Now's the Time...

by Andrew Hanauer | 4/17/03 5:00am

OK, Mr. Bush, here's your chance. You have been in office for more than two years now, and have done absolutely nothing to promote peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If you knew anything about the history of the conflict, you'd know that third parties are essential to the prospects for peace. Why? Because when left to their own devices, extremists on both sides are able easily to derail peace, using internal pressures to pull Israeli and Palestinian leaders away from the negotiating table.

Israeli leaders have been very wary of making concessions to the Palestinians for fear of being labeled as soft, especially while Israeli civilians are under attack from Palestinians. Yitzhak Rabin tried to make peace and was assassinated by an Israeli extremist. Likewise, Yasser Arafat is hard-pressed to make grand concessions to Israel while Gazan children are being shot in the back by Israeli soldiers. If his people view him as being overly conciliatory, Hamas and Islamic Jihad stand to gain. Nobody wants that, of course.

Or do they? The fact is, the Israeli Right and the Palestinian terror groups share a perverted common goal: conflict. According to Charles Smith at the University of Arizona, Israel helped support the rise of militant Islam, particularly in the Gaza Strip, in the late 1970's in the hopes of undercutting support for the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization, then headed by Arafat. For these Israeli officials, the goal was the elimination of any legitimate Palestinian political organizations; if the PLO were replaced by militant groups, Israel would have the excuse it needed to impose its will on the West Bank and Gaza.

Of course, Hamas has everything to gain from the existence of a Likud government hostile to peace; the actions of a warmonger like Sharon give Hamas the supposed justification it needs to carry out attacks on innocent Israelis. It is no coincidence that the first intifada rose out of demonstrations at the funerals of Palestinians killed by an Israeli tank-transport truck (it was an accident, but the symbolism was undeniable). Funerals, especially funerals for the innocent, inspire hatred, which in turn inspire more violence, which in turn inspire more funerals.

Which brings us back to you, Mr. Bush. Now is your chance to help break this cycle of violence. Now is your chance to bring some semblance of peace to the Middle East, something none of your duly elected predecessors could do. Here's why the time is right:

You promised. For the past few months, every time you have been asked about a Palestinian State, you said that once Iraq was dealt with, Palestine would be your next project. I know it's crazy for me to take you at your word, but

You owe Tony Blair big time. Blair stuck his neck out for you by supporting you on Iraq, and now you owe him. Blair is staking a lot on the so-called "roadmap," a proposed sequential approach to peace in the Middle East, and he needs your support. Furthermore, as pointed out by Arab journalist Hisham Melham to the Boston Globe, "Blair will be seen by the Arabs as the only man outside the administration that Bush is willing to listen to." In other words, the Palestinians need Blair to convince you to do the right thing, and they may get what they want because of your debt to the Prime Minister.

Yasser Arafat is getting old. Arafat is 73 years old, and wants to make peace before he dies. In the past, he has even been willing to make broad concessions in peace talks in the hopes of being recognized by the international community. Arafat is so desperate to please the outside world that he appointed an opponent of the second intifada to be his prime minister, risking a rise in Palestinian support for militant Islamic groups in the process. Far from an obstacle to peace, an elderly Arafat may be what the peace process needs. Unless you'd rather deal with Islamic Jihad.

Of course, if you fail, the results could be disastrous. In seven years, if current birth rates continue, in 2010, Palestinians will out-number Jews in Israel and the Occupied Territories. As Thomas Friedman points out, this will present a problem: either Israel will expel Palestinians forcibly, rule by apartheid, or give them the right to vote. Either way, says Friedman, this would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish Democracy.

Two things are certain, Mr. Bush. First, you will fail, just like Clinton before you, only more spectacularly. Second, if you win a second term, you will be president until January 2009, giving your successor only 12 months to work for peace before the demographics kick in. Chalk this up as yet another reason why November 2004 will be a moment of truth for the planet earth.