Blinded by a concept
By George Soros | August 31, 2006
THE FAILURE OF Israel to subdue Hezbollah demonstrates the many weaknesses of
the war-on-terror concept. One of those weaknesses is that even if the targets
are terrorists, the victims are often innocent civilians, and their suffering
reinforces the terrorist cause.
In response to Hezbollah's attacks, Israel was justified in attacking
Hezbollah to protect itself against the threat of missiles on its border.
However, Israel should have taken greater care to minimize collateral damage.
The civilian casualties and material damage inflicted on Lebanon inflamed
Muslims and world opinion against Israel and converted Hezbollah from aggressors
to heroes of resistance for many. Weakening Lebanon has also made it more
difficult to rein in Hezbollah.
Another weakness of the war-on-terror concept is that it relies on military
action and rules out political approaches. Israel previously withdrew from
Lebanon and then from Gaza unilaterally, rather than negotiating political
settlements with the Lebanese government and the Palestinian authority. The
strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas was a direct consequence of that approach.
The war-on-terror concept stands in the way of recognizing this fact because it
separates "us" from "them" and denies that our actions help shape their
A third weakness is that the war-on-terror concept lumps together different
political movements that use terrorist tactics. It fails to distinguish among
Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi militia in
Iraq. Yet all these terrorist manifestations, being different, require different
responses. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah can be treated merely as targets in the
war on terror because both have deep roots in their societies; yet there are
profound differences between them.
Looking back, it is easy to see where Israeli policy went wrong. When Mahmoud
Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, Israel should have
gone out of its way to strengthen him and his reformist team. When Israel
withdrew from Gaza, the former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn,
negotiated a six-point plan on behalf of the Quartet for the Middle East
(Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations). It
included opening crossings between Gaza and the West Bank, allowing an airport
and seaport in Gaza, opening the border with Egypt; and transferring the
greenhouses abandoned by Israeli settlers into Arab hands. None of the six
points was implemented. This contributed to Hamas's electoral victory. The Bush
administration, having pushed Israel to allow the Palestinians to hold
elections, then backed Israel's refusal to deal with a Hamas government. The
effect was to impose further hardship on the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Abbas was able to forge an agreement with the political arm of
Hamas for the formation of a unity government. It was to foil this agreement
that the military branch of Hamas, run from Damascus, engaged in the provocation
that brought a heavy-handed response from Israel -- which in turn incited
Hezbollah to further provocation, opening a second front.
That is how extremists play off against each other to destroy any chance of
Israel has been a participant in this game, and President Bush bought into
this flawed policy, uncritically supporting Israel. Events have shown that this
policy leads to the escalation of violence. The process has advanced to the
point where Israel's unquestioned military superiority is no longer sufficient
to overcome the negative consequences of its policy. Israel is now more
endangered in its existence than it was at the time of the Oslo Agreement on
Similarly, the United States has become less safe since Bush declared war on
The time has come to realize that the present policies are counterproductive.
There will be no end to the vicious circle of escalating violence without a
political settlement of the Palestine question. In fact, the prospects for
engaging in negotiations are better now than they were a few months ago. The
Israelis must realize that a military deterrent is not sufficient on its own.
And Arabs, having redeemed themselves on the battlefield, may be more willing to
entertain a compromise.
There are strong voices arguing that Israel must never negotiate from a
position of weakness. They are wrong. Israel's position is liable to become
weaker the longer it persists on its present course. Similarly Hezbollah, having
tasted the sense but not the reality of victory (and egged on by Syria and Iran)
may prove recalcitrant. But that is where the difference between Hezbollah and
Hamas comes into play. The Palestinian people yearn for peace and relief from
suffering. The political -- as distinct from the military -- wing of Hamas must
be responsive to their desires. It is not too late for Israel to encourage and
deal with an Abbas-led Palestinian unity government as the first step toward a
Given how strong the US-Israeli relationship is, it would help Israel to
achieve its own legitimate aims if the US government were not blinded by the
George Soros, a financier and philanthropist, is author of "The Age of
Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror."