Who says that there are no more miracles today? US President George W. Bush's long-awaited speech on the Middle East, in which he upset the entire applecart of cherished assumptions upon which Middle East diplomacy has been based for more than a decade, certainly qualifies. At least if you believe the pundits, not one of whom came close to predicting what the president would say.
If a speech can be judged by those it ticks off, then Bush's was a smasheroo. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was reportedly so revolted that he could not bear to listen to the end. No doubt he was indignant at the snub the president administered to his erstwhile "peace partner" and co-Nobel Laureate. In calling for a new Palestinian leadership, Bush did not even deign to mention Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat by name.
Peres was not the only one thrown into a tizzy. The other architects of Oslo correctly saw the speech as a rebuff to all their cherished dreams. Former justice minister Yossi Beilin claims that making peace is "easy." And that's true, if by making peace one means only drawing a line on a map and getting the parties to mumble suitable formulas.
If peace, however, means real personal security for Israelis and Palestinians, it requires hard work. From now on actions count, not words - even words enshrined in written agreements. Such agreements have no meaning where the parties have no credibility, and as the president made clear, Arafat has no credibility.
No longer will it be sufficient for US Secretary of State Colin Powell to twist Arafat's arm into condemning suicide bombing. If the Palestinians want anything in return, they will have stop the terrorism directed at Israeli civilians.
Since the end of Operation Defensive Shield, Israel has intercepted nearly 30 suicide bombers and destroyed more than 80 explosives laboratories. The comparable figures for the Palestinian Authority are zero and zero, despite the far greater ease with which it can obtain intelligence about its fellow Palestinians. Such Palestinian inaction will no longer be tolerated. Rather it will be seen for what it is - clear proof that the PA is "encouraging, not opposing, terrorism."
No longer will American diplomacy focus on producing new symbols of life for the "peace process" - e.g., written agreements, international conferences - but on substance. The peace process, which has claimed more than 800 Israeli sacrifices over the past nine years, has become too hungry a Moloch to continue feeding.
Meretz leader Yossi Sarid and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami dismissed Bush's speech as "unrealistic" in its call for a Palestinian democracy. Perhaps they are right that there will never be a Palestinian democracy. But if so, there will never be peaceful coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state either, and we should immediately stop the charade of pretending otherwise. Oslo, after all, was not just a recipe for achieving a Palestinian state, but for peace and security for Israelis as well.
In refusing to consign the Palestinian people forever to the rule of a thugocracy, the president vindicated the central insight promoted by Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky, almost alone, for nearly a decade: Without a Palestinian democracy, peace is impossible.
Totalitarian regimes, like the PA, exist for the benefit of the rulers, not the governed. (Think of the 20 percent of Palestinian VAT receipts deposited directly into Arafat's personal bank account.) Dictators depend on controlling the minds and bodies of their citizens to retain their hold on power. Nothing serves their need to distract their subject populations from their own suffering like continual warfare and fomenting hatred of an external demon. The ongoing incitement against Jews and Israel in the Palestinian educational system and media is thus an inevitable consequence of Arafat's desire to retain power.
ISRAELI DOVES were not the only ones outraged by the most pro-Israel speech ever delivered by an American president. Former State Department Middle East hand Richard Murphy whined that Bush is demanding too much from the Palestinians and not enough from Israel. Murphy conveniently ignored the fact that for nearly a decade the only concrete concessions have been Israel's. During the life of Oslo, 98% of Palestinians came under Palestinian self-rule, while Israelis gained neither peace nor security.
Even more dramatic were the changes in Israeli public opinion, which today accepts by large margins the idea of a Palestinian state and of evacuating isolated settlements. In the meantime, the Palestinians remain unbudging in the same positions as 1993.
Now, said the president, it is finally the Palestinians' turn to go first. The basic Oslo formula of land for peace was predicated on Israeli territorial concessions in return for Palestinian promises to renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, and stop incitement. Those promises proved infinitely recyclable, and neither the Americans nor successive Israeli governments paid much attention to Palestinian compliance.
When former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to do so, he was labeled by the Clinton administration an obstacle to peace. Today President Bush echoes Netanyahu's refrain: If they give, they'll receive; if they don't give, they won't receive.
The prestigious American press - Oslo's longtime cheerleaders - weighed in with their own predictable criticism of Bush. As if in unison, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all took him to task for failing to provide a timetable for the Palestinians to receive their state.
That criticism completely misses the president's central point: a Palestinian state is not inevitable; it must be earned. Thus there can be no timetable.
Today the Palestinian street is in the throes of a euphoric belief that terror has advanced the Palestinian cause. Two-thirds of Palestinians, according to a recent poll, view the last 21 months of violence as bringing them closer to their goals. And those goals are ever escalating. A majority of Palestinians now admit that their goal is the destruction of Israel.
Bush sought to pour cold water on the Palestinians' manic expectations by telling them bluntly, "A Palestinian state will never be created by terror."
While his speech caught everyone by surprise, it should not have. As Jeff Ballabon, a leading Jewish Republican activist, points out, Bush has been remarkable in his consistency. He has never met with Arafat. While sympathizing with Palestinian suffering, he has never used that suffering to "explain" Palestinian terrorism. And in the face of repeated calls to become more involved in Middle East peacemaking, he has remained ever mindful that the years of the most intense American involvement resulted only in unprecedented carnage. Those who missed these essential lines were simply too busy listening to State Department officials trying to force the president into the traditional patterns of thought.
Finally we have a man in the White House who really does believe in something other than triangulating according to the latest polls. Bush is no moral relativist nor a student of realpolitik. The most striking thing about his speech was his insistence on seeing the Middle East through the lens of his own deepest values. For Bush, terrorism cannot be evil when directed at Americans, but justifiable when directed against Israelis. Democracy cannot be good for Americans but not for Palestinians.
The clarity of vision President Bush displayed last week makes him truly Israel's best friend ever in the White House.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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