Whether the slaughter of 26 Israelis was a reprisal for Israel's assassination of a Hamas leader or an attempt to kill President Bush's peace initiative, it has succeeded.
With Israelis justifiably enraged, peace negotiations are off the table. And given the revulsion felt by Americans at what those suicide bombers did, Bush is not going to be pressuring Ariel Sharon to trade "land for peace," any time soon, with Yasser Arafat.
Was Arafat responsible? Probably not, for he is the big loser. His hopes of reviving the Oslo "peace process" and his dream of being the first president of a Palestine recognized by the United States were blown to pieces along with those Jewish teen-agers. Could Arafat have halted the attacks? Again, probably not. He seems no more capable of anticipating and aborting the suicide bombers than is Ariel Sharon.
But things perceived as real are real in their consequences, and the perception that Arafat is responsible for the massacres is going to have consequences. Whether the Palestinian Authority is crushed, expelled or shunned by Israel, it is probably all over for Arafat. But as the Israelis slam the door in Arafat's face, charging him with moral complicity in mass murder, they will have to review their options, and so will we.
In researching a new book, "Death of the West," I came across some U.N. population statistics that are riveting. At present birth rates, the 4.2 million Palestinians inside Israel and on the West Bank and in Gaza will explode to 9 million by 2025 and 15 million by 2050. With no Palestinian state, Israelis will be out-numbered 2-1 by the Arabs they rule.
Demography is destiny, and these figures leave Israel several options.
Israel can push the Palestinians across the Jordan, as Meir Kahane urged – a crime against humanity America and the world would condemn. Israel can corral them in bantustans in a rump state policed by the army, which entails endless intifadas.
Israel could annex the West Bank and make the Palestinians citizens, but they would vote to abolish a Jewish state. Israel can control the West Bank forever and not make its residents citizens, but then she would cease to be democratic.
Israel can build a wall around the country. But any wall would have to enclose all Jerusalem, and no Arab nation would recognize such borders. Also, Israel's army would have to patrol the Jordan River and the Egyptian border in Gaza, and undertake permanent policing to defend settlements in such places as Hebron. Each of these five options seems to guarantee permanent war with the Palestinian people.
Yet, the longer this war goes on, the less likely Israel is to prevail. After 18 years, Hezbollah triumphed over mighty Israel in Lebanon. And over the next 25 years, Israel's population is expected to grow by only 2.1 million, with half of that among her Arab minority. Meanwhile, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are together expected to add 62 million people.
A decade ago, the soldier-statesman Yitzhak Rabin concluded: No Palestine, no peace. As did Ehud Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, who decided that a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was a necessary condition of peace. Were both these Israeli prime ministers wrong?
Sharon believes they were – that time is on his side, that a hard policy will lead to Arafat's replacement by pliable Palestinians who will accept his terms. But two intifadas have produced the opposite, elevating Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while pushing the Palestinian Authority toward irrelevance. Arafat is no picnic, but if Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the alternatives, who is the moderate?
And what of America? So long as the United States provides Israel with the weapons and money to crush intifadas, expand settlements and postpone the coming of a Palestinian state, our reputation in the Middle East is in the custody of Ariel Sharon. If Bush cannot put distance between us, America will end up with all his enemies and only his friends.
The president is in a box. In his political coalition, those who care most about the Middle East are adamant that he stand squarely with Sharon and anathematize Arafat as a terrorist. For Bush, the test of leadership is not whether he can pressure Arafat, but whether he can declare his and our independence of Ariel Sharon.
If he cannot, and if we allow Sharon to make his war our war, he will decide our fate and future in the Middle East. Is this acceptable to us all? Or is it time for Bush to lay out to the world, in explicit terms, what he believes is a just, honorable and attainable peace?
For if we do not break this present cycle of atrocity followed by assassination followed by atrocity, all of us – Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Americans – are going down in the maelstrom.