The outcome of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent trip to the Holy Land suggests that the more things change in the Middle East, the more they stay the same. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s impending visit to the White House provides President Bush with an opportunity to dispel that notion.
Powell’s stops in Jerusalem and Jericho forced the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to stand up and be counted on the roadmap, the new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan co-authored and endorsed by the Bush administration. Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas expressed his acceptance of the roadmap as written. In contrast, and exposing the mendacity of its pronouncements that it awaits a peace partner, the Israeli government rejected the roadmap, raising objections to several of its key provisions.
One is the requirement for simultaneous and reciprocal action. Israel demands a total cessation of Palestinian violence before moving to address the conditions that create that violence, a proposition that seeks to eliminate the effect while ignoring the cause. Then there is Israel’s rejection of the stipulation of a freeze of settlement activity. Since his meeting with Powell, Sharon has publicly avowed that the issue of the settlements is not up for imminent discussion.
The irony is that Sharon’s intransigence provides a certain relief for Abbas, for whom the first litmus test of authority will surely be his ability to subdue the Palestinian militant organizations which sprout the suicide bombers who so misguidedly target Israeli civilians. There is near-universal understanding–the exception being among the Israeli government’s ruling coalition–that Abbas cannot hope to neutralize the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad with any semblance of popular support absent a prior Israeli commitment to implement its obligations under the road map.
Parallels are being drawn between how Mahmoud Abbas must confront Palestinian terror today, and how David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, locked horns with Zionist terror organizations in 1948. Yet there is a crucial difference. When Ben Gurion disbanded Menachim Begin’s Irgun Zvai Leumi and Yitzhak Shamir’s Lohamei Herut Israel, he was armed with a United Nations plan that clearly delineated the borders of the new Jewish State. In the eyes of the practitioners of terror, their strategy had reaped its rewards. Abbas has no such arrow in his quiver. He has only a document that speaks of a provisional state, to be followed by a viable state, the geography of which is to be determined in future negotiations with the occupying power that rejects the document in the first place.
Now that the warring parties have stated their positions, the ball is in the Oval Office. When Sharon sent his army into the West Bank to re-occupy Palestinian cities in March 2002, President Bush demanded an immediate withdrawal. Sharon stared him down; the President blinked first. When they meet at the White House on Tuesday, President Bush, as leader of the most pro-Israeli US government in history, should unblinkingly demand that the Israeli prime minister accept the road map–Bush’s road map–and provide some justification for having been called by his host a man of peace. That is undoubtedly a politically perilous position for the president, given the preponderance of opinion within his administration, on Capitol Hill, and among the Christian Right that forms the core of his constituency, against the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state east of the Jordan River. But Mr. Bush must continue to demonstrate he has the courage of his convictions and act on his belief, articulated in a Middle East policy speech last June, that “a Palestinian state is necessary to achieve the peace that Israel longs for.”
No less compelling is the fact that a Palestinian state is also in the best interests of the United States. The websites of Israeli human rights groups are rife with examples of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, seen by the international community as enabled–if not aided and abetted–by America. Having eliminated the regime with the worst human rights record in the Arab world, it is time for President Bush to redress the human rights situation in the Holy Land. While it would be consistent with the highest humanistic teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, it could also arguably be his most effective move in the War on Terror.
If, on the other hand, Sharon’s rejection of the roadmap is allowed to stand, by the time the next crossroads are reached in the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy the two-state solution may well be the too-late solution.
TARIF ABBOUSHI lives in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org