The scene at the West Bank and Gaza is all too familiar - cars smashed, burning rubble, mourners dragging themselves across the sand in grim funeral processions and kids chanting, "I want to be a martyr." The picture is the same as it was a decade ago; Palestinians hurl rocks and detonate bombs and Israeli soldiers man tanks and fire guns.
In the name of peace, democracy and posterity, President Bush - along with the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia - has presented a new roadmap to change.
Will it work? Not likely.
The peace plan calls for a series of reciprocal concessions that would result in the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. The problem is that "the quartet" is pushing ahead with the peace plan without ensuring that the Palestinian authority's new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, will actually crack down on terrorism against Israel. And there can be no peace until the Palestinian leadership dedicates itself to eradicating acts of terrorism.
You see, much of the Middle East has spent the better part of the last half-century in open opposition to the Jewish state. Palestinians have suffered many brutal tragedies at the hands of Israeli forces. The Palestinian authority has led arbitrary attacks upon Jews. Their respective struggles have been ingrained into the culture, creating not one Middle East, but several; each wounded by a shared history of hate. Consider, by way of example, that Syrian schoolbooks currently portray the Israelis as devils.
Will a roadmap - a simple edict - undo the cultural configurations that lifetimes of hate have created? The answer is no.
This point is not lost on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who refuses to enter into peace negotiations until the Palestinians end their attacks upon Israelis and give up their longstanding claim of a "right to return" to areas inside Israel. Without these concessions, a peace accord would be little more than a vehicle for millions of Palestinian refugees to flood into Israel and overwhelm the Jewish state from within.
It is easy for critics to label Sharon impassive. Mr. Sharon's own public statements say otherwise. "One has to view things realistically," he explained in a recent interview with Haaretz. "Eventually, there will be a Palestinian state. I do not think that we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think we have the strength for that. It is a very heavy burden on the public."
But having lived through a half-century of hostilities, Sharon understands that empowering a group of people that has been openly hostile to Israel for the last 50 years will prove more, not less, disastrous for Israel down the road. Consider what happened when America empowered Egypt and, before it, Iraq. The empowerment of these nations has at various times threatened to pull apart the entire balance of power in the Middle East.
A rushed peace accord will bring more of the same. Simply, the inhabitants of the Middle East must wish to integrate. Cultural configurations must be geared toward integration. And this will only even emerge as a possibility after the infrastructure of the Palestinian authority is reconfigured to discourage acts of terrorism.
Until that day, there can be no roadmap.