Mideast Peace an Illusion?

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– October 20, 2001

“Israel controls the Senate,” said J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in 1973. “We should be more concerned about the United States’ interests.” That nothing has changed was evident this weekend. Secretary of State Powell received a letter, instigated by the Israeli lobby and signed by 89 U.S. senators, directing him not to interfere with Israel’s crushing of the Palestinian uprising.

President Bush may have promised the Peace Party, Tony Blair and the Saudis he will use his muscle to broker a just peace. If he did, he made a promise he cannot keep. For the conditions of peace that seemed present when Ehud Barak led Israel no longer exist. The moment has passed, the window has closed.

Real peace requires something close to what Barak offered Arafat: a Palestinian state with full sovereignty over Gaza, the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem and the Islamic holy places. This would entail a dismantling of Israeli settlements and withdrawal to something like the borders of 1967.

That is impossible now. Sharon not only distrusts Arafat, he detests him and rejects the Oslo formula of land-for-peace. Sharon believes the Arabs will use a Palestinian state as a base camp for a new war of annihilation. He won his office by accusing Barak of pandering to terror and inviting national suicide. Should he offer Arafat a similar deal, his Cabinet would break up and he would be replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu.

More important, with this latest intifada marked by massacres of children at pizza parlors, Israelis no longer believe security can be found cheek-by-jowl with an Arafat-led Palestinian state. Who can blame them?

But if Arafat is considered by Israelis to be a terrorist, among the Palestinians, he is increasingly viewed as a poodle of America and an appeaser of Zion. Palestinians have lost 700 dead in this uprising – including women and children – and thousands wounded. For fighting against Israeli troops, it is Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are capturing the hearts of the young. Arafat’s mandate is running out.

Moreover, Bush cannot force Sharon to give up occupied land, for he cannot threaten Sharon with a cut-off in aid. Should he try, he will call down the rage of Congress and the wrath of the Israeli lobby and its Amen Corner. Not since Dwight Eisenhower, safely re-elected, ordered Ben-Gurion to get his army out of Sinai in 1957 has a president compelled Israel to meet U.S. demands.

When Israeli and U.S. policies clash, it is U.S. presidents who back down. For 30 years, the United States has held that settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war were “illegal” and impediments to peace. Yet, despite $100 billion in U.S. aid to Israel since 1972 – $20,000 for every Israeli – the number of settlers has risen from 8,400 to 357,000. Israel ignores U.S. pleas and demands, for it knows they are bluster and bluff, designed for Arab consumption.

Should Bush invest his postwar popularity and prestige in a Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, he will see both dissipated, while failing, even as his predecessors have failed.

Already, Bush’s suggestion that he supports Israeli concessions for a Palestinian state, to draw down anti-American venom in the Islamic world, was met with Sharon’s retort that Israel will not play the role of Czechoslovakia to Bush’s Neville Chamberlain. In a normal relationship, such a gross and gratuitous insult would have brought a recall of the U.S. ambassador. Instead, it produced a wimpish little peep of protest from Ari Fleischer.

Bush should look over the horizon and ask himself what Israel will demand as the price of a Palestinian state. It is: scores of billions of U.S. dollars to take down settlements, whose building we opposed, and a permanent U.S.-Israeli military alliance, backed up by the presence of U.S. troops. This would guarantee Americans fighting in every future Israeli war. And this we cannot give.

Prediction: Bush and Powell will start up the road to a brokered peace and find they are on a political Highway of Death. Karl Rove will walk into the Oval Office and say, “Mr. President, it is not worth it, it is not working – we are down to 60 percent in the polls. Let’s go back to benign neglect.”

Israelis will emerge victorious and delighted. The Arabs will be frustrated and outraged, and Bush’s prestige in the Arab world will vanish as his father’s did after Desert Storm. In Kuwait, they no longer name their children Bush, but Osama. So, the downward spiral toward an Arab-Israeli and U.S.-Islamic war will continue and the enemies of peace, on all sides, will be exulted, and exalted.

Where have you gone, Gen. Eisenhower?

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