From Apathy to Paralysis

There is enough blame to go around for the events that have turned the Camp David promise of peace into the killing fields of the Mideast without dragging in President Bush. To ignore the arrogant failure of this administration, however, is to deny the obvious: From its first day in power, his Administration showed no interest in securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, quickly squandering years of difficult progress made under Clinton.

Now, with outright war already a reality, Bush is tacitly endorsing Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's eye-for-an-eye descent into madness because it is a response to Palestinian terrorist attacks.

"Suicide bombers in the name of religion is simple terror," Bush said Monday. "There will never be peace so long as there is terror, and all of us must fight terror. I'd like to see Chairman Arafat denounce the terrorist activities that are taking place, the constant attacks." As for Israel, he asked only that Sharon "keep a pathway to peace open."

Despite the kudos the media has heaped on our wartime president, it was only after September 11 that Bush grasped that terrorism is an international reality that deeply affects the United States' security. Even then, he has sought to pound the problem away in the mountains of Afghanistan and through saber-rattling against an alleged "Axis of Evil," while ignoring its source in the intractable politics and passions of the Arab-Israel wars.

For the United States to have pretended, even for a year, that these wars are a regional problem was ludicrous. We have dominated Mideast politics for decades, intervening overtly and covertly, subsidizing whole economies, pour in armaments like gasoline onto a fire. In the end it was the responsibility of an incoming U.S. president to continue the commitment of his predecessor to the peace process, rather than strike a pose of total indifference.

Of course, if Arafat had possessed the courage and prescience to grasp the considerable concessions of Sharon's predecessor, peace, and not this nightmare, might well be at hand. And if the Israeli electorate had rejected the candidacy of the man responsible for Israel's failed invasion of Lebanon and brutal massacre of Palestinian refugees, prospects for compromise would at least still exist. In the end, it is the people who endure the immediate suffering on both sides who will have to find an alternative to a death agony of biblical proportions.

However, the history of their conflict is so twisted and the passions so deranged that peace cannot come without outside intervention, primarily from the United States. That was the principal accepted at the beginning of the peace process in Oslo, the principal underscored by the Camp David Accords, and the principal revived in the recent Saudi peace proposal just endorsed by representatives of the entire Arab world. Indeed, by pushing the Arabs to agree on something, Sharon has accomplished what no Arab leader since Gamel Abdel Nasser has been able to pull off.

Bush said he embraced the Saudi proposal -- but then just as quickly gave Sharon the green light to jettison it, because Palestinians are practicing terrorism against Israeli civilians. While it plays well on television, however, abhorrence of terrorism does not and can not define the range of culpability and possibility in the region. No side in the Mideast and few in the world have clean hands when it comes to targeting civilians -- or have we forgotten Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the carpet-bombing of Indochina which blacken our own record?

Terror is a tactic used by those who do not possess planes and tanks and trained infantry. Yet Bush, in his statements, is fixated on the notion that the use of terror is the only issue in the Mideast. It is not. The crux, as any 8th-grader should know, is that two peoples claim the same land. And if they can not find a sturdy compromise, the outward ripples from their rage and hate darkly threaten the rest of us, as was so painfully discovered last September.

There is no military solution in the offing, nor has there ever been. I clearly remember Israel's optimism 35 years ago after its resounding victory in a six-day war, as expressed in an interview with Moshe Dayan. A warrior-hero, Dayan talked earnestly of bringing indoor plumbing and clean water supplies to the horrid Palestinian refugee camps neglected by the Egyptians in Gaza, as if that would be enough to usher in a new era of peace. It wasn't; Israel has tried at times to be model occupier, but no people in modern times will ever for long submit to the indignity of occupation.

Palestine statehood, as called for in the Saudi plan and tentatively endorsed by the Bush Administration, is the only way forward. The Jewish settlements must be ended, and the United States, the Europeans and the Arab nations must commit to Israel's secure borders, as they existed before the Six-Day War. The forging of such a peace is the only anti-terrorism campaign that has a serious chance of success.

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