Robert Novak

The day after the Baker-Hamilton report was issued, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel delivered a more robust version of the commission's position in a speech to SAIS (the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University). What makes Hagel unique is his fearlessness in enunciating views other American politicians of both parties keep to themselves.

"In the Middle East, the core of instability and conflict is the underlying Arab-Israeli problem," said Hagel, adding, "Until the United States helps lead a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there will be no prospect for broader Middle East peace and stability." He went further by warning of a "Judeo-Christian/Muslim split" that "would inflame the world."

Colin Powell's departure as secretary of state two years ago eliminated the administration's last major figure who was at all serious about the peace process. Bush has been seen by his Arab allies as letting the junior partner in the U.S.-Israeli alliance dominate the senior partner. One Middle Eastern diplomat says Bush, in dealing with Israel, acts as though he represents Luxembourg rather than the United States.

Consequently, if Bush really meant it when he said, "I do, too," it would entail a radical change in policy that would engender severe opposition. The Baker-Hamilton report and Hagel's speech each reiterated the truth that there is no chance whatsoever for essential Israeli-Palestinian peace without American brokerage. The Israeli ruling class and its U.S. outriders do not want that to happen, which explains the bitter opposition to the commission's recommendations. It would be an act of courage for George W. Bush to risk an assault from these forces, and it is a central decision of his last two years.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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