Mixing Up Middle East Carrots and Sticks Last week's decision by the Bush administration to normalize relations with Libya must be regarded with mixed feelings by anyone who cares about the effort to eradicate terrorism.
Under the rule of its eccentric and bloody-minded dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya has spent much of the last quarter-century as a key funder of international terror. This despicable record reached its zenith in 1988, when Libyan agents were responsible for the downing of Pan Am Flight 101 over Lockerbie, Scotland, a horrible crime that resulted in the murder of 259 persons.
But 18 years later, Washington is taking steps to return the same regime to the family of nations. What changed?
While still maintaining his tyrannical rule, experts say that Gadhafi has been gradually easing himself out of active participation in terror over the last decade.
The last straw was 9/11. Seeing the fate of both the Taliban and of Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi drew the correct conclusions from the sea change in international diplomacy. Having already admitted his responsibility for Lockerbie and paid compensation to some of the victims, he negotiated an end to his own weapons of mass destruction program, and, as far as we know, ceased participating in terrorism. In exchange, the United States has restored diplomatic relations with Libya and opened the way for trade to resume with this oil-rich nation.
The fact that this international criminal, has, in effect, been allowed to get away with murder must grate on the sensibilities of decent people everywhere. Whatever else has been accomplished in this exchange, justice was not served.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Libya is one example of how Washington's "cowboy diplomacy" has paid dividends. Rather than face the threat of military action, Gadhafi valued both his life and his hold on power more than his terrorist connections. If Libya stays clean – and that is a big "if" – then the deal must be considered a victory for the international community.
But the real question about this carrot-and-stick approach is: What should America's policy be toward another terrorist regime – the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority?
Legislation passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday sent an even stronger message to Hamas than the cutoff of direct aid to the P.A. already promulgated by the administration. This bill, supported by mainstream pro-Israel groups, closes off some of the loopholes by which these terrorists could gain access to funds via alleged "humanitarian" projects that are Hamas fronts.
Unfortunately, the White House doesn't like this bill because it feels it encroaches on presidential power. It is also being opposed by some Jewish groups, principally the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum, which wants a more flexible approach to Hamas.
We applaud the House's action and urge the Senate to pass the same tough bill. But more importantly, we urge both the administration and those Jewish groups seeking to find a path to dialogue with Hamas not to draw the wrong conclusions from the Libyan precedent. Those who worry that stringent sanctions will retard the chances for peace have it completely wrong. There is no chance for peace unless Hamas completely changes its character and its ideology, something no reasonable person should expect.
What is needed is for the Palestinian people to realize – just as the cynical Gadhafi eventually realized – that they are on the wrong side of a historic conflict. Only harsh measures and serious threats have a ghost of a chance for that to be achieved. Whatever misgivings we may have about the rapprochement with Libya, now is the not the time to get wobbly with Hamas.