Mideast 'vision thing'

Posted: Nov 20, 2001 12:00 AM
About a decade ago, a President named George Bush dismissed criticism that he was pursuing short-sighted policies by saying he lacked the "vision thing." Let's hope it's not genetic, because the son and namesake who now occupies the White House has lately begun talking about a "vision" of the Middle East that is at odds -- perhaps dangerously so -- with current and prospective realities in the region. In recent remarks, President George W. Bush and his subordinates have begun enthusing about a "vision" of Israel and a new nation called "Palestine" living side-by-side in peace and security. This initiative is reportedly a product of intense pressure for U.S. "engagement" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict coming from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other, so-called "moderate" Arab states whose help Mr. Bush believes is critical to the war on terrorism. On NBC's Sunday morning talk show "Meet the Press," the President's National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, explained what her boss has in mind. "Palestine is simply a term for a state that might exist for the Palestinian people. What the president was doing was to lay out a vision of where we might be, should we be able to encourage the parties to get back into a process that leads to a permanent peace in the Middle East. And in that vision, he does see an Israeli state, our good friend Israel, that is secure, where it is fully recognized and accepted that Israel has the right to exist within secure borders, where terrorism has been wiped out as a factor in the Middle East, and where the Palestinian people have a state in which they can determine their own fate and their own future." The problem with the Bush "vision" is that it not only bears no resemblance to today's realities. It also ignores the vision Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority (PA) have for the future of Israel. Despite the rhetoric Arafat has served up from time to time since the Oslo peace accords were signed nine years ago -- usually in English and always for Western consumption -- about recognizing Israel's right to exist and making a "peace of the brave" with the Jewish State, Arafat has consistently communicated a very different vision to his people: The state of "Palestine" will exist instead of Israel, not side-by-side with it. This message is most unmistakably communicated by the PA's official maps of "Palestine." These images -- which appear on the Authority's web site, in its offices, at its cultural events, on its television programming, on the uniforms of its "police" and, most appalling of all, in its textbooks -- show a country made up of all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and all of pre-1967 Israel. Unfortunately, these maps are not set forth as a means of reconciling the Palestinians and others to a goal that is maximalist and deserved, but unrealizable. Rather, they are calculated to convey even to illiterate Arabs throughout the Middle East that the Palestinian leadership continues to adhere to the "Phased Plan" it first enunciated in 1974. At that time, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its friends were coping with their latest military defeat at Israeli hands in the "Yom Kippur" war of the previous year. Recognizing that Israel's relative power and its conquest of strategic high ground on the West Bank and Golan Heights meant that the war option was effectively foreclosed, the Palestinians declared that they would use whatever means were available (terror, blackmail, international pressure, negotiations, etc.) to induce Israel to relinquish some territory. This first "phase" would then be followed by a second one in which the rest of the land "occupied" by Israel -- including the Jewish State itself -- would be "liberated." It would hardly be visionary for America to press Israel to make further territorial and other concessions in the face of such declared Palestinian ambitions. Rather, it would be more accurate to describe such pressure as an act of cognitive dissonance -- the phenomenon of refusing to perceive facts that are incompatible with one's beliefs and plans. For a great power like the United States, that sort of conduct would perhaps amount to little more than the latest in a series of misbegotten American Mideast peace initiatives. For a nation in Israel's exposed position, however -- in a hostile and ever-more-dangerously-armed region (a condition to which the U.S. itself has regrettably contributed with the sale of advanced weapons like the Harpoon 2 to Egypt), such behavior could give rise to a mortal peril. That is clearly not what President George W. Bush has in mind. His commitment to the security and prosperity of a democratic Israel that shares our values and interests seems as authentic and firm as it is laudable. He will not be able to realize his vision for the Middle East, though, by allowing his administration to pursue policies that are blind to the present and predictable realities -- realities that endanger Israel and that will render any "peace process" a formula for renewed war, not secure regional tranquility.