The "roadmap" of the Quartet -- U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia -- should be viewed with concern, not panic, as the warmed-over diplomatic contraption that it is.
The road map is U.S. State Department policy, not the real policy of the United States, i.e. not the policy of the President and the Congress. It is not so very different from earlier plans, with the important difference that it has a definite timetable. It is reminiscent, alas, of the utopian schemes promoted earnestly in paid newspaper ads in American college towns. It serves a more practical purpose, though. In all likelihood, it is viewed by the Bush administration, except for the State Department, as a pose to hold together the tenuous alliance for the Iraq phase of the war on terrorism.
Whether the roadmap leads anywhere will depend on a lot of factors, some of them under Israel's control. Perhaps most important is the Israeli posture. Sharon can stand up to its worst features, even though he has officially come out for a Palestinian state, or Netanyahu can stand up to it and present his own distinct vision of the future, if he really has one.
Second is the response of the American military. Will they vouch for Israel's ability to defend itself? Of course, a lot could change about Israel's strategic situation if Iraq, and later Iran are defanged in the coming American showdown with terror. A big if.
Third is the response of the American Congress, influenced by Israel's backers in the United States. Strange as it may seem, the Christian right is now Israel's broadest, if not deepest wellspring of support. One of the things that helped change the Bush administration's tune in the spring was a massive show of support in e-mails and letters, when it looked as if the U.S. was going hopelessly soft on Palestinian terrorism.
If a real threat to Israel arises, you can bet Israel's Christian backers will swing into action with the White House and Congress. They will be heard, and listened to. Of course, the base of popular Jewish support for Israel is still strong, even if many of the elites in the media and academia are wobbly on the question of a Palestinian state, and even Palestinian terror.
Most important, aside from Israel's posture and its presentation, is Bush's personal response while President, probably through 2008, long beyond the timetable of the roadmap. He will be influenced by forces pulling in different directions, including his own religious beliefs, his advisors, his father, his relations with Israeli leaders, and public opinion. He's gone back and forth several times between the State Department line and his own, better instincts. In the end he's unlikely to back anything that he really thinks a mortal threat to Israel, or even a serious threat.
Israel is in a stronger position than ever in American public opinion. We see Israel in a situation similar to ours in the war with Islamic terrorism. We are seeing how feckless are the Europeans, and how much more realistic and steadfast is Israel. We are seeing the Arab "allies" for what they are. We may come to see and appreciate an Israeli role in the war with Iraq. Some Americans are even beginning to recognize a parallel between the worldwide surges in anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
The roadmap will get nowhere without a cessation of terror. That doesn't seem very likely. But what if a miracle occurred and terror really does did cease? Is Israel adamant that there will be no Palestinian state, ever, no matter what? That would be a losing proposition with American public opinion in the long run. But it is not Sharon's stance. It is not clear that it is really Netanyahu's. He seems to favor what could be called "statehood lite", with restrictions on Palestinian armament. Whether that is a genuine possibility is a real question, but it is not necessarily an obstructionist position.
It's just possible that a real opportunity will arise from the likely coming war with Iraq and beyond. If so, Israel will have to decide whether to trying to take advantage of it, and how. The U.S. is not going to impose a terror state on Israel, unless Israel allows itself to be muscled by the delusionaries in the State Department and the howling of Europe. To avoid that, Israel will need to have a firm grasp of its security needs, a positive vision of the future of the Middle East, and a roadmap of its own.Michael Kellman is a physical chemist and chemistry professor. Head of the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Scholars, he writes on educational and social affairs. (The views here are his own and do not represent official views of the National Association of Scholars.)
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