WASHINGTON--Last June 24, President Bush announced a radical departure in American Middle East policy. He expressed strong support for Palestinian statehood but only under a new reformed Palestinian leadership that did not include Yasser Arafat.
The reason is uncomplicated: As long as Yasser Arafat wields power, there can and will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2000, the most dovish Israeli government in history presented Arafat with the most generous offer the Palestinians have gotten from anyone--a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank with its capital in a shared Jerusalem. Arafat, intent on getting land without peace, responded by starting a now 31-month-old bloodbath.
For a long time, there was no Palestinian alternative to Arafat. Now there is. Abu Mazen, a close comrade of Arafat for 40 years, wanted to accept the Camp David 2000 deal. Moreover, Abu Mazen has spoken out against the intifada as a terrible historical mistake. Is he sincere? No one knows for sure, but his courage entitles him to at least a test of his sincerity.
On April 30, Abu Mazen was sworn in as prime minister by the Palestinian Legislative Council. The United States and its peace partners then released the road map to Palestinian statehood by 2005. The problem is that Abu Mazen is not yet in control. And he may never be.
The consistent and principled American policy had been that the road map and the push to statehood would occur only when a Palestinian government dedicated to real reform and real peace replaced the violent and corrupt Arafat regime. That has not occurred.
During the decade of the phony Oslo peace, Arafat had set up seven ``security organizations''--private militias and secret police--under his command. They were supposed to be transferred to Abu Mazen's control. They have not been. Arafat still controls five of the seven, including Force 17, which is actively involved in terrorism.
And Arafat controls more than guns. In pre-confirmation backroom maneuvering, Arafat managed to pack the ostensible Abu Mazen Cabinet with a dozen Arafat loyalists. Indeed, the crucial portfolios of foreign affairs and peace negotiations were given not to Abu Mazen's people but to Arafat's old guard.
The Bush administration can pretend that none of this has happened. It can pretend that Abu Mazen is really in control. It can pretend that Abu Mazen, without control of the security apparatus, is somehow going to stop the violence. That would be a precise repetition of the disaster of the Oslo ``peace process,'' in which the United States willfully and repeatedly ignored the realities on the ground--Arafat's corruption, incitement and support of terrorism--until all hell broke loose in September 2000, and it could pretend no more.
To publish the road map with Arafat still wielding enormous power over security, terrorism and negotiations is simply to step back into the Oslo morass. It can only end as Oslo did.
What to do? The only way peace will be possible is if we stick to the June 24 principle that Arafat must go. That means freezing the road map until Abu Mazen is ceded real control. This is a strategic decision the Palestinians themselves must make. But the United States should not be inducing them to make the wrong one.
The shunning of Arafat by the Bush administration helped bring Abu Mazen out of nowhere. To relax that shunning now, to reward the Palestinians by demanding Israeli concessions and by encouraging negotiations while the violence continues with the support and cooperation of Arafat, will do nothing but strengthen Arafat and doom any chance for a real transfer of power.
But that is precisely what our road map partners, the Europeans, are doing. They insist on having some pompous official--the latest is German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer--ostentatiously visit Arafat in his compound, keeping alive his claim to ``international legitimacy.'' Even Britain's Jack Straw, foreign secretary of our closest and warmest ally, said: ``Arafat is still the person who we are dealing with.'' (Asharq al-Awsat, May 1.)
Nothing could be worse for peace. On June 24, 2002, the United States told the Palestinians: If you want a state, we will get you one. But you won't get there with Arafat, who has led you into a wilderness of blood and with whom we cannot deal because he will never make peace. This brought ferment among the Palestinians and brought Abu Mazen to the fore. But it is diplomatic suicide to stop that reform process now by proceeding along the road map as if Arafat didn't exist, when he is in fact still pulling levers. And triggers.