This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully shuttled between two worlds: democracy-building in Bahrain and deal-cutting between Israel and the Palestinians–all good things. So what’s wrong with this picture?
In Bahrain on Saturday, she launched the Fund for the Future, a $50-million effort to “make grants to democracy organizations, [and groups] in the region that want to promote equality for women, … development of political parties and free press.” This is an excellent and important idea, modeled on years of experience promoting democracy under difficult circumstances in the Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
Most of the rest of the week she was shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah to bang heads together on a post-disengagement Israeli-Palestinian agreement to open the first ever Palestinian-controlled border crossing (between Egypt and Gaza at Rafiah) and open movement between Gaza and the West Bank. The announcement of the deal had some of that old peace process drama, with diplomats staying up all night–Rice herself said she was lucky to have slept two hours–and emerging with a happy breakthrough.
With everything going so swimmingly, it would seem petty to complain. There is, however, something big here that is falling between the cracks. The democracy and Arab-Israeli agendas are playing out next to each other in time and space, yet almost nether doth the twain meet.
True, the elections in the Palestinian Authority, both past and future, are rightfully on Rice’s list of recent advances in the region, a list that includes elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, reform in Egypt, “Beirut Spring” in Lebanon, and ferment in Syria, among other welcome developments. True, President George Bush shocked the world with his June 2002 call to dump Yasser Arafat speech, putting Palestinian democratization squarely on the international agenda.
Yet here’s the rub: Even though the Arab-Israeli conflict is the flash point between dictatorships and democracy in the region, it is never portrayed, even by the U.S., as a front within the wider struggle between darkness and light, but as a conventional border dispute.
For all of America’s tremendous financial and diplomatic support for Israel as an ally and the region’s only democracy, the U.S. continues to relate to the Arab-Israeli conundrum as a head-banging enterprise where Israel must be induced to give up land and the Palestinians to offer peace. There are bad guys, like Hamas, to defeat, but their defeat is not seen as the only or even the main route to “resolving the conflict”–itself a phrase that would never be used with respect to the struggle against al Qaeda and militant Islam.
At this late date, a different, more fully post-9/11 paradigm is in order. After Israel signed Oslo, committed itself to a Palestinian state, and certainly after this summer’s dramatic unilateral Gaza withdrawal, there is no use in continuing to pretend this is a conflict over land. Greater Israel is dead; the obstacle to peace is Greater Palestine, the idea that Israel has no right to exist.
Accordingly, the standard U.S. formulation juxtaposing Israeli settlements and Palestinian terrorism in the same breath–as Rice again did this week–is not just harmless lip service. The whole enterprise of posing as an honest broker between a jihad and its intended victim is a harmful anachronism.
It is time for the U.S. to state what the “peace process” has become: a matter of waiting for the Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, to recognize that the Jewish people have a right to a small national home in the midst of a sea of Arab states. It is a matter of the Palestinians accepting the state that Israelis are dying to hand over to them, if they would only give up their dreams of displacing Israel entirely.
What does all this have to do with Bush’s democracy agenda? Plenty.
The U.S. reluctance to replace the “peace process” with a demand for Arab recognition of Jewish national rights is a massive concession to radicalism that undermines the entire American post-9/11 regional agenda. It is as if, in post-World War II Germany and Japan, the U.S. tried build new democracies without bad mouthing Nazism or kamikazes. The widely denounced call by Iran’s president’s to “wipe Israel off the map” is only a more open expression of the reigning Arab zeitgeist that is accepted as a fact of life by the West.
The Arab demand for Israel’s destruction has become so normal that it has lost the power to shock, despite its clearly fascist and genocidal quality. A measure of this normalcy is that we often don’t even realize our acceptance of it, and have no idea how we might speak and act differently. Yet it easily done, once a decision is made that is a mistake to broker with a jihad.
The U.S. should say that the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” to Israel is not a legitimate final status issue, but a barely disguised refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. America should say that the Arab states, if they truly believe in peace and Israel’s right to exist, should open diplomatic relations with Israel now, rather than wait for Palestinian statehood. What better signal could there be to Israel and the Palestinians that the conflict has truly become one over borders and not Israel’s existence?
The U.S. should also make clear that rampant officially sanctioned Arab anti-Semitism and anti-Israel boycotts will produce the same kind of diplomatic isolation as they would if they appeared in a place like Austria.
The U.S. should, in short, put the Arab jihad against Israel on the same plane as the fight against the global jihad on the West. They are, after all, one and the same. It is impossible to conceive of victory against the wider jihad while politely genuflecting toward its first and most virulent manifestation.
–Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle and the World After 9/11.