George W. Bush says he has piled up lots of political capital and is now willing to spend it. Tony Blair is coming here to press Bush to spend that capital on the
Middle East conflict. And George H.W. Bush says Blair’s message has been received “loud and clear”: “Blair is correct, 100 percent correct. And I think he will find the president a willing and able partner, particularly if there is a change in leadership in the [Palestine Liberation Organization] that we can deal with more openly and with more confidence.”
Hopes have thus been revived that, with Arafat passing on, at long last, a Mideast peace may be possible.
I do not believe it. I do not believe President Bush has the capital or will to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And before he starts down this road other presidents have traveled before, he should study the obstacles before him and decide whether it is not an endeavor that will consume all his capital and avail him nothing.
The elements of a just peace are known. Clinton was close at Camp David. Barak came close at Taba. Those elements are these:
An independent viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem. No Palestinian leader, no Arab leader, could sign on to less than this and survive. But the new state must be demilitarized. No fighter aircraft, artillery, or tanks.
While the state would have sovereignty over Islam’s “Noble Sanctuary” or Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jewish holy places would remain under Israeli control.
There also will likely have to be an international military presence in Palestine and long-term aid for the state, which would have to co-operate with Israel against all terrorist activity.
Is such a solution attainable? The answer, it seems to me, is almost surely no. The obstacles are too great. What are they?
First and foremost, Ariel Sharon. With Arafat gone, Sharon no longer has the old excuse for refusing to talk to the Palestinians—that he cannot negotiate with a terrorist. But having crushed the intifada, why should Sharon negotiate now with anyone?
His Sharon Plan—surrender Gaza in return for U.S. support of his security fence, annexation of all major Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and a united Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital—has already been accepted by George W. Bush in a presidential letter.
Nor could Sharon give up West Bank settlements, even were he disposed to do so. His plan to exit Gaza has already split his coalition and provoked calls for his assassination. Hundreds of rabbis have urged Orthodox soldiers to defy orders to remove settlers from Gaza.
Sharon is prime minister because he campaigned against Barak’s policy of trading “land for peace.” And if he is going through hell to get Israelis to yield Gaza, does anyone think he could, or would, try to convince Israelis to abandon West Bank settlements he himself implanted and pledged to retain forever?It does not appear Sharon has any intention of doing so. As Dov Weissglas, his deputy, told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the idea of the now-famous Bush letter to Sharon was this:
Get America to sign on to Israel’s annexation of wide swatches of the West Bank, to rejection of Palestinians’ right of return, to a Greater Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital, and to a security wall incorporating Palestinian land. Then embalm the “peace process” indefinitely.
Sharon has already been given everything he wants by the president of the United States. Why negotiate with the Palestinians? For what? He has it all.
If the president backs off his letter and demands that Sharon accede to a viable Palestinian state, not divided by settlements or chopped into bantustans by Israeli security roads, what does Bush do when Sharon defies him and says no?
Will he denounce Sharon and risk a firestorm from the Jewish community, Democrats, AIPAC, neocons, the Republican Right, talk radio, and fundamentalist Christians for whom support of Israel is biblical command? Why would Bush get into a bloody losing brawl like that? As Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush I, told the Financial Times, “When I first heard Sharon was getting out of Gaza I was having dinner with Condi [Rice] and she said, ‘At least that’s good news,’ … and I said, ‘That’s terrible news. … Sharon will say ‘I want to get out of Gaza, finish the wall [Israel’s security fence] and say I’m done.” Exactly.
Sharon will not budge and Bush lacks the will to push him. As General Scowcroft says, “Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger …. I think the president is mesmerized.”
Let no one get his hopes up about a Mideast peace. As ever, it is a mirage.