Will the road map lead to genuine Arab compromise?

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Jun 05, 2003 12:00 AM

There is the "road map." There are key heads of Arab regimes condemning terror as never before. There is President Bush in the Middle East as these words are keyboarded, trying to demonstrate regarding the 55-year-old conflict between Arabs and Israelis a steadfastness equal to his (and America's) resolve in Iraq.

There is for the first time a Palestinian prime minister - in power all of one month - insisting he is working to win a "cease-fire" from suicide terror groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades. There is Israel, in the person of Ariel Sharon, accepting the outlines of the road map and the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state "in principle."

If the dream of lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis is ever to be achieved, perhaps now is the time.

But more likely not. Despite so much seemingly favoring it, the road map likely will take its place over there on the shelf with all the other failed efforts, such as Oslo, Camp David, the Tenet Plan and the Mitchell Report. President Bush is trying to parlay his newfound credibility with certain Arab autocrats - if not with Arabs in the street, not even with vast numbers in the streets of Baghdad - into resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict at last.

But the Arabs remain the essence of the problem.

Periodically the cry goes up. Israel must yield, relent, compromise and concede. Israel - always Israel.

Yet here is a country, a solitary democracy in an autocratic sea, created by the United Nations and warred against constantly by Arab regimes and their foot soldiers - currently the Palestinians. Israel has repelled every Arab attack, won every war - as well it must, for the first war it loses will be the last war it fights. And still, following every conflict and during the intervening periods of relative truce, world opinion demands that the Israelis give up, give in, and give back e.g. the Sinai, the Golan, southern Lebanon, the West Bank, and the very Jerusalem so closed and defiled during Arab occupation.

Maybe the reason for this abiding hostility to Israel is deep-seated religious or ethnic hatred. Maybe in those areas of the Arab world dominated by Islam, it's the Koran. Maybe in the Western democracies - even at their highest political, social and intellectual levels - it's an inexplicable guilt combined with an insidious anti-Semitism.

Whatever. When in history has the attacked so determinedly been required to compromise by yielding in various ways (land, security, settlements, right of return, sovereignty over Jerusalem) to the perpetrating vanquished - to give them through politics what they lost in wars they have waged?

A Palestinian state already exists. It is called Jordan. The vast Arab territories possess plenty of lands to set up housekeeping for the Palestinians - if the Arab regimes possessed the matching moxie (a moxie they demand of Israel) to relocate the Palestinians on those lands, and thereby to resolve the Palestinian "problem." But the Arab regimes neither offer nor provide such a solution because they prefer the Palestinians where they are - at the point of the spear and strapping on suicide bombs in their abiding war to eradicate Israel, and Jews, from the face of the Earth.

Despite prattling to the contrary by the too-long-Arabist State Department, surely President Bush understands these things. Surely he understands the impossibility of success without working crucial changes in Arab attitudes. Surely he understands that the Palestinians, with Comrade Arafat still the puppeteer, are the Arabs' terror arm against Israel. Surely he understands that there can be no freedom without security, and that Israel cannot yield anything that compromises its security without compromising the liberty of its people.

Will the road map lead to an Israel dwelling side by side with a sovereign, peace loving Palestine by 2005? Not likely. Over the years, the Israelis have demonstrated repeated willingness to compromise on everything except the one thing on which they cannot - their own security - while the Arabs have compromised on hardly anything at all.

Unless the Arabs genuinely compromise as military losers customarily are required to do, we are far more likely to have an Israel more extensively walled off - fenced - against Palestinian incursion, because the Arabs will have left the Israelis no alternative route to at least a semblance of security.

Unless the Arabs relent on borders and settlements and right of return - and bring the Palestinians (and Palestinian terror) to heel - by 2005 the road map probably will have proved little more than a guide into yet another dead-end posted with a sign reading, "No Way Out."