- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 29, 2004

Stripped of geopolitical verbiage, the conventional wisdom among neoconservative strategists was victory in Iraq would lead to peace between Arabs and Israelis.

The neocons may have been right. We’ll never know. Victory was denied. By all accounts, America’s standing in the Arab world hit new lows as Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia satellite TV channels round the clock for three weeks, U.S. troops besieging Shi’ite Islam’s holiest site in Najaf. The effect was similar to a new Abu Ghraib prison scandal every news cycle.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, ignoring doctors’ recommendations to rest a few more days after heart surgery in London, flew back to Iraq and persuaded rebel cleric Sheik Moqtada al-Sadr to pull his jihad guerrillas from the shrine.

Now they’re presumably free to fight another day, probably in Sadr City, Baghdad’s giant slum named for Sheik al-Sadr’s father, who was executed by Saddam Hussein. Chalk one up for the Iranian theocracy.

Amid all the confusion, Israel seemed to be the only player in the Middle East that knew what it was doing.

Free from U.S. criticism by either political party during an election year, the Sharon government was esuring whatever Palestinian state finally emerged would not have its capital in East Jerusalem or its Lebensraum in the West Bank. Left vague and unspoken, the territory needed for existence and growth of a Palestinian state lay farther east — in Jordan, a country whose population is already 60 percent Palestinian.

In what the Bush administration termed “natural growth,” the expansion of Israeli settlements outside Jerusalem — another 1,530 new homes now authorized in Palestinian territory — cuts off Arab East Jerusalem from any contiguous Palestinian territory. This roadblock was not marked on the original U.S. road map for a two-state solution by next year, which has now joined many predecessors in the National Archives.

Even the evacuation of Gaza, a no-brainer where 7,500 Israeli settlers need 50,000 Israeli Defense Force troops to protect them against 1.3 million Palestinians, is meeting stiff resistance from some of Mr. Sharon’s fundamentalist allies.

Former heads of Mossad, Israel’s CIA, and Shin Bet, its FBI, have warned publically of “impending catastrophe.” Talks to bring about a grand coalition with Labor to move peace forward went nowhere. Besieged by Israeli troops in Ramallah for the last two years, tunnel visionary Yasser Arafat’s stubborn refusal to concede his leadership to a younger generation reinforces Israeli intransigence.

Moderate Arab leaders in the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, have concluded a Kerry administration would be just as pro-Israeli as President Bush, who held a record nine summit meetings with Mr. Sharon in three years and hailed him as “a man of peace.” For a second Bush administration, the Iraqi quagmire, Middle Eastern diplomatic fatigue and a credibility deficit will be so many roadblocks to a Palestinian settlement.

The Israeli right and the Palestinian left have psychogenically convinced themselves two states are one too many.

Younger Palestinians can see a purely Jewish state historically moribund, while Mr. Sharon’s supporters can see a genuine Palestinian state on its borders eroding its very essence over the long run. Hence the need to reinforce the 240,000 settlers in 140-odd West Bank settlements and the network of Israeli-controlled security roads connecting them.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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