Tuesday, May 27, 2003

President Bush’s road map for peace between Palestinians and Israelis was for an old sinuous road that is no longer on new maps of the region.

Behind his first public call for the need to end 36 years of Israeli “occupation,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is building a security wall through the Palestinian territories that expropriates yet more land — without so much as an angry word from the Bush mapmakers. The fundamental issue of getting Israel back to its pre-1967 borders, with a few minor territorial adjustments in its favor, to give the Palestinians a viable state has been taken off the table by Mr. Sharon.

During his first two years as prime minister, Mr. Sharon facilitated the building of 34 new settlements in the West Bank, for a current total of 145. The security barrier is a maze of walls, electronic fences and patrol roads that juts out in places to include Israeli settlements. But the physical separation has not fulfilled its primary mission, which was to keep Palestinian terrorists out of Israel.

What Mr. Sharon calls the need for “painful sacrifices” would simply put an end to new Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Sharon’s idea of an interim solution would be to give the Palestinians about half of the West Bank as an opening negotiating gambit and later settle for two-thirds, with Israel keeping one-third. Some of Mr. Sharon’s friends and admirers are talking up again an over-the-horizon Palestinian state in present-day Jordan whose population is 60 percent Palestinian. The 98 percent of the West Bank offered by Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and rejected by Yasser Arafat, is the distant memory of a colossal historical blunder.

Mr. Sharon had almost 100 amendments to the first road map presented by the Bush administration but drafted by the “quartet” (the U.N., EU, Russia and the U.S.). He won three delays before it was made public. And still he had several reservations, which the U.S. promised to address “fully and seriously.” The quartet’s plan, say Mr. Sharon’s supporters, was drafted by Arabists in the State Department and their counterparts in Europe.

Greater Israel — incompatible with a two-state solution — has been Mr. Sharon’s lifelong geopolitical bailiwick.

Any criticism of Israel is the third rail of an American presidential election year. Mr. Sharon will enjoy virtual impunity between now and mid-2005, as he has since September 11, 2001, when he persuaded President Bush that his war on terrorism and Israel’s were one and the same struggle. An additional $1 billion to its annual grant of $3 billion and $10 billion to $12 billion in loan guarantees will sail through Congress unopposed.

Some of Mr. Sharon’s staunchest supporters hold key positions in the Bush administration. But few of his many admirers in Washington seem to understand that Mr. Sharon’s idea of a peace process is as succedaneum for war process. Israel’s leading newspaper Ha’aretz wrote that hard-line generals “in and out of uniform” now dominate Mr. Sharon’s inner circle of policymakers. Jane’s Foreign Report, an authoritative intelligence weekly, says these generals — Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, and Amos Gilad, chief of the new political security department at the Defense Ministry — want to crush the Palestinians militarily and expand the land under their control in the occupied territories. “Civilians — and civil worldviews — have been totally excluded from any involvement or influence in the diplomatic process,” according to Ha’aretz. “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness,” Gen. Yaalon is reported to have said, “that they are a defeated people.”

Whichever way they slice it, the Palestinians cannot see the makings of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Even so-called moderates could not accept a state that is pockmarked with Israeli settlements. Still less appealing is a ministate whose borders, air space and communications would remain under full Israeli control. The danger with Mr. Bush’s old road map for the road that no longer exists is road rage.

Palestinian terrorists — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Lebanon-based, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah — are now focused entirely on a one-state solution between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: their own.

Mahmoud Abbas, a k a Abu Mazem, the new Palestinian prime minister, is well regarded in both Jerusalem and Washington, but few believe he has the wherewithal to bring terrorists to heel. More promising, they think, is Mohammed Dahlan, the security chief in the Palestinian Cabinet.

Mr. Dahlan’s mission is to crush Palestinian terrorists in what could turn out to be a Palestinian civil war. If he succeeds, he could hold a strong hand in subsequent negotiations with the Israelis. But Mr. Dahlan’s security forces have seen their weapons gradually confiscated during the past 32 months of Intifada II violence that has killed almost 2,400 Palestinians and 780 Israelis, Mr. Dahlan made his mark as a street fighter between 1987 and 1993 and was appointed head of Mr. Arafat’s Preventive Security Service (PSS) in the Gaza Strip. He fell out with Mr. Arafat a year ago and the two clashed again when Prime Minister Abbas insisted on putting him in charge of all Palestinian security services.

Bitter wrangling went on for two weeks until Mr. Arafat backed down — though not completely. Mr. Arafat emerged from the fracas still in command of four Palestinian security services — Force 17, which is Mr. Arafat’s Praetorian Guard; General Intelligence; Military Intelligence; and National Security Forces.

On Mr. Dahlan’s side are a disarmed police force, 15 new police chiefs who took over from Mr. Arafat’s appointees, and a counterintelligence network — hardly a full quiver to take on the terrorists. Mr. Arafat’s Fatah cronies are still in key positions in the Interior Ministry, now directed by Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Sharon will not budge until Mr. Dahlan prevails and terrorist attacks cease. This could be a long wait. But there is a short-cut that requires farsighted statesmanship. On March 27, 2002, at an Arab summit meeting in Beirut, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah suggested normal diplomatic and economic relations between all Arab countries and Israel in return for the evacuation by Israel of all occupied Arab territories. There was not one dissenting voice. The resolution carried unanimously. But President Bush was gearing up for regime change in Iraq — and benign neglect carried the day.

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

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide