OPINION

Commentary

The electronic media may have focused on the hunt for Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and the impending military campaign against Afghanistan, but the Bush administration’s policy shift on the Palestinian issue, as reflected in the open confrontation between the USA and Israel, is a very important development, despite attempts to disconnect Washington’s policy change on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from the terrorist strikes on September 11. Bush’s remarks that the establishment of a Palestinian state is part of his Mideast vision was unprecedented by Washington standards. The reaction by Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who compared current American policy to that of the Western powers in attempting to appease Hitler on the eve of World War II by offering him part of what was then Czechoslovakia, was described by Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, as unacceptable. This gave rise to a rare and essential disagreement between two close allies, and conveyed the impression that there has been a substantial shift in US policy. Sharon may be a courageous and patriotic leader but he seems to have been overwhelmed by developments. Israel is no longer the sole point of reference for America’s policy in the Middle East. The terrorist assault on September 11 brought the US leadership face to face with the issue of Islamic extremism and its causes. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have both acknowledged the seriousness of the problem. Their decision was, no doubt, a very courageous one, especially when compared to the foreign policy framework of the Clinton administration. Several powerful minorities in the USA will try – and have already started doing so – to question Bush’s shift on the Mideast dispute and exploit the terrorist strike in order to further isolate Washington from the Arab and Muslim countries. The struggle is not over yet, but its outcome will determine whether the USA will, after the terrorist attack, develop into a genuine leader of a broad coalition, or instead into a police state which will not inspire respect but fear, thereby perpetuating the phenomenon of terrorism. In this sense, the fate of bin Laden and the Taleban regime in Afghanistan is a closely related issue. The crucial problem facing Bush and Powell is the elimination of bin Laden and his terrorist network in a way that will consolidate the broad coalition. From one point of view, this is a far greater challenge than that of tackling the communist threat, as the enemy cannot be defined in geographical terms, lacks a clear-cut political form of expression and its subversive character leaves no room for dialogue. Absurd as it may seem, more than a decade after the collapse of the communist regimes, a new foreign policy is being shaped which is characterized neither by the arrogance of the Clinton administration nor by a feeling of cultural superiority. Bush is building a coalition which is politically and religiously heterogeneous. The dire need to crack down on terrorism has forced the advanced states of the West into dialogue with a region of the world which has so far been treated only on economic criteria. The new circumstances require cooperation and understanding. This marks a radical policy shift. Old allies are useful but occupy no privileged position. This applies to both Israel and Turkey, and Greek politicians must weigh these significant developments.