The battle for President Bush’s heart and soul over American Middle East policy continues. Like a familiar character in Purim spiels, he finds himself being alternately assailed by his yetzer hatov (read Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice) and his yetzer hara (read Secretary of State Colin Powell and hosts of anonymous State Department careerists).
His yetzer hatov appeals to President Bush’s deepest and most decent instincts: the belief that those who blow up babies in strollers and shoot children at point blank range, as well as those who support and encourage them, are evil; the belief that rewarding evil is the surest way to ensure its spread. His yetzer hara tells him that he must follow his predecessor head-first into the quagmire of Middle East peace-making or risk becoming a laughingstock in the eyes of the sophisticated Europeans and the deep thinkers at the New York Times.
The past two weeks were enough to leave any bystander to the battle being waged back and forth thoroughly dizzy. Prior to Prime Minister Sharon’s visit to Washington two weeks ago, Ha’Aretz could hardly contain its glee over the riot act that President Bush was said to be preparing to read Prime Minister Sharon. Not only would the President reiterate his support for a Palestinian state, but he would outline a plan for international forces in the West Bank, Ha’Aretz confidently predicted.
That meeting ended, as have so many recent contacts between American and Israeli officials, with another suicide bombing in Israel. At the conclusion of the meeting, President Bush announced only that the time was not ripe for convening an international peace conference on the Middle East, thereby dashing one of Secretary of State’s Powell’s favorite initiatives.
The following week the Washington papers were full of stories of Powell licking his wounds. According to one report, he plans to resign after the midterm elections. The Secretary of State’s mood did not improve when presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer airily dismissed Powell’s discussion of a provisional Palestinian state as nothing more than one of those ideas that Powell has heard from world leaders and which he is free to talk about as he wishes.
Just a few days later, however, the media was again full of discussions of a major policy address on the Middle East prepared for the President by the State Department. That speech, however, has now been twice postponed by suicide bombings in Israel: the first on a bus in Jerusalem filled mostly with school children, in which 19 Israelis were killed; the second at a Jerusalem intersection, which claimed six Jews, including a grandmother and her granddaughter.
The White House was certainly right that handing the Palestinians a state, provisional or otherwise, on a day that they were busy blowing up Jewish babies and grandmothers would be an odd bit of timing. But the problem with the idea goes far deeper than timing. Nor could the passage of a few days without another atrocity make the idea any more palatable.
Discussion of a Palestinian state at this time can only send one message to the Palestinian people: No matter what you do there will never be a price to pay.
For the entire duration of the now defunct Oslo process, at no point were the Palestinians ever made to feel that there would be penalties for failure to comply with previous agreements. For insisting on Palestinian compliance with its signed agreements, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu found himself labeled an obstruction to peace by the Clinton administration.
The result was that after eight years of the most intense American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the history of American diplomacy, the region was plunged into a bloodbath. That is the precedent for intense American involvement now being urged on Bush.
After Camp David, Arafat deliberately ignited a war. Two-thirds of Palestinians, according to a recent Palestinian poll, express the belief that the violence they initiated 21 months ago has brought them closer to their goals. And those goals have escalated as well. Over half of the Palestinians, now admit that their goal is the total destruction of Israel.
Clearly until Palestinians are disabused of that goal and the belief that violence is the means most likely to attain it, peace will only recede further. So far there are no signs of that recognition sinking in. Under intense American arm-twisting, Yasser Arafat now issues routine condemnations of suicide bombings as ``not serving the Palestinian cause," though never as heinous crimes and affronts to basic human decency.
Yet Arafat has not taken one step to stop the terrorism directed at Israeli civilians. Since the end of Operation Defensive Shield, Israel has intercepted 27 would be suicide bombers and destroyed 82 explosives laboratories. With far better intelligence within the territories, the respective numbers for the Palestinian Authority are zero and zero.
The answer, as Evelyn Gordon has conclusively established in these pages, does not lie in providing the Palestinians with a ``political horizon." Oslo did that, and the immediate result was more Israelis killed in the first two years of Oslo than in the preceding decade. Over 800 Israelis have been killed since the signing of the first Oslo Accords compared to 169 during the worst previous period between 1970 and 1982, when Arafat was finally expelled from Lebanon. And the most intense terrorism under Oslo followed immediately upon Camp David, and the most generous Israeli offer that the Palestinians will ever receive.
The time has come to reverse the logic of land for peace. From now on, any Palestinian gains must follow, not precede, significant, long-term Palestinian moves towards peace.
The repetition of long stale promises will no longer suffice. Even Meretz leader Yossi Sarid has finally reached the conclusion that ``there is absolutely no connection between what Arafat told me directly and what occurred," and therefore there is no point in any further discussions with him.
Arafat’s reference to the Hudaybiyya Accords between Mohammed and the Qurash tribesmen around Mecca in his May 15 address to the Palestinian National Council merely buttressed the futility of relying on his promises. Mohammed, whose every action is a religious model for Moslems, abrogated the Accords as soon as his military position improved and slaughtered the Qurash. Every Moslem immediately understands Arafat’s message: Agreements with Israel are nothing more than an acknowledgment of our present inability to destroy the Jewish state, but they have no binding force should the balance of power ever shift.
America does have a role to play. Above all, she must force upon the Palestinians the concrete reforms that provide the only possible basis for achieving any of their political goals. A good first step would be to stop funding of UNRWA, which has no other purpose that maintaining hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in squalid refugee camps as a permanent strike force against Israel.
Most important, would be bringing to an end the continual glorification of the murder of Jews and incitement to suicide bombing in the Palestinian educational system and media. As Brandeis President Judah Reinharz recently told Ha’Aretz, without fundamental changes in the Palestinian education system, ``there is no hope."
As long as kindergartners in Gaza paint their hands blood red and mimic the savage butchers of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah and Palestinian university students celebrate the murder of 16 Jews in the Sbarro pizza parlor by reenacting the crime, there can be no peace.
As Reinharz correctly notes, what has been done over two generations in instilling Palestinian youth with a fanatic hatred of Jews and Israel cannot be undone. Even if the entire Palestinian education system is revamped tomorrow, it will take years to bring forth a new generation that accepts Israel’s existence.
But if President Bush is really interested in Middle East peacemaking, rather than in throwing a sop to European and Arab allies, he should focus his efforts on the Palestinian education system and media.