Mideast road trap

Posted: May 06, 2003 12:00 AM

Newt Gingrich recently precipitated a firestorm of controversy when he pointed out that the Department of State was working to sabotage President Bush’s security policies.  As a case in point, he cited the State Department’s machinations behind the so-called “road map” for peace between Israel and the Palestinian front in the Arab-Israeli conflict:

 “The State Department invention of a Quartet for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations defies everything the United States has learned about France, Russia, and the United Nations. After the bitter lessons of the last five months, it is unimaginable that the United States would voluntarily accept a system in which the UN, the European Union, and Russia could routinely outvote President Bush's positions by three to one (or four to one if the State Department voted its cultural beliefs against the President's policies).

 “This is a deliberate and systematic effort to undermine the President's policies procedurally by ensuring they will consistently be watered down and distorted by the other three members. This is worse than the UN inspections process -- a clear disaster for American diplomacy.”

 The former House Speaker is, of course, absolutely correct in warning that the negotiating format the State Department has conjured up over the past year amounts to a stacked deck -- stacked against President Bush and the principles and preconditions for recognition of a Palestinian state that he announced last June. 

 Unfortunately, the problem is not simply a procedural arrangement whereby four entities profoundly hostile to Israel are in charge -- so much so that they are hoping to be able to dictate terms to the Israelis.  This assuredly is not the negotiating process President Bush had in mind when he offered his vision for a real Mideast peace nearly a year ago.

 Given the Quartet’s composition and proclivities, however, it is hardly surprising that the content of its road-map also deviates profoundly from what Mr. Bush at that time.  This is evident in particular on two critical counts:

 First, Mr. Bush made very clear last June that a new generation of leaders, “untainted by terror” would have to come to the fore in the Palestinian community via democratic means.  The clear meaning of this precondition was that neither Yasser Arafat nor anybody associated with his terrorist kleptocracy could be considered a legitimate interlocutor in a new, reformed “peace process.”

 Career bureaucrats -- like those running the State Department who, at best, can scarcely conceal their contempt for the people elected to run the country -- are fond of saying “What the President meant to say is....”  In this case, State and its Quartet partners have contorted the President’s intention so as to enable one of the Palestinian caudillo’s most faithful lieutenants, Mahmoud Abbas, to be hand-picked by Arafat but nonetheless represented as a real partner for peace with the Israelis.

 Arafat and Abu Mazen (Abbas’ nom de guerre -- it tells you something about this man’s commitment to peace with Israel that he has a guerilla nickname) even performed a little drama designed to demonstrate for Western consumption that the lieutenant, not his boss, would now control the official security apparatus and, as a result, be able to crack down on Palestinian terrorists. This gambit was reminiscent of another of Arafat’s theatrical performances a few years back when, to demonstrate his commitment to live in peace with Israel, he was supposed to secure the elimination of dozens of provisions in the Palestinian Charter calling for the destruction of Jews and their State.  Just as these provisions remain unchanged to this day, power still rests in the hands of those who espouse jihad against Israel.

 Second, President Bush also indicated last June that Israel would not be expected to accept a Palestinian state unless and until terrorism ceased to be waged against the Jewish State.  But the Quartet had other plans.  It adopted a timetable for recognition of a State of Palestine that was geared, not to an end of the threat to Israel, but to a predetermined calendar:  The boundaries of a provisional state to be fixed by as early as the end of 2003; a full-fledged and internationally recognized state not later than 2005.  And while the Palestinians would be required to "undertake visible efforts...to arrest, disrupt and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis" (“visible,” being the operative term, not “successful”), the Israelis would be obliged from the get-go to make tangible and possibly irreversible steps.  For example, they must pull out of forward defensive positions in Palestinian areas, stop further growth of settlements, etc.

 In short, the “road map” for Mideast peace offered up by the Quartet appears more likely to prove a “road trap” for one of the parties, Israel -- and for a President who, more than any other in history, has committed himself to the survival and security of the Jewish State.  Such a prospect is all the more absurd given the unprecedented opportunities a post-Saddam Middle East could present for a genuine, just and durable peace between Israel and new, non-radical Arab regimes in the region.

 In his inspiring address on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln last week, President Bush warned that “Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes.”  It can only be hoped that the State Department, the rest of the Quartet and the Palestinian sponsors of terrorism on whom they hope to confer a state understood what the President surely meant to say -- both now and last June: He will not be party to surrendering Israeli security, any more than our own, to those determined to destroy freedom-loving peoples and societies.