June 25, 2003 | Scripps Howard News Service

All Terrorists Are Created Equal

“The targeting of the high-profile figure last week made it more difficult to go forward with the road map, and I think the Israelis understand.”
– –
Secretary of State Colin Powell, 6/19/03

I'm glad the Israelis understand – because I sure don't, and I can't imagine that many Americans do.


The “high-profile figure” Mr. Powell is referring to is Abdel Azis Rantisi, a leader of Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization, so categorized by the US State Department because it routinely and deliberately sends suicide bombers out to murder innocent men, women and children.


Hamas has no interest in peace with Israel. Hamas rejects any possibility of a “two-state solution.” Hamas' goal is to destroy Israel. It wants a final solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, and nothing is more final than genocide. As Mr. Rantisi candidly put it: “I swear by God, we will not leave a single Jew in Palestine.


Should the U.S. Secretary of State really be lending legitimacy to Rantisi by describing him as “a high-profile figure”? Should he really be suggesting that a terrorist organization can somehow be useful to the progress of the road map to peace?


Imagine if Saddam Hussein were to issue a statement from wherever he's hiding saying: “I swear by God, we will not leave a single Christian in Iraq.” Would Mr. Powell refer to Saddam respectfully and argue that to target him would damage the cause of peace and reconstruction in Iraq?


He would not, because it would make no sense to say that, and Mr. Powell generally is a sensible man. But neither does it make sense to say that targeting terrorists whose goal is to stop the peace process damages the peace process. On the contrary: If the terrorists and those who reject Israel's very existence could somehow be removed from the picture, surely the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be easier to resolve.


A year ago this week, President Bush outlined a new “vision” of Middle East peace. He stated clearly that it was the obligation of Palestinian leaders to “engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.” Yasser Arafat, who remains the Palestinian godfather, has no intention of doing any such thing – he is in open alliance with Hamas and other terrorist groups and he leads the al Aksa Martyrs Brigade which itself practices terrorism (and which this month issued a statement calling President Bush a “terrorist,” and adding that it has no interest in “agreements and understandings written in Israeli and American ink”).


The new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn't the power to fight Palestinian terrorists – he still answers to Arafat. So, in effect, Israelis are doing the job President Bush said must be done, the job the Palestinian leadership is unwilling or unable to do.


Though Mr. Abbas has refrained from fighting, he has been trying to persuade Hamas to accept a hudna, a temporary ceasefire. Hamas has so far refused, but its “high-profile figures” may change their minds — if they come to believe that the alternative is to have Israeli rockets interrupt their terrorism planning lunches.


Should that happen, Mr. Abbas will claim victory and the State Department will cite that as progress. But it will have been achieved only because of Israeli pressure, not because Mr. Powell attempted to shield Hamas terrorist masters from Israelis soldiers.


Of course, a hudna would not really be much of an achievement. Again, ask yourself the question: If Osama bin Laden offered the US a temporary ceasefire – say, a year during which there would be no terrorist attacks by al Qaeda in exchange for no U.S. targeting of “high-profile” al Qaeda figures — would President Bush agree? Of course he wouldn't.


Most Americans understand in their guts what too many intellectuals can't seem to get through their heads: Hamas is no different from al Qaeda. Hamas proclaims itself “one of the links in the Chain of Jihad,” or holy war, for Islamic rule and against the infidels. The key difference between Hamas and al Qaeda is geographic – al Qaeda fights Christians and Jews around the world; Hamas specializes in terrorism against Israelis and Jews in the Middle East.


For Hamas, like al Qaeda, victory means one thing: the submission of other religions to Islamic rule. According to Hamas, “Under the shadow of Islam it is possible for the members of the three religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, to coexist.”  Hamas believes it is an affront to Islam for a state to exist where Jews rule themselves in a representative democracy, and where the law is derived from the will of the people instead of from the Koran. This exactly the same reason that al-Qaeda says it must ultimately defeat Western democracy. As bin Laden explained in his 1996 Declaration of War Against the Americans, “humans cannot share sovereignty with God.”


At a time when America is itself at war with Jihadists terrorists, should senior US officials be trying to persuade America's allies not to defend themselves from those same Jihadists terrorists?


Just last month, President Bush said: “Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country and a target of American justice”


Maybe Israelis understand why Mr. Powell is saying they should not respond in the same way to those who commit terrorist acts against them. But I don't get it, and I can't imagine many Americans do.


Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism.