WASHINGTON -- Because we Americans tend to gauge Middle East success by White House signing ceremonies complete with dignitaries, three-way handshakes and pages of treaty provisions, no one seems to have noticed how, in the absence of any of that, there has been amazing recent progress in defusing the Arab-Israeli dispute.
First, the more than four-year-long intifada, which left more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead, is over. And better than that, defeated. There's no great Palestinian constituency for starting another one. In Israel, tourism is back, the economy has recovered to pre-intifada levels and the coffee shops and malls are full once again.
Second, the Gaza withdrawal was a success. On the Israeli side, it was accomplished with remarkable speed and without any of the great social upheaval and civil strife that had been predicted. As for the Palestinians, without any fanfare whatsoever, their first-ever state has just been born. They have political independence for 1.3 million of their people, sovereignty over all of Gaza and, for the first time, a border to the outside world (the Rafah crossing to Egypt) that they control.
Third, on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian line, vigorous electoral campaigns are under way. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has abandoned Likud, established a new centrist party that leads all the others in the polls, effectively marginalized those remaining Israelis who want to hold on forever to all the territories, and set Israel on a path to a modest and attainable territorial solution to the century-old conflict.
As a result, Israel's regional isolation is easing, as Islamic countries from Pakistan to Qatar to Morocco openly extend or intensify relations, while anti-Israel rejectionists such as Syria and Hezbollah are isolated and even condemned by name in the U.N. Security Council.
How did this come about? Israel unilateralism and Palestinian maturation.
After a year and a half of unparalleled terror, culminating with the Passover massacre of 2002, the Israelis finally decided that they had to give up the illusion of a Palestinian peace partner and take things into their own hands. They did. Israel reoccupied the West Bank cities it had ceded to Yasser Arafat, who had used them as havens of terror; began an extremely effective campaign of targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders that ultimately induced their successors to declare a truce with Israel; and, most important, decided to unilaterally draw the border between Israel and Palestine.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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