The anniversary passed with scarcely a mention. Six years ago, on June 24, 2002, President Bush turned American policy in the Middle East in a new direction. In a ground-breaking speech, he announced that the U.S. would support the creation of a Palestinian state. His only condition was that Palestinians first choose “leaders not compromised by terror.” He asked also that they “confront corruption,” and “build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty.”
Bush was optimistic that this would come to pass, and that by the time he left the White House, a Palestinian state and a Jewish state would be living side by side in peace. In the years that followed, the stars appeared to be aligning.
In 2004, Yasser Arafat died, removing from the scene the longtime Palestinian leader most identified with terrorism and corruption (and never seriously tempted by tolerance or liberty). In 2005, Israel ended its occupation of Gaza, pulling out every soldier, farmer, and grave, but leaving behind greenhouses for Palestinians to use to grow vegetables and flowers. (They were trashed instead.)
In 2006, elections were held in Gaza and the West Bank. Those elections were widely regarded as free and fair. (That required ignoring the fact that Palestinians did not enjoy freedom of speech, the press, or assembly.) Hamas, a terrorist organization, declared itself a political party and won. Even so, there was hope that, entrusted with authority, Hamas would demonstrate responsibility over time.
But it was more power that Hamas’ leaders coveted so, in 2007, they launched a wave of violence against rival Fatah security forces. Since then, Hamas has been unchallenged in Gaza and no one talks of new elections or civil rights.
Nor has Hamas attempted to build an economic base. Instead, it turned to Iran’s rulers for money and guidance — and then complained that Palestinians were living in squalor because they weren’t receiving sufficient funds from the U.S. and Europe.
Hamas rains missiles on Israeli towns, sends terrorists into Israel on killing and kidnapping missions, and assigns suicide-bombers to blow up the few border crossings with Israel. Then Hamas complains that Israel is not delivering as much food, medicine, gasoline, and electricity as Palestinians require. (United Nations employees in Gaza complain about that, too.)
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is in charge of increasingly less. Is he at least uncompromised by terror? Samir Quntar has been incarcerated in an Israeli prison for having used his rifle to crush the head of a four-year-old Israeli girl, after first killing her father. As I write this, Quntar is expected to be freed in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in neighboring Lebanon. Palestinian Media Watch reports that on the Palestinian television station run by Abbas, Qunar is being celebrated as a “hero” and a “brave warrior.”
Despite all this, on his most recent visit to the Middle East in May, President Bush expressed optimism that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement could be struck before his term ends in January 2009. The basis for his optimism is elusive. He might just as well hold out hope that before New Year’s Eve, Social Security will be reformed, the tax code will be simplified, a bipartisan agreement will be struck on immigration and Harriet Miers will take her seat on the Supreme Court.
Six years ago last month, President Bush established a new paradigm for American policy in the Middle East — but he did not take into account the reality of the radical ideologies ascendant in the Muslim world. He believed that Palestinians wanted a state to call their own — and that they wanted that more than they wanted the destruction of the Jewish state next door.
With that in mind, in 2002 Bush said: “If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire millions of men and women around the globe who are equally weary of poverty and oppression. . . . This moment is both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East: an opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace; a test to show who is serious about peace and who is not.”
He was right. It was a test. And now it’s time to be candid about the results. Israelis, Americans, and Europeans are serious about peace. The enemies of Israelis, Americans, and European are serious about defeating Israelis, Americans, and Europeans. It’s as simple — and as complex — as that.
– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.