For 35 years, the Arab world has whined that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is at the root of the Mideast conflict. Force Israel back to the 1949 Armistice lines, they insinuated from behind their kaffiyehs, and the Israeli/Arab conflict might end. Israeli leftists and Jewish liberals cheered from the sidelines, all too willing to convict themselves in a frenzy of self-flagellating guilt; and the world at large, unable still to square an ascendant Jewish State with their own waning fortunes, gleefully picked up the cudgel of Palestinian victimhood to beat the renascent Jewish State.
So in this week's Mideast policy address, President Bush dared the Arabs to prove it. In exchange for the promise of an imminent sovereign Palestinian State, he called upon the Arabs to embrace Truth: to eschew terrorism absolutely, to reject their current corrupt leadership, the embezzlers of billions and architects of this campaign of terror, to establish a genuine democracy with meaningful separation of powers, and to establish a culture which cultivates peaceful co-existence with their Jewish neighbor.
There are those who have been stridently critical of the President's address, claiming that any promise of Palestinian statehood rewards the current campaign of terror. Let us remember, though, that Mr. Bush has come a long way in two years. He inherited a foreign policy that bullied Israel into Oslo II, Hevron and Wye, disregarding Arafat's consistent violations of earlier agreements. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, George Bush was conspicuously reticent about the Middle East, and upon assuming office, adopted a policy of no policy at all. When, after the Dolphinarium massacre, he was forced to become engaged in the Middle East, he consulted with the likes of James Baker and Dad, people not known for their effusive pro-Israel sympathies.
But to his enduring credit, Bush recognized certain hard truths about the Middle East conflict. President Bush saw that it was Yassir Arafat and not Ariel Sharon's Temple Mount stroll that let slip the dogs of war. He acknowledged Israel's superhuman restraint in the early days of the current pogroms. He stood up to recognize Israel's sovereign right to defend herself in a community of nations that was pounding its collective fist for more Jewish blood to feed the altar of Arab nationalism. He accepted Israel's documentation that Arafat and his thugs were the organizers of the violence. He internalized the reality that Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah were working hand in glove with the Palestinian Authority, understood the Al-Qaeda and Iran connections to the PA, and froze their funds in the US. He understood the implications of the Karin-A, and the PA pay stubs to known terrorists. He recognized the irredentist Arab claim to the 'right of return' for what it is - a death sentence for Israel. And, as a man of faith and conscience, he was distressed by the appalling living conditions of the Arabs under PA occupation, and has watched their lives deteriorate even further over the last few years. These truths are embodied in his policy address this week, and that is both unprecedented and portentous.
No Arab state has openly differed with Bush's new policy, but the Arab response has been tentative at best. A century ago, when German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow disagreed with Kaiser Wilhelm II on foreign policy (which was most of the time), he never disagreed with him openly. A grand master of the diplomatic arts, he would enthusiastically embrace petulant Wilhelm's latest 'inspiration,' and then begin to systematically undermine it with an endless litany of "yes, your Highness, except..." Invariably, Wilhelm's callow interests drifted elsewhere, his passion would abate, and von Bulow was thus able to manage the ship of state into deeper waters.
We are already beginning to see 'von Bulow diplomacy' from the Arab world and their allies. Yassir Arafat has already declared that the Palestinian people are proud of their democracy just the way it is. Collin Powell already envisions a figurehead role for Yassir Arafat, the Johnny Appleseed of modern terror, and if the Palestinian Arabs elect him President again, Powell says the US will have to deal with that too. So much for new leadership. Powell also acknowledged that the violence will probably never completely stop, implicitly granting the terrorists carte blanche to continue.
Let us also ponder for a moment the realistic prospects of a genuine democracy in the Arab world. Rather an ambitious task for a culture in which byzantine intrigue, equivocation and self-denial are integral components of interpersonal, and by extension, international relations. A vibrant Arab democracy with an educated electorate is a far more serious threat to the billionaire bedouin petro-pashas than any Islamist insurgency. Does anyone seriously believe that in three years the Palestinians are going to be magically transformed into...Canadians?
It's truth or dare for President Bush as well. If President Bush resolutely sticks to the truth and holds Arab feet to the fire, then the terrorist war is likely begin in earnest, both in Israel and in the United States. And if he capitulates to Foggy Bottom and dumbs down the requirements for Palestinian statehood, then Israel's strategic situation will grow unsustainably worse, and regional war will be the certain result.
In his policy address, he got it mostly right; there are only two more things he must grasp. First, the fast of the 17th is upon us, and it teaches us that not all problems are given to diplomatic resolution. There is an Unseen Hand controlling the pieces on the chessboard, and it is masochistic to suggest that we are the unbridled masters of our destiny. Second, the two states he envisions must be divided by a particular muddy brook and a certain salty lake.
I am counting on George Bush. He has come a long way in two years, and I believe he has the courage to stand by his convictions. Educating George takes time. At this point, perhaps he believes that the issue is land; inevitably, though, he will come to learn the Arabs are far less interested in creating a state than in destroying one.
Given time, he will come to realize that the crux of the Middle East conflict is not the destiny of a few barren hills. The outcome of this conflict will send shock waves around the world. For my dear, honest George, what is at stake here is nothing less than who will grasp the pen that writes the final chapters of the history of Western civilization.
Source: Freeman Centre