By deciding to give up areas populated by Jews in Gaza (known as "settlements" by those who regard it as "occupied territory") and effectively annexing disputed territory in Judea and Samaria (known as the West Bank by those who also consider this area "occupied"), Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided to risk his country's future on promises he received from President Bush.
On paper, those promises sounded pretty good for Israel, which will continue to control land, sea and air passages throughout Gaza to prevent a terrorist base from being established. Sharon also took from his meeting with the president a green light to continue building the "security fence" to keep terrorists from entering some of the main population centers in the heart of Israel and to go after terrorists, such as Hamas' new leader, who was killed by Israel on Saturday (April 17). Perhaps most importantly for his country's stability, Sharon got his wish for no "right of return" by Palestinians, an infusion that would overwhelm the Jewish population. In the president's letter of understanding to Sharon, he says that any return should be to an eventual Palestinian state, not Israel.
Predictably, the pro-Palestinian side cried foul. The New York Times editorialized (April 15) that Sharon chose "settlements over peace" in the West Bank, but peace must have a partner, and the terrorists have demonstrated that their objective is not peace with Israel, but its elimination.
As with previous agreements, including the "road map," this "understanding" requires a response from the Palestinian side. Israel and the United States reasonably expect that in exchange for this unilateral action ceding Gaza to the Palestinians, the Palestinians will stop trying to tear down the Jewish state and start building one of their own.
Based on past and current performance, there is little likelihood the Palestinian side will do this and end the jihad rhetoric that offers nothing but blood and misery, instead of hope and a meaningful future.
Sharon believes the offering up of Gaza as Palestinian territory will disabuse the world of the notion that terror "is the result of us sitting on their land," according to a senior member of the Israel delegation. But certain people always find ways to blame Israel for everything.
What should be troubling is the number of promises made by previous American presidents that were not fulfilled, either because the United States failed to uphold them, or an Israeli prime minister did not press the matter.
In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower made commitments in order to get Israel to withdraw from the Sinai. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson failed to implement those commitments and the Six-Day War followed.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon made promises to end the war of attrition between Israel and Egypt. Egypt violated the agreement, and the United States failed to live up to its commitments. The 1973 Yom Kippur War followed, which killed 2,800 Israelis.
In 1996 and again in 1998, President Bill Clinton promised to refrain from pressuring Israel into making further concessions until the Palestinian Authority altered its Charter that calls for the elimination of Israel. The Charter was not altered, but Israel was expected to honor its promises.
In 2000, Clinton committed $800 million in special assistance to induce Israel to withdraw from Southern Lebanon. Israel withdrew, and Hezbollah quickly filled the geographic and military vacuum, increasing terrorist attacks. The promised U.S. assistance never arrived.
Now, President George W. Bush has made a new commitment to Israel. The depth of the problem is revealed in a new study by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, which has been examining what the next generation of Egyptian children are learning about Israel. In Egypt's regular and religious educational system, the books celebrate jihad, or Islamic war, and exalt those who die in the fight against "non-believers." The center says jihad is described in military terms, not as a spiritual endeavor as so many Muslim leaders claim.
"Jihad is encouraged and those who refrain from taking part in it are denounced," says the report. This is in a country that has a formal peace treaty with Israel and whose president, Hosni Mubarak, recently visited with Bush at his Texas ranch and is referred to as a "moderate" and friend of America.
Sharon's pronouncements sound good, and the strategy might work. But the Palestinian track record should warn Sharon not to bet his ranch on it.