Anyone can make a fundamental mistake, but how many times do we have to make the same one? Our “roadmap” to peace in the Middle East — like the Camp David accords and so many other formulations before and since — was based on the same mistake. It presumed that peace could be reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians by agreement between them alone, without the other nations that are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Until our thinking on that point is corrected, we may as well save our breath, and our paper.
Colin Powell’s sincere but arrogant insistence that if the parties didn’t follow the roadmap the only other choice was bloodshed forevermore ignored the aim of the bloodshed, and the willingness of the Palestinian terrorists’ Arab backers to fight to the last drop of Palestinian blood. They see a fatigued Israel that can eventually be defeated and destroyed. It is time to toss what little remains of the “roadmap” into the trash, and deal with the two issues that have to be resolved before any real peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be even imagined.
The roadmap we imposed, which the Palestinians and the Israelis sort of bought, was based on the same old mistakes. It presumed that Abbas would — or even could — make some effort to disarm and control Hamas, the al-Aqsa “Martyrs” Brigade, Islamic Jihad and their ilk. It was another remake of the Wizard of Oz, with Mr. Powell in the role of the Scarecrow, being told to ignore the man behind the curtain, Yassir Arafat. We did, and Arafat and the other terrorist godfathers did what they always do. The terror network and supporters outside Palestine used the “hudna” cease-fire to re-form and rearm. Last week’s Jerusalem bus bombing is a sign of what is to come.
I am sure that incidents as bad or worse have happened many times before, but my worst nightmare never prepared me for this. The vivid images from this incident were vastly more shocking than anything I’d seen before. A man giving CPR to an infant. The scene inside an Israeli ambulance that showed a toddler — its gut torn open from crotch to breastbone — being attended to frantically by the medics. It is one thing to see a smoking carcass of a burned-out car. It is another to see dying children. Those images should be enough to shock anyone into reality.
Any realistic assessment of the Palestinian matter has to start from the fact that Palestinian terrorism is not sui generis. The Palestinians have nothing. With essentially no economy they live off the kindness of strangers. But the “kindness” comes with sanguinary strings attached. From Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq (while Saddam was in power, and perhaps still from his coffers) quite a lot of money comes in to the West Bank and Gaza to fund terrorism. If those same funds were put to constructive use, the Palestinian territories would look like Beverly Hills rather than the blood-spattered slums we see on the news everyday.
As I have said more than once, the Arab nations don’t give a damn about the Palestinians. They are using them as proxies, as cannon fodder in their never-ending war against Israel. There is no possibility of peace in the area, far less the Middle East as a whole, until we face the facts of Yassir Arafat and his bankers. Last month, I reported that at least one Western leader — Tony Blair — had the courage to say something like that openly. Blair, in his speech to Congress, said that Israel must be accepted and legitimated by the whole Arab world, and that nations such as Iran and Syria must be made to understand that the world won’t tolerate their support for terrorism. It is time that Mr. Bush said the same.
There is no textbook plan to bring about peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, any more than there is any easy solution to Islamic terrorism. But before the Israel-Palestinian conflict can begin to walk toward peace, we have to deal with some obvious obstacles. First is Yassir Arafat.
Arafat is still in firm control of the Palestinian Authority. Just last weekend, he was working to sideline the U.S.-backed “security chief,” Mohammed Dahlan, and replace him with one Nasser Yousef, one of his reliable thugs. Mahmoud Abbas — the so-called Palestinian “prime minister” — has about as much authority as the grand marshal of the Rose Bowl parade. He cannot — and obviously will not — deal with terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza while the real boss, Arafat, is funding and commanding them in the same loose network they have operated since the latest “Intifada” began. Arafat is a terrorist, and simply must be forced to leave. The Israelis have often thought of removing him, and have been constrained by us and by the fear of being blamed for his death in any attempt to capture him. Because his bodyguards are probably more loyal to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran then they are to him, his death in any such operation will be blamed on Israel regardless of whether it is actually responsible. And the terrorism will — briefly — flare up dramatically, as will the outrage in the U.N. and the Arab capitals. But that will all subside, because Arafat is, like the other Palestinians, ultimately expendable. One way or the other, Arafat has to go. No Palestinian leader will be able to make peace while he is on the scene.
The second obvious obstacle is the other nations that fund and support Palestinian terrorism against Israel. In order to win our own war against terrorism, we must soon confront these nations. It is they who are funding, arming and manning the terror brigades that are attacking our forces in Iraq. It is they who are leading the effort to spread terrorism throughout the Islamic world. These are facts, and the longer we ignore them, the longer our own war against terrorism — and their war against us — will go on.
If Israel decided to take military action against Syria for its sponsorship of the Hezbollah terrorists and take the fight all the way to Damascus, it would be doing our job. We should not shun Israel’s help, and we should shield it as best we can from retaliation both military and diplomatic.
If there were some way to bring these nations — Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and others — to the negotiating table and make some treaty to abolish terrorism, it would be our best hope, and our first priority. But terrorism cannot be talked out of existence. If we have learned anything since before 9-11, it is that terrorism cannot be contained, it must be defeated. We play the terrorists’ game by putting one “roadmap” to peace in place of another. Until we deal with the two underlying problems no amount of American patience and influence — and no amount of American and Israeli blood — will satisfy them. Mr. Blair said we need a “new dispensation” for the Middle East. In plain old American, that means redrawing the Middle East map. Unless this is done, the bloodshed in Iraq and in Israel will not stop. And neither will the terrorists’ war on us.