Why did he do it? Why did George W. Bush go to Aqaba and agree to do his best to implement the Four Powers roadmap? Why is he following through assiduously, hosting Abu Mazen Friday and Sharon again next week? The roadmap is this year’s version of the Oslo plan to produce “peace in the Middle East” by creating a 23rd Arab state called Palestine. This idea has been the driving force, the unquestioned idee fixe of American policy in the region for over a decade now: “Give the Palestinian people a state of their own; Palestinian terrorism will cease; two states, Israel and Palestine, will live side by side in peace; other Arab states will be appeased; anti-Americanism will fade away, and terrorists will no longer attack us. The U.N. will applaud, the French will join in, and we’ll all bask in the approval of ‘the international community.’”
That’s the Oslo plan, and prior administrations pursued it aggressively, relentlessly, year after year. It’s politically correct, it produces dramatic photo-ops, happy State Department types, and a reflexively positive press, at home. But when it comes to advancing American interests abroad, the score, so far, is less than zero: No peace, sharp increases in terrorist attacks in the Holy Land, no end to terror-inciting anti-American propaganda in Arab media and mosques, no increase in regional stability or progress. And over and over, for our enemies, the spectacle of America impotent, a paper tiger unable to enforce its much-photographed promises, a big, dumb cartoon cat, forever chasing the Palestinian peace-mouse, never catching it.
This is a losing game. Why did a clear-eyed, results-oriented man like George W. Bush decide to play? Why did a president who is as committed to victory in the war on terror as Ronald Reagan was in the Cold War embrace a plan that brought us a decade of failures? The press-reflex answer is “because there’s no alternative,” but in fact, there’s a good one: the Elon Plan. It’s a compassionate variant on the pre-Oslo plan for two states: an Arab state called Jordan with three quarters of the original 1920s Mandate land; an Israeli state with one quarter; and the River Jordan between them — a clear, mutually defensible border. Why did Dubya ignore the Elon Plan, and march down the bloody Oslo Road, one more time. Does he really like the odds this time?
Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think Dubya knows the odds against ever reaching peace on the Oslo Road are a million to one. I don’t think he’s counting on the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians to stop celebrating and practicing terror any more than he counted on the U.N. to stop appeasing it. I think he is giving the Palestinians a last chance to choose — statehood or continued terror — for the same reason he gave the U.N. a last chance to choose between defeating Saddam Hussein’s terror state or continuing to appease it. He did it because a democratic leader cannot simply tell his countrymen that widely believed fantasies are just that. He has to show them.
THE U.N.’S CHANCE
When Dubya went to the U.N. on September 12, 2002 to ask “the international community” to back us in taking military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, most Americans already understood that this tyrant was a threat, not just to his neighbors, but to us. They didn’t know if he’d have nukes in a day or a decade, didn’t remember who, exactly, he’d attacked in the past. Kuwait or Qatar, Iran, or Afghanistan, the Kurds, or the Copts — all that was pretty much a blur to many Americans, but the bottom line was clear. Ordinary Americans saw that Saddam Hussein was a reckless aggressor who had already used poison gas, and was working hard to add to his arsenal of WMDs. They saw, too, that he celebrated and sponsored terrorists. They wanted President Bush to send in the troops to take him down, but they wanted him to get the U.N.’s blessing first.
Ordinary Americans wanted the U.N.’s blessing because back in September 2002, they still saw the building on the East River through a fantasy haze. The reality of the U.N.’s actions in Srebrenica, Rwanda, and other horror sites was largely invisible to them. They had felt no stake in those places, and paid too little attention to understand the ugly role the U.N. played. They didn’t see that the U.N. had become a profoundly corrupt marketplace — a bazaar where all-hat-and-no-cattle, old-Europe types strut about, making deals with third-world dictators to appease terrorists, humble “the hyperpower,” and reap lavish profits from the world’s misfortunes. They thought that the U.N. had something to do with justice, that Kofi Annan was a humanitarian, that the French and the Belgians were our friends, and that we needed the U.N.’s blessing to give our actions moral legitimacy.
Dubya had to blow away the fantasy haze and make America see the U.N. as it is, and he did. He went to the U.N. and issued a ringing challenge: Don’t let the threat to America and the world that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq poses continue to fester and grow. Back us in bringing it to an end. And then he waited and waited and waited some more, allowing a full six months to pass while U.N. types ran through their routines — strutting and preening, dodging and dealing, and gleefully dissing us. As he often says, “I’m a patient man.”
But the American people paid attention to the real U.N. this time — they had a felt stake in the outcome — and they hated what they saw. When their illusions were stripped away and their patience was exhausted, Dubya went to war. He still didn’t have the backing of the U.N., but he had what he needed: strong support for necessary military action from an American public that understood, at last, that there is no “international community,” only friendly nations and hostile ones, and that the U.N. is dominated by the latter.
GEORGE W. BUSH, LEADER
Was he lying then, when he went to the U.N., knowing it would take a miracle for it to back us? I don’t think so. Dubya is a man of faith; he believes in miracles, but he doesn’t count on them. He gave the U.N. a real choice, but he had a Plan B — the Coalition of the Willing — ready to roll. That’s not lying; it’s leadership, and I think maybe, just maybe, he plans to show the same kind of leadership in dealing with terror in the Holy Land.
When Dubya went to Aqaba in June, 2003 to give the Arabs who migrated west of the River Jordan in the last half century one more chance to choose statehood over terror, most Americans approved. They care about the tiny triangle between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea because it is the birthplace of monotheism, the earthly home of Jesus of Nazareth, and the source of the Judeo-Christian tradition that molded this nation in the past, and molds it still. Americans see television images of the slaughter of innocents there, year after year, the bloody aftermath of repeated suicide bombings of Israeli busses, markets and cafes, and they want their president to do something to make it stop, to end the terror, and bring peace to the Holy Land. On TV, they see one brightly hyped peace summit after another, and they see the terror continue as before, year after year. They know something always goes wrong, but they don’t know why, and the eye-glazing morass of details they get in the press gives them no clue. They don’t know there is an honest, one word answer: Terror. They don’t know that every peace plan of the last ten years has failed because the Palestinians wouldn’t stop launching terror attacks. They don’t know that given the choice between terror and statehood, the Palestinians chose terror every time. They don’t see it because they see the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians the way they saw the U.N. ten months ago: through a fantasy haze.
By the time President Bush went to Aqaba, most Americans had already shed their fantasies about Yasser Arafat. They understand that he is a corrupt and evil tyrant, much like Saddam Hussein, but many still think the great majority of Palestinians are ordinary people like us, people who just want to raise their families in peace. They think the Palestinian people hate and fear the terror warriors who rule them, the way most Iraqis hate Saddam Hussein and his Baathist thugs, and an even larger majority of Iranians hate their ruling mullahs and the revolutionary guards and foreign mercenaries — often, Palestinians — who keep them in power. Americans see the frequent Palestinian-street demonstrations on TV, see Palestinians in their thousands, hero-worshipping terrorists and celebrating one bloody act of terror after another — against us on 9/11 and against Israelis week after week — but they think most Palestinians really want peace, and only embrace war in public to avoid being tortured and killed, as so many Iraqis and Iranians were.
THE PALESTINIAN STREET
They’re right; there are such people, among Palestinians as among Iraqis and Iranians, but there’s an enormous difference between these three peoples. Among Iraqis, some-thing like 80 percent despise the Baathist thugs and an estimated 60 percent or more reject the Islamofascist gospel of hatred, war and terror in all its forms. Among Iranians, those percentages are more like 90 and 70 percent, respectively. Among Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, the percentages are reversed. In private, in confidential opinion poll after opinion poll, overwhelming numbers of Palestinians endorse terrorist attacks on civilians, express faith in its efficacy, and say they want it to continue. Asked to rate their leaders, some give highest marks to those like Arafat and his Fatah who talk peace, in English, but practice terrorism; others prefer the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who say “Death to America” and “Itbah al Yahud” (kill the Jew) in English and Arabic. But on the main point, all these organizations agree: Palestinians who deliberately murder and maim civilians are heroes. That’s what “the prisoner release issue” is all about: the Palestinian demand that Israel free terrorists so they can be welcomed back in triumph.
Terrorism is not an alien idea, forced upon the Palestinian people by tyrannical rulers; it’s the idea that made Arabs in Judea and Samaria shed their Jordanian citizenship in 1967 and call themselves “Palestinians.” They adopted this new name — the name Roman conquerors gave the people of Israel 2,000 years ago — in order to claim the lands of the Jews for themselves, despite the defeat of the attacking armies of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq in the Six-Day War. Calling themselves Palestinians was a way of saying: “The war is not over. Arab armies were defeated; the Arab people were not, and we, the Palestinian vanguard will lead them to victory, destroying Israel from within by bringing terror to the Jewish heartland. Terror will succeed where armies failed, slowly bleeding Israel dry, forcing her to retreat, and great America with her. They’ll march together down the road of appeasement, and in the end, our triumph will be total: Israel annihilated; America humiliated.” Palestinians are not stupid; they know Arafat is corrupt, but he remains popular, because defeating us is what matters most, and at that, he has been amazingly successful. It’s not hopelessness that makes Palestinians resort to terror, over and over again. It is hope, the hope of complete and final victory.
Terrorism is the core of the new Palestinian identity that West Bank Arabs created in 1967; it has been the sum and substance of their short history and their culture ever since, the defining mark of all the heroes they teach their children to admire and emulate. As long as they cling to that identity, they will continue to embrace terrorism. Trying to create a peaceful Palestinian state is not like trying to create a peaceful Iraqi or Iranian state, an endeavor at which we can and will succeed, albeit not easily; it’s like trying to create a peaceful al Qaeda state — a contradiction in terms. A Palestinian state would be a terror state, a victory for terrorists everywhere, and a stunning defeat for America in the terror war.
FADING OSLO FANTASY
I think President Bush sees that, but knows he has to make ordinary Americans see it too, before he can set a new course. He has to sweep away the fantasy haze and make the reality of the terrorists-are-us Palestinian identity visible to his countrymen. Then, when he abandons the Oslo Road and strikes out on the road not taken — the original two-states road that leads, not to peace-rhetoric and photo-ops, but to peace itself — most Americans will follow him. How, incredulous friends ask, can he do that by marching down the same old Oslo Road one more time? My answer is, this peace plan may be the same, but this president is different. His predecessors offered the Palestinians the same deal — statehood in exchange for an end to terrorism — but when Palestinians clung to terrorism, men like James Baker, Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak went all out to obscure that fact, throwing up a thick haze of excuses to keep the fantasy alive, insisting, again and again, that if only we offered a bigger carrot, squeezed the Israeli people for another suicidal concession here, two more there, the Palestinians would become pacific, and the Oslo fantasy would pay off.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think Dubya will do that. Ever since 9/11, he’s been telling us that we’re going to win the terror war, to defeat terror, not appease it, and repeating his other favorite saying: “I mean what I say.” If he does, he won’t accept continuing Palestinian terror; he’ll focus a steady, haze-cutting presidential spotlight on it, helping the American people see terror for what it is — the raison d’etre of a Palestinian state, west of the River.
First, though, he’ll go all out to show America and a new Coalition of the Willing that we’re giving the Palestinians the best chance they’ve ever had to create something better. He’s already gone the extra mile by refusing to deal with Arafat. He couldn’t give the Palestinians a leader uncompromised by terror — Abu Mazen’s hands are not clean — but he’s the closest thing to a man of peace that Palestinians have, and Dubya is giving him lots of time to try to consolidate his position and a ton of help to do it, backing him with his personal prestige, leaning on Egypt and Jordan to do the same, sending Condoleezza Rice as well as Colin Powell to meet with him, helping to fund and train a new Palestinian police force, and funneling more money directly to him, to make sure he has the wherewithal to compete with the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Saudis, Iranians and Syrians, in doling out welfare.
And when, despite all this, the terror continues, month after month, or stops for a minute and then flares up again with some grotesque excuse — because the Israelis refuse to release prisoners who are covered in the blood of innocents, or to make the entire West Bank Judenrein, or to cut their capital in half again, or to allow only Arabs, not Jews and Christians, to pray on the Temple Mount, I think George W. Bush will finally say: ‘It’s over. You had your chance to build a peaceful new state called Palestine, and you rejected it. Now, you must go back to being Jordanians.’ When? My guess is, in the autumn, but I’ve been wrong before, not about Dubya’s intent, but about his timing. I thought he’d attack Iraq in January. He waited until March. But this time, he may have to be quicker, because some 50 million Evangelical Christians — about a quarter of the electorate — already see the Palestinians as they are, and they’re impatient now.
If George W. Bush is the man I think he is, he will surprise and delight them, and a lot of other Americans too, by bringing real peace to the Holy Land before this year is out. The Elon plan offers him a way to do just that, without necessitating massive, forced population transfers of Arabs or Jews. It would make all Palestinians Jordanian citizens again, give those who don’t belong to terrorist organizations the option to stay in Israel as peaceful Jordanian guests, and encourage those who cannot abide living in a Jewish state to join their fellows in Jordan by giving them generous subsidies to make new lives for themselves as full citizens — not permanent “refugees” — on the east side of the River. It envisions a kind of Marshall Plan for Jordan, a chance to turn away from battling and blaming Israel and claiming her lands. A chance for Jordan to do what the people of neighboring Iraq are doing: struggling to build a freer, safer, more prosperous country.
— Barbara Lerner is a freelance writer in Chicago who spent a month in Israel earlier this year.