The problem with keeping the peace is that where peace doesn't yet exist, it's impossible to keep. But you'll never convince U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of that. The world's busiest busybody wants the U.N to command a "peacekeeping" force that would place itself between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The problems with this are the ambition that gives rise to the idea, and the fact that the situation simply doesn't permit it. But the diplomatic assault Israel now faces may result in that, or worse.
The ambition results from Mr. Annan's ego, which was given free rein in the Clinton years. Our former president was uninterested in foreign policy, and viewed our armed services as the world's most heavily-armed social workers. Never in our history has a president sent our military into action in so many places and accomplished so little. What was worse, Mr. Clinton had so little regard for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that he gave Mr. Annan virtual command of our forces. Annan's successes were too few to number.
Ever since, Mr. Annan's vision of himself as a peacekeeping Napoleon has led him to speak enthusiastically about the need for an independent force under U.N. command that could be deployed anywhere. Fortunately, this is about as likely to happen as the formation of the proposed Euroarmy, independent of NATO. The Euroarmy -- as the European governments learned from a pithy letter last year written by some of their most senior military officers -- cannot be supported because the members of the EU have utterly failed to maintain their own forces in sufficient strength to support such a force. But pipe dreams don't fade as easily at the U.N.
Mr. Annan's idea of a "peacekeeping force" for the West Bank and Gaza is one of those ideas that is so bad, it will certainly get support. Such peace stalwarts as Syria, which now has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, would like the idea. Syria is the home of the Hezbollah terrorists, who killed over 240 U.S. Marines in the Beirut bombing almost 20 years ago. Its president, Bashir Assad, is sufficiently reckless that even Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak spoke out last week, calling Assad Syria's "boy king," and stating that he would not allow Egypt to be drawn into a war Assad starts.
Nations such as Syria would want a peacekeeping force to be a shield behind which Yassir Arafat could rebuild his terror network. The mission of such a force would be not to keep the peace, but to prevent the Israelis from mounting another operation like the one that has gone on for the past three weeks.
Unless the U.N. wants to invade Israel, the U.N. peacekeepers can't even go into the West Bank. One minor flaw in the Annan plan is that Ariel Sharon isn't inviting U.N. intervention, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip are still parts of Israel. The U.N. can't send troops into a nation's territory without invitation. Even if Arafat invites them, they still can't go in, because he is not a head of state. The only way U.N. troops could enter is if the U.N. granted the Palestinian Authority national status, creating an independent Palestinian state without Israeli agreement. In the diplomatic open season on Israel created by Colin N.C. Powell, even that may soon be possible.
The diplomatic pressure on Israel is rising fast, and Mr. Sharon ignores it at his peril. The European Union, which buys 27% of Israel's exports, passed a resolution for economic sanctions killing Israel's trade pact. Last Saturday, one of our assorted Middle East envoys, William Burns, condemned Israel for causing a "terrible human tragedy" and the "enormous suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians" in the Jenin refugee camp. From Burns's condemnation alone, it's clear that the U.N. investigation of the Israeli incursion will be neither fair nor thorough. It will result in U.N. resolutions condemning the Israelis and proposing imposition of some sort of economic sanctions. Israel badly needs American support against these initiatives. And that's how it probably will get it -- badly.
U.N. sanctions will be proposed after a quick investigation of the West Bank incursion condemns Israel in harsh terms. Mr. Sharon can't turn the clock back to before the incursion, and neither can Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush has made some terrible judgments in the past month, and Mr. Sharon must not provoke more of them. Sharon must try to repair his relationship with Mr. Bush and get Mr. Bush's assurance that the U.S. will oppose U.N. resolutions on sanctions, and even veto them if necessary. Mr. Bush should agree, and again state that he understands the murderous provocation that Israel was responding to when it made the West Bank incursion. That would put him back on the path he started walking down last September.
Israel cannot hope to win any U.N. battle without us. Without our strong support, U.N. economic sanctions on Israel will be followed by tougher measures trying to inject a military force of "peacekeepers" to block another Israeli incursion into the West Bank. Israel is now considering creation of a buffer zone between it and the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, a sort of demilitarized zone, or even annexing the whole West Bank. Mr. Sharon should not go forward with either action without U.S. agreement. If Israel does either of these things before Mr. Bush agrees, the U.N. Security Council will be quick to condemn, and Mr. Bush won't stop it. It's time for Mr. Bush to regain the resolve he had when he said nations were either with us or against us in the war on terror. Israel is with us, and its enemies are not. Now that the West Bank incursion is about over, it's time for Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon to remember that.