The occasion of Yassir Arafat's release from Israeli captivity in Ramallah was celebrated by a very odd cast of characters. Most of the world's media joined in, along with the U.S. State Department and the governments of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and the other usual suspects. Conspicuous by their absence from the celebration were most Palestinians. Arafat's usual supporters apparently thought that he betrayed his six murderous followers who were surrendered to an American and British team of wardens. The six, suspected of the assassination of Israel's tourism minister some months ago, were wanted by the Israelis, and Arafat traded them for his personal freedom. The fact that they may be murderers didn't seem to matter to the Palestinians.
The media just couldn't get enough of him. The interviewers threw one softball after another, giving Arafat the chance to call the Israelis "Nazis" and "racists." Only one interviewer even bothered to ask whether he would now renounce suicide terror bombings and got screamed at for his trouble. Arafat shouted something like, "You'd better watch what you ask." Arafat apparently doesn't think that's a legitimate question. But on that question rests any credibility for the "peace process" Messrs. Bush and Powell seem wedded to.
The aftermath of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank will be measured in Ariel Sharon's Tuesday meeting with President Bush. Mr. Sharon is bringing with him a detailed plan for peace, and what the Israelis believe is documentary proof of Arafat's personal involvement in terrorist training and action, including bombing murders of Israeli women and children. Sharon is coming to meet with the President at the same time that Secretary of State Colin Powell is publicly demanding that Sharon negotiate with Arafat, which Sharon has refused to do. Upon his release from Ramallah, Arafat also said that he will not negotiate with Sharon.
The Bush-Sharon meeting also follows the Arab League's announcement that its member nations will boycott the summer peace summit Mr. Powell is straining to set up unless the Israelis withdraw entirely from all West Bank areas occupied since 2000. That means not only a military withdrawal, but the newer settlements as well. In this atmosphere, can any progress toward peace be made?
Not bloody likely. As this column has said many times, peace is about winners and losers, not about "process." Processed peace is like processed cheese. It's a poor substitute for the real thing. When the belligerents decide that war is no longer a road to achieving their goals, they make peace. Before that, there can be maneuvering, but not peace.
The summer summit is supposed to bring together the major Arab nations, their Palestinian surrogates, and the Israelis to at least begin serious peace talks. The fact that the summit is not to be attended by heads of state -- the conference is supposed to be at the "foreign minister" level -- means that no one attending will have the authority to do more than present his nation's demands and reject others'. But it is perfectly obvious that the Palestinians have not decided against war. From the moment of Mr. Powell's arrival in Arafat's compound in Ramallah to the events of this past weekend, America has been rewarding Arafat's reign of terror. The Palestinians now have no reason to decide against war which for them means continuing the terror. It is working for them. Why should they quit?
The situation on our side of the equation is even bleaker. Last Sunday, Mr. Bush's foreign policy team announced that America favors establishment of a Palestinian state with Yassir Arafat as its leader. Messrs. Bush and Powell seem to have decided that their continued failure in obtaining Arab support for the Iraq campaign means that they have not pushed the Israelis around enough. This is their substitute for demanding that the Arab nations take some responsibility for the murderous actions of their Palestinian hirelings. This approach has escalated to the point at which Mr. Bush risks a serious breach of our relationship with Israel.
If Mr. Bush believes he can name the head of a Palestinian state, does he also think he can tell the Israelis who should be their head of state? If Arafat won't negotiate with Sharon, and we grant Arafat the status as head of the non-existent Palestinian state, how can Arafat be expected to negotiate with Sharon? This delusional diplomacy is wrong, all wrong.
Mr. Arafat is, was, and always will be a terrorist. He refuses to renounce terror bombings of civilians, and won't even say that Israel has a right to exist. (Yes, I know he made a weasel-worded statement that sounded something like that at Camp David. But he rejected the Camp David deal, and never clearly said anything about Israel's right to existence as a nation.) We are trying to force our ally, a democracy that was established by international law and U.N. mandate, to accept a terrorist as a partner in peace without even demanding the terrorist abandon his most execrable strategy. This is simply irrational and contrary to our moral position as the leader in the war against terrorism.
It's not too late to abandon the delusional diplomacy. All we have to do is say that no party can be admitted to the summer summit unless it is represented by its head of state. Moreover, the price of admission for each of them is to renounce terror in both English and his native language. Mr. Bush can renounce Arafat and bar him from the conference on the basis of the evidence Mr. Sharon carries of Arafat's personal involvement in terror. And then the Arab nations, not Arafat, can negotiate with Israel as an equal among nations. Unless we make these decisions and demands, we may as well save everyone the trip.
Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now appears as a talking warhead on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel.
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