As my FOX News team left the United States for our ninth embedment with U.S. combat troops in Iraq, the headlines were all about the resurrected "Mideast peace process." European papers touted the conference in Annapolis, Md., as a "long overdue breakthrough" because Syria attended. Buried deep in all these stories is the observation that Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas all have condemned the conference and its goals.
It's doubtful that radical Islamists such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Hezbollah's Sheik Hassan Nasrallah or Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh ever will accept Israel's existence or Western-style secular, consensual government in the Middle East. That, however, doesn't mean their followers can't be persuaded otherwise.
If the Annapolis conference's "peace process" is to work, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have to focus on five issues that are far more crucial than drawing lines on a map -- and convince the Mideast "moderates" involved of their importance.
First, the "Arab Street" must be reminded regularly that jihadist masterminds such as Ahmadinejad, bin Laden, Nasrallah and Haniyeh aren't eager to find martyrdom. To the extent they can, they remain on the run and in hiding, relegating the "glory" of exploding bodies to their followers and their followers' children. Those followers need to be reminded constantly that their leaders are cowards.
Second, Muslim moderates have to point out to their people that the radical Islamic terrorists in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere may be able to construct car bombs, use cell phones as detonators and use AK-47s, RPGs and video cameras to record their atrocities, but none of them is capable of building a car, a cell phone, a camera or even a relatively simple automatic rifle. They can blow up a generating station but can't make a light bulb. The people of the Mideast need to know that jihadists seeking to "drive out the infidels" are destroyers, not builders.
Third, conference participants need to tell the people in their own countries that they are not ashamed to be friends of America -- that Americans have brought freedom and opportunity to hundreds of millions of people around the globe. They need to remind their countrymen that Americans send their young people around the world not to fight for gold or oil or colonial conquest, but to offer others the hope of freedom; that Christianity, Judaism and individual liberty aren't threats to Islam -- only to the power of the radical Islamists.
Fourth, those at Annapolis need to know that Islamic radicals such as bin Laden, the theofascist regime in Tehran and terror kingpins such as Nasrallah and Haniyeh count on an illiterate and impoverished citizenry who can be incited to frenzy or suicidal terror by defaming Jews or Americans. The palliative for this misery-driven fury is education -- real education -- not the indoctrination of a madrassa. Teaching young Muslims math, science, medicine, accounting and law will give them tools to live better instead of reasons to die the "right way," by killing an "infidel."
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the conference participants must offer Muslim women real rights -- and soon. In far too many places in the Islamic world, half the population is denied even the basics of human liberty. Radical Islamic courts treat girls as young as 9 as adults, subject women to death by stoning for adultery and permit female genital mutilation.
Countries and regions ruled by radical Islamists don't permit women to travel unless escorted by a male relative, limit the availability of medical care and forbid access to higher education. In far too many places, women are not allowed to have their own bank accounts, use a cell phone, participate in political debate or to vote.
Just before the December 2005 election in Iraq, Mamun Rashid, governor of Anbar province told me, "This election will change everything because women are going to vote."
When I asked him why that would change things in Iraq, he replied, "Because women don't vote to have their sons become suicide bombers." Nearly half the ballots in the 2005 election were cast by women.
The American troops I'm heading off to cover for FOX News understand this. They realize the reduced violence in Iraq today can be attributed to much more than simply a "surge" in U.S. forces.
If a broader peace process is to work in the Middle East, then the Annapolis conference participants need to be convinced that granting women the right to vote is essential. The best antidote for radical Islamic terror is a woman's purple finger.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.