The 9/11 Commission will continue to focus on intelligence failures. But the American people should also be asking whether foreign policy mistakes were made–and whether the cooperative pursuit of justice could prevent future terrorist attacks.
I believe it could.
A month before the September 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. and Israeli representatives walked out from an international conference on racism in South Africa, because Arabs were urging that Zionism be labeled a form of racism. I was in Germany at the time, and a Palestinian-German friend expressed anger and disappointment. “The U.S. should have stayed and worked to make the conference better, instead of undermining it by walking out hand-in-hand with Israel,” he said.
Three weeks before the attacks, on Aug. 21, Israel assassinated Abu Ali Mustafa by sending two rockets into his office window. My friend told me Mustafa was much beloved among Palestinians as the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, though I knew he was hated among Israelis for his support of the unjust and immoral suicide terrorism. President Bush stated his approval of the assassination publicly, explicitly and, it now seems, gratuitously. My Palestinian friend told me his emails and phone calls were buzzing with one word–“Rache”– “revenge.” He said something very bad would happen to the United States. I returned home in time to receive a phone call the morning of Sept. 11, telling me to turn my television on and see the horrible destruction of the Twin Towers.
I got first-hand accounts of the disaster from my brother-in-law, Martin Berger, who worked two blocks from the World Trade Center and could not return to his office.
As the 9/11 hearings ask about missed intelligence, I keep remembering those warnings of revenge, and keep asking what I think is a deeper question: Could the attack of 9/11 have been avoided if Arabs had seen President Bush pressing Sharon not to assassinate Palestinian leaders? Could it have been avoided if President Bush had not publicly disengaged, upon taking office in January, from involvement in peacemaking between Israel and Palestine? That left a powerless Palestine in the clutches of a militarily powerful Israel that kept expanding the settlements, and that occupied the cities of Palestine with its army.
Could it have been avoided if the Bush administration had warmly supported the offer by the 12 surrounding Arab countries of peace and security for Israel and a two-state solution with the 1967 borders, adjusted for some settlements, instead of merely responding passively?
When Israel signed the Oslo Accords, promising return of Palestinian land to Palestinians, polls showed 80 percent of Palestinians supported the peace process. Few supported terrorism. But when Sharon canceled the negotiations at Taba, hope for the peace process fell to 11 percent and support for terrorism increased inversely. The Taba negotiations were working toward agreement on Ehud Barak’s offer of two states with adjusted 1967 borders. Could 9/11 have been avoided if Arabs had seen the United States pushing the Israeli government to continue the negotiations at Taba, not cancel them?
Compare this to what happened in Turkey. Turkey tried doing justice for its Kurdish Muslim minority, and the result was that the Kurdish terrorism campaign has ended. I am asking whether 9-11 could have been prevented if the United States had an internationally cooperative foreign policy that pursued justice.
It is widely agreed that U.S. blessing of Israeli policies toward Palestine is the greatest source of Arab anger, and of recruitment for terrorism. The 16 suicide terrorist campaigns thus far, worldwide, from Lebanon to Palestine to Sri Lanka, Turkey, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, and Kashmir, have all focused on liberating a homeland from what the terrorists perceived as foreign occupation. That is how Palestinians perceive Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and how they perceive U.S. support for Sharon without pushing for justice for Palestinians.
I want to make clear my support for a secure Israel, with strong personal and family reasons. I want to be clear about my strong opposition to terrorism. The way to end terrorism is not by rewarding it, but by taking initiatives to do justice. Doing justice gives people hope rather than driving them toward terrorism.
Glen Harold Stassen, a Baptist ethicist, is visiting fellow in the Joan B. Kroc Center for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and author/editor of two books titled Just Peacemaking.
Order Stassen’s book Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context from Amazon.com.