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September 11 and Arab-Israeli Peace

The current war on terrorism creates a great opportunity to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, some argued that the most effective way to prevent future attacks would be to address the root causes of terrorism, notably the Palestinian issue. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indeed became alarmed that in its attempts to build a wide coalition, one that includes as many Arab and Muslim states as possible, the United States might “appease” the Arabs. It would do so by sacrificing Israel’s interests.

Osama bin Laden, for his part, is using the Palestinian issue for his war against America and the West, to appear as the great savior of the suppressed Palestinians much as Saddam Hussein tried to do a decade ago.

“Appeasement” of bin Laden and his associates would be fruitless. These fanatics are not trying to influence the fine details of an Arab-Israeli peace. They planned their horrific actions well before the recent collapse of the peace process. Peace in the Middle East is their great enemy, which will deprive them of a great issue to mobilize money and support for their war against America and Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. There is no way any peace agreement can satisfy their demands, because they wish Israel not to exist at all.

Israeli worries about coalition deals with Arab states behind its back are understandable and such deals have to be avoided. However, a more forceful U.S.engagement in the peace process, which will result in security for Israel and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside it, is a key interest of both the United States and Israel. All the better if such an outcome will “appease” the mode…

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…endations about confidence-building measures should be a first step in reviving the peace process one year after it collapsed.

To be sure, the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister by Palestinians militants on Wednesday poses a major threat to this opportunity to promote peace.

While restraining Israel, the United States and the international community should take advantage of the current situation to exert very heavy pressure on Arafat to crack down decisively on his radicals so that the terrorism against Israel will finally stop.

Suppressing the militants is a prerequisite not only for reviving the peace process but for avoiding a dangerous escalation of violence. Moreover, disarming the radicals is an essential condition for building a viable Palestinian state able to live peacefully alongside Israel.

September 11 and the Death of Moral Judgment

September 11 and the Death of Moral Judgment

The nation is in crisis: a national security crisis and a crisis of moral judgment. What is the right thing to do? People disagree. Then comes the big mistake: observing disagreement, people conclude that there is no right answer, no way to make a judgment. Worse, they conclude that to judge is arrogant and dangerous, so that in an odd twist, the only thing that appears to be morally irresponsible is the attempt to make a morally responsible judgment.

On the contrary, abdicating judgment is the problem. Democracy itself is based on the notion that reasonable people will disagree and that it is possible to make judgments about our disagreements – not that there is necessarily one right answer; there may be several partially right answers. But there are certainly some wrong answers and better and worse judgments about them.

So, how do we judge? First, we can think clearly about the words we use. Second, we can stop looking for pure good or pure evil; innocence and guilt are not found in pure forms in the real world. Third, we can learn to distinguish among kinds and degrees of evils (And there are plenty of kinds: cruelty, neglect, exploitation, etc.)

To illustrate:

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Many people fighting for very different causes call themselves “freedom fighters.” But they usually let us know what they mean. Osama bin Laden’s statements tell us that his goal is to free the Muslim world of infidels and their influence. He seeks freedom to establish theocratic regimes that would suppress women, as well as religious and political dissidents. We can argue about whether or not this is “freedom” in any meaningful sense, but the important thing is to be clear about what he means. For the sake of argument, let us say that he is a freedom fighter. Martin Luther King was a freedom fighter. Mahatma Gandhi was a freedom fighter. Neither could be called “terrorist” by any stretch of the imagination. They renounced violence as a means. Osama Bin Laden, on the other hand, embraces a strategy of targeting civilians in order to terrify and intimidate the population, undermine opposing governments, and achieve his political aims. Whether he is a freedom fighter or not, he is a terrorist.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”

This is an important practical principle, but it is not a moral principle.

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