- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

In his speech to the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday night, President Bush stated that, once Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad is ousted, Israel and the Palestinians will be able to implement the "road map" for Mideast peace that he put forward last June. Mr. Bush emphasized that his goal is the creation of an independent state of Palestine next to Israel, assuming that the Palestinians get out of the terrorism business.
As the president made clear, this will entail some major concessions on Israel's part. "The new government of Israel as the terror threat is removed and security improves will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final-status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," he said.
This formulation may sound good in theory. But there it faces serious real-world obstacles, not the least of which are history and modern-day geopolitical realities: in particular, the Arabs' refusal to accept any reasonable two-state compromise with Israel and their insistence on using the West Bank as a base to launch attacks on the Jewish state. Had the Arabs not attacked Israel in 1948 after the United Nations voted to create Jewish and Arab states west of the Jordan River, a Palestinian state would this year be celebrating its 55th anniversary alongside Israel. Had Jordan not attacked Israel in 1967, there would have been no Israeli occupation, and no Israeli settlements would have ever existed in the West Bank.
In July 2000 at Camp David, the Clinton administration presented a far-reaching plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat. Mr. Barak accepted the plan, which would have required Israel to cede 97 percent of the West Bank to Mr. Arafat and the PA and uproot the overwhelming majority of the settlements Jewish communities built on territory captured in a defensive war. Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as President Clinton's senior Middle East negotiator, points out that, contrary to assertions subsequently made by the Palestinians, the plan would have created a contiguous Palestinian state in nearly all of the West Bank.
But Mr. Arafat rejected the deal, and two months later he began a campaign of suicide bombings, sniper attacks and random shooting sprees and other terrorist violence directed at Israelis that continues to this day. Relative to population, the number of Israelis killed in these attacks since the terror campaign began Sept. 29, 2000, is the equivalent of more than 10 September 11s.
The violence has effectively destroyed the Oslo "peace process" and turned Israeli politics upside down, resulting in the demise of the Labor Party and political ascendancy of the relatively hawkish Likud leader Ariel Sharon, who has won two landslide victories at the polls since February 2001 something that would have been unimaginable before Sept. 29, 2000. Without a dramatically changed political dynamic (which the war in Iraq may provide), there is no serious possibility in the foreseeable future that any electable Israeli government would make any territorial concessions resembling those made by Mr. Barak at Camp David (but rejected by the Palestinians). With Israeli security forces foiling suicide bombings and other attacks on a daily basis, (and Palestinians in Gaza calling on Saddam Hussein to attack Israel), Mr. Sharon is backing away from his previous willingness to accept even a "demilitarized" Palestinian state. And there is absolutely no evidence that the Palestinian masses are prepared to compromise with Israel. Recent polls indicate strong support for continued suicide bombings.
As for Mr. Bush, he will need to define what he means by ending "settlement activity." Is the president suggesting, for example, that every Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza must be uprooted and ceded to the Palestinians? Or is he referring only to small collections of trailers that illegally pop up and are uprooted by the Israeli Army? Is the president suggesting that an Israeli who has grown tired of Jerusalem's sky-high living costs and traffic jams be barred from moving to Maaleh Adumim, a thriving "settlement" located a short drive away from the Old City, making it a bedroom community suburb of Jerusalem? Would building a new apartment in a place like Maaleh Adumim, or an addition to an existing one, constitute prohibited "settlement activity?" These are just some of the difficult questions that U.S. policy-makers need to think through with regard to the future of settlements and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For now, the best thing that can happen for Palestinian national aspirations would be for brutal tyrants like Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat to leave the scene and be replaced by a new generation of leadership. Mr. Bush's plans for regime change in Baghdad would be an excellent beginning for that process.
In the aftermath of a decisive war, dramatic opportunities for restructuring often present themselves. But such moments can easily pass within months. If an allied victory in Iraq persuades Arab governments to pressure Mr. Arafat to stop terrorism a big if, we admit we should expect the Israeli body politic to make a dramatic move toward contraction of the settlements, and creation of a viable Palestinian state. It is incumbent on all of the interested governments in the region to make a maximum effort for peace.

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