots continued in Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday, Palestinian and Israeli leaders agreed to a tentative peace.

Palestine's Yasser Arafat and Israel's Ehud Barak agreed to publicly call for calm and to consider reopening this summer's negotiations. The agreement also opens Palestinian territories and the Gaza airport and calls for a U.S.-led commission to investigate the causes of violence that led to the deaths of more than 100 people, most of them Palestinian.

The United States is strangely entangled in this conflict. President Clinton brokered the deal and acted as a mediator in negotiations this summer. The commission's leadership is a compromise between Barak's insistence on U.S. leadership and Arafat's desire for United Nations oversight.

It's not surprising that Arafat didn't want the United States to lead a commission that would lay blame for the violence - U.S. representatives actively support Israel on this issue.

The U.N. General Assembly will hold an emergency meeting this week to condemn the "excessive use of force" by the Israeli military, which fired rockets at Palestinian command centers after Palestinian mobs beat two Israeli reserve soldiers to death.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has said the United States will veto any new resolution.

The United States has a historical basis for its support of Israel, whose existence began with the firm backing of this country. The original plan was to divide Palestine into two nations - one for Arabs and one for Jews. Instead, Israelis have settled much of the Palestinian land and pushed the original inhabitants out.

When Israel began to occupy captured Palestinian land in 1967, U.N. Resolution 242 insisted on "the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war" and the "withdrawal of Israel's armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict."

The international community has therefore recognized the invalidity of Israeli settlements in Palestinian holdings for more than 30 years.

So how does the U.S. government justify its unwavering support of a nation that breaks many principles our Constitution espouses - religious freedom, the value of private property and protection from oppression?

UNC history Professor Sarah Shields is quick to note that the conflict isn't primarily based on religion and that U.S. support shouldn't be construed as such. "This is a conflict over resources, land, water, houses, orchards," she said.

Shields said American support stems from this nation protecting its interests. Israel has worked as a U.S. proxy to South African and Central American governments when direct contact was forbidden by Congress. Israel is also a frequent purchaser of American arms.

There's also the issue of political ideology in a region ruled by dictators or royalty.

"The United States has the articulated policy that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, but that's problematic . because people within the occupied areas don't have rights of citizenship, which challenges the definition of democracy," Shields said.

Shields said the United States cannot claim a neutral role in the peace proceedings. "It can hardly be called a neutral broker when the United States has clearly shown itself to be very much a supporter of the state of Israel, no matter what Israel does," she said.

Then it's up to the United Nations to take control. Although U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was present at the meeting this week, Clinton took the lead in negotiations. Annan should use his consulting role in the fact-finding commission to become a major player in these peace talks.

Governments around the world created the U.N. to resolve international conflicts without regard to any one country's vital interests. Clinton and his successor should recognize this nation's bias and let a truly impartial body negotiate with fairness to both sides.

Columnist Anne Fawcett can be reached at

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