We don't know who will be sworn in as president of the United States in
January. Nor can we be sure whether the present occupant of the prime minister's
chair in Israel will still be in office by that time.
But we do know that the actions of the current White House tenant has just
done something that will alter a diplomatic equation no matter who's in power in
By stating last week that the United States does not support the notion that
Middle East peace is predicated on a complete Israeli withdrawal from all
territory it won in the 1967 Six-Day War, and by spelling out that the United
States rejects any Palestinian refugee "right of return," Bush has substantially
altered the starting point for any future talks.
While Palestinians lament that what Bush has done is the equivalent of the
1917 Balfour Declaration which set in motion Britain's commitment to creating
a Jewish national homeland in Palestine are hyperbole, they're not
completely crazy. Bush has thoroughly debunked the idea, nourished for decades by
muddle-headed American policies, that the United States would eventually deliver
all of the territories, including Jerusalem, to the Palestinians on a silver
PAYING THE PIPER
No wonder they're screaming bloody murder! For the first time in decades, an
American president stood up ignoring the advice of the State Department and
our European "allies" and stated the obvious.
In a precedent-setting move, an American president made it clear to the
Palestinians, and their cheerleaders in Europe and the international press, that
their war against Israel will not produce a diplomatic solution to reverse the
outcome of the 1967 war. Nor will it yield a treaty that will allow Palestinian
Arabs to pursue the destruction of Israel by "peaceful" means, such as
swamping it with millions who claim descent from those who fled the country during
the course of a war they started to destroy the newborn state in 1948.
Israel paid a price for Bush's move. It came only after Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon pledged to completely evacuate Gaza and uproot 7,500 Israelis from
their homes. He also promised to similarly displace those who lived in four
settlements in northern Samaria. In exchange for this, Israel will get not a thing
from the Palestinians, whose leadership remains just as committed to Israel's
destruction as before.
Those Israeli leaders who pursued the failed Oslo accords at least got
Palestinian promises of peace and an end to terror, albeit promises that were
blatantly insincere and never kept.
Why is Sharon's "deal" better for Israel?
Simply because, contrary to the Oslo gambit, Sharon is acting to carry out
the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people, who no longer
wish to have anything to do with Gaza and think they will be better off without
it, settlements notwithstanding.
Sharon's idea of a peace is far more realistic. Since he knows that the Arab
war on Israel is ongoing, and that there's little, if any, hope of ending it
via diplomacy, he seeks to unilaterally draw a border Israel can better defend,
militarily and politically.
He hopes that giving up Gaza will consolidate Israel's hold on Jerusalem and
on parts of the West Bank that no Israeli government ought to consider
leaving, including areas where some 230,000 Jews reside.
Is this realistic? Bush's answer is "yes."
While Bush's move will probably win Sharon the support of the majority of his
Likud Party in a referendum on the Gaza withdrawal, it isn't certain what
Bush will get in return.
SLAMMED HERE, SLAMMED THERE
Instead of being lauded as a reaffirmation of America's alliance with Israel
and its support for the Jewish state's continued existence, Bush has been
widely slammed abroad and on the editorial pages of most American newspapers.
Opponents, such as The Philadelphia Inquirer's cartoonist Tony Auth, accuse
him of being Sharon's handpuppet. The Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphant said he
was breaking faith with America's role as "honest broker" of the conflict. The
New York Times lamented in an editorial that "Mr. Bush's drastic and
unfortunate policy reversal" was essentially "supporting Israel's right to impose a
settlement of its choice on the Palestinians."
What's really bothering Bush's critics? Did they think Israel will accept a
"right of return" that would, in the end, destroy itself? Of course not. And
even most Bush-bashers acknowledged that an Israeli surrender of all of the
settlements was a nonstarter.
Part of this animus can be put down to partisanship. It is also driven by
hostility to Sharon and other Israelis who have rejected the folly of Oslo. But
the critics' real mistake? They fail to see that it was America's
unwillingness to disabuse the Palestinians of their illusions that has helped fuel the
conflict for so many years.
Why should Yasser Arafat or any other possible Palestinian leader agree to a
peace agreement that would give him most of the West Bank and all of Gaza if
he thinks that someday an American president will actually listen to the
braying chorus of Israel-haters at the United Nations and impose a suicidal accord
What Bush has done is to reverse the momentum in that direction that former
President Bill Clinton, whose tireless efforts to force concessions on Israel
in the name of an ever-elusive Nobel Peace Prize-winning treaty, did so much to
If there is ever to be a real peace between Israel and the Palestinians and
Sharon is right to doubt that any such thing will happen in the foreseeable
future Bush has shown the Palestinians that extremist demands are off the
table. Bush's own war on Islamic terror has apparently given him enough insight
to realize that Israel ought not to buckle under pressure the United States
will not tolerate.
Some Israeli critics of Sharon, who see the Gaza withdrawal as encouraging
Palestinian attacks, have a point. But they are wrong to parse the president's
words for signs that America doesn't mean what it says. Bush clearly means what
he says on this issue, and is getting a beating from Israel's foes for his
By staking out a position of support for Israel in this manner, he has also
managed to maneuver his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, into endorsing
A President Kerry could reverse Bush's stand, but why would he? Kerry would
pay a high political price for undoing Bush's policy shift absent a genuine
change in the Palestinians, something no rational observer ought to bet on.
Bush's stance won't end the conflict. But it does give Israel some breathing
room, which will enable it to better continue its defensive war against
threats to its existence. This is no Balfour Declaration, but it is something that,
notwithstanding his other achievements, merits him an honored place in
history, no matter what happens in November.