Almost one year ago to the day this Shabbat, Natan Sharansky met privately for an hour and a half with American Vice-President Richard Cheney. Two days earlier, Sharansky had delivered the keynote address at the World Forum of the American Enterprise Institute in Beaver Falls, Colorado. In that address, he hammered away at his trademark theme that peace will never come to the Middle East absent the creation of a viable Palestinian democracy.
Speaking only days before President Bush’s scheduled major policy address on the Middle East, Sharansky concluded his speech, ``I believe it would be a tragic mistake, if just in the midst of this campaign of terror, the president of the United States rewards Arafat with a declaration that he deserves to head a state. There is no doubt that such a state would be a terrorist one."
Now he delivered the same message to Cheney: No matter how many conditions Bush placed on the creation of a Palestinian state under Arafat, any such announcement would constitute a reward for two years of non-stop terror against Israeli civilians.
The normally laconic Cheney shot to attention when he heard these words. ``But your own government has already signed off on this," he told Sharansky, confirming the latter’s worse suspicions. Sharansky nevertheless repeated, as Cheney scribbled notes, that without the removal of Arafat and the entire junta from Tunis, the creation of an atmosphere in which Palestinians could express themselves without fear of reprisal, and the cessation of incitement against Israel in the Palestinian schools and media peace is impossible.
President Bush’s upcoming speech had already undergone 30 drafts at that point. It was about to undergo another crucial shift based on Sharansky’s conversation with Cheney.
Two days later, on June 24, 2002, President Bush announced at the outset, ``Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership." He did not mention Yasir Arafat once.
The President stressed that a Palestinian state must be earned. He offered no time table for the creation of a Palestinian state. Gone was a Secretary of State Colin Powell’s call for a ``time specific" political horizon necessary to satisfy Arab leaders and the Palestinian masses.
Instead President Bush made clear what the Palestinians must do to earn their state: Create a viable democracy under new leaders, with an independent judiciary, financial transparency, independent local authorities, and freedom of expression. Bush placed his faith in democracy as the key to peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
NOTHING REMAINS TODAY President Bush’s vision of liberty blossoming ``in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza." A Palestinian state, democratic or not, is the explicit goal of the Quartet Roadmap. That Roadmap represents the familiar EU and UN position that the Palestinians must have a state and all else is irrelevant. They have never had any use for the President’s claptrap about democracy, for which they view the Arabs as inherently unsuited.
Timetables have returned with a vengeance to the Quartet Roadmap. The Palestinians are to have a provisional state by the end of the year for having done nothing more than repeated the same assurances that they have repeated so many times since Oslo.
The timeframes set forth in the Roadmap – a provisional state by the end of 2003 and complete statehood by the end of 2005 -- have nothing to do with the actual time required to create a Palestinian society uninfected by murderous hatred of Jews and Israel. That would take years of concerted and determined reeducation, as it did in post-war Germany and Japan. Rather the time frame was dictated by what the Roadmap signatories felt their Arab ``allies" and the Arab street would accept.
Let a hundred Abu Mazen’s declare their recognition of Israel and that terrorism against Israeli citizens was a tactical mistake, and it still won’t make a bit of difference as long as the vast majority of Palestinians support homicide bombings and view Abu Mazen as a quisling for proclaiming otherwise.
The Arab world, the Palestinians included, continues to nurture Abdel Aziz Rantisi’s goal of not a single Jew remaining alive in all of Palestine. Eighty per cent of Palestinians, according to a recent poll believe that their aspirations ``cannot be realized as long as the State of Israel exists."
Peace is impossible as long as there exists a fundamental asymmetry between the positions of the Palestinian and Israeli public: The overwhelming majority of Israelis accept the idea of a Palestinian state; few Palestinians have made peace with Israel’s existence. That is why the Americans deemed Palestinian recognition of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state at the outset as a non-starter.
The Roadmap deliberately obfuscates that asymmetry by calling on ``all official Israeli institutions to end incitement against Palestinians." What incitement?
The Palestinians have not made even the slightest feint in the direction of ending the cult of death and martyrdom in their media and schools and glorification of Jew killing. Even as Yasir Arafat was condemning last week’s bus bombing in Jerusalem, the perpetrator was being hailed by the official Palestinian media as a martyr. The hero’s welcome conferred on Ahmed Jbarra by both Abu Mazen and Arafat and his appointment as a special advisor to Arafat for his ``great contribution to the Palestinian cause" - i.e. murdering 14 Jews in downtown Jerusalem in 1975 - legitimizes terror.
Not only has Abu Mazen done nothing to end incitement, which would be relatively easy, he made clear that he can or will do nothing to end terrorism. Far from having committed to doing the hard things required to disarm and dismantle terrorist groups, as Assistant Secretary of State William Burns claimed before the House International Relations Committee last week, Abu Mazen has repeatedly said that he will not move against Hamas and other terror groups. Under no circumstances will he risk a Palestinian civil war.
The ceasefire that he seeks with Hamas, and which the Americans are so eagerly pursuing, has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Indeed it is the exact opposite of fighting Palestinian terrorism. Hamas has repeatedly made explicit that any ceasefire, or hudna, would constitute nothing more than a tactical decision to enable it to attack Israelis later under more favorable circumstances.
Once again we are hearing American calls to strengthen Abu Mazen, as we once heard calls to strengthen Arafat. Now, as then, the means of doing so was for Israel to not insist on Palestinian compliance with their undertakings to stop terrorism and official incitement, and for Israel to refrain from defending itself in the face of Palestinian inaction.
As Dennis Ross has admitted, during the ten years of Oslo, ``[I]ssues of compliance were neglected and politicized by the Americans in favor of keeping the peace process afloat." The irony that the ``peace process" could only be kept afloat by the implicit admission that the Palestinians cannot, or will not, make peace was lost then, as now, on the State Department.
The Roadmap, like the Oslo Process before it, has taken on the quality of a fetish. The Oslo Process was reified as an angry god demanding ever new ``sacrifices for peace." And in a weird sort of déjà vu, the murder of Israelis today also becomes something else – an attempt to undermine Abu Mazen or to detour the Roadmap.
Perhaps the vision of a democratic Palestine held forth by President Bush in his June 24 speech can never be realized. But if so, as Natan Sharansky has argued so effectively over the years, there can never be peace either. For an unfree Palestine, a large number of its people deliberately held prisoner in fetid refugee camps, will always need an outside enemy to distract from the failures of the regime. And that enemy will be Israel.
The United States cannot further the cause of peace by retreating from the President’s June 24 vision of a democratic Palestine.